Local Guide: The 10 Best Photography Spots in the Sacramento Area
Oh beautiful Sacramento. You might get overshadowed by your big brothers San Francisco and Los Angeles at times, but to me you're still one amazing city. Sure, Sacramento doesn't have the most obvious things like massive statues or international landmarks, but what kind of ambitious photographer wants to shoot something that is over-photographed anyways? To me, Sacramento is all about exploration and and appreciating it at more than just face value. It invites adventure and urges creativity, and as a professional photographer who lived in this city for 5 years, I can guarantee that there are some gorgeous locations that you're going to fall in love with. So let's dive my friends, here are my personal top 10 photography spots in the Sacramento region. Please enjoy!
10.) The Alleyways of Old Sacramento
Everyone and their mom has visited this historic downtown district, but just because it's a popular tourist destination doesn't mean it still doesn't have some well hidden secrets. The trick is to ignore the bustling main streets and instead venture into the quiet alleyways behind them. In my opinion this is where the rustic flavors and timeless textures of Old Sacramento get to shine the most without distractions. It transports you to a different world, and when paired with the right subject matter and wardrobe it can even make you feel like you're photographing a different era altogether.
Shooting near sunrise is the easiest time shoot at because there are far fewer pedestrians around to stumble into your scene. It's also a great opportunity to capture the morning sunlight as it paints warm comforting colors on the walls and casts interesting shadows between the buildings.
9.) The Farmland
This could be considered cheating because I'm not talking about a single location, but if you're shooting in Sacramento and you aren't exploring the surrounding farmland then you're really missing out on some of the most gorgeous land in the area.
What makes the farmland special is just how versatile and abundant it is. If you drive down a country road then you'll quickly find fields of wheat, alfalfa, and more, and then when you return to those same fields just a few months later there will be something else growing in its place. My favorite season to shoot in is the fall when the sunflowers and corn fields reach maturity. The sunflowers bloom to massive proportions (which add a perfect splash of gold to any scene) and the corn reaches lofty heights with deep green colors that eventually transition into an aged, roasted amber.
I can't even begin to describe how many countless hours I've spent driving around the region to find the best fields, and if you want to explore it for yourself then I would suggest visiting El Centro road, Garden Highway, and all of the roads between Dixon and Vacaville along I-80. You can also never go wrong with taking a drive on I-5 north of Woodland. During the early spring you'll find vibrant carpets of mustard flowers that stretch for miles with delicate pink blooming orchards and snow-capped mountains standing behind them. It's some the most spectacular and charming farmland that you will ever see in California.
8.) UC Davis Arboretum Redwood forest
If you want to shoot inside a redwood forest then you don't always have to drive out to the coastline. In fact, there's already one near Sacramento. Thanks to UC Davis, the T. Elliot Weier Redwood Grove found on the East side of their campus is a wonderful substitute. This man-made forest has one of the largest collections of redwoods found outside of their natural habitat and it even has all the right environmental touches with lush ferns and a small, tranquil stream.
My favorite time to shoot here is in the winter, especially during a foggy morning sunrise. The first reason for this is because school is out during the winter and there aren't very many people on campus, and the second reason is because a thick layer of fog helps give it a more natural coastal aesthetic. Even after the fog dissipates there are still plenty of other photographic qualities to be appreciated, like brilliant god rays shining between the trees and reliable umbrellas of shade found throughout the middle of the day.
Getting to this location is very easy with a parking lot nearby. Just make sure to purchase a parking pass or the campus security will pay you a visit.
7.) B.T. Collins Park
Found deep in the heart of Folsom, this city park is pretty unconventional compared to others that you'll find in area. Instead of having monkey bars and basketball courts it has massive surging electrical towers, and instead of flat, tamed terrain it has a slopes of wild overgrown grass. Obviously this isn't the ideal place to bring your family for an evening picnic, but if you're hungry for some edgy aesthetics then this is the place for you.
My favorite aspect about this park is at the very top of the hill where the electrical towers cluster together. The intersecting wires divert in all different directions which brings some powerful drama to the skyline and also offers prime opportunities to experiment with background compositions. I would also recommend snagging some shots at sunset if you want to get some classic backlit industrial shots.
6.) Sutter's Landing
If you're fascinated by reflections then there might be no better place to find them than at Sutter's Landing. Compared to other spots along the Sacramento River, the water here is broad, glassy, and smooth. Even with the massive breadth of the river in the background, the calm conditions and tall trees enclose the scene with a balance of both grandness and surprising intimacy. Shooting in the morning is must, because as the sun rises, the tress
Sutter's Landing gets awfully busy with swimmers during the summer so make sure to shoot in the morning if you can. Also, if you plan to stand in the water then bring some reliable shoes to wear. Rivers carry a lot of different debris and glass can always be a possibility..
5.) Folsom Lake State Park
Folsom Lake State Park is one of the Sacramento region's most dynamic photography getaways, and with over 30 square miles of total land, it can be quite a daunting place to explore. There's always the option to hike to the park's most remote corners and earn some sore feet, but before doing that I would recommend visiting two fantastic and easy to reach locations called Beek's Bight and Doton's Point (both of which can be found on the lake's northern side).
Beek's Bight is an enclosed grove filled with many odd rock formations and tough, spindly grass. On cloudy winter days its rugged features blend perfectly with the skies to create a tundra-like environment, but during the spring it's appearance softens as thousands of delicate lupine flowers envelop the area. This spring bloom has become massively popular for local photographers and if you haven't seen it yourself then I would highly recommend you make an opportunity to visit.
As for Doton's Point (which is just south of Beek's Bight), there is an entirely different atmosphere. In the late summer the lake's water slowly inches away and as it does it reveals large swaths of lake bed that are ripe for shooting. The sandy, rocky terrain peppered with dead trees gives it a foreign and almost desert-like appearance that is difficult to find near Sacramento.
4.) Fair Oaks Bluff
Grand, high vista points aren't something that you can usually find around Sacramento, however we do have an unforgettable cliff-side called Fair Oaks Bluff that makes up for all the scarcity. This bluff gives you a rare, elevated view of the American River, and as an added bonus, the Fair Oaks Bridge (another great photo spot) stands right next to it.
Climbing up to the top of the bluff is definitely it's own reward, because once you reach the top you'll be surprised to find a tremendous oak tree hanging precariously off its side. Even when I saw this tree in person I thought it was only something that could be conceived in a painting. The tree hangs so far off that its roots are openly exposed and freely dangle over the river below. It's a rare natural phenomenon that gives a profound sense of excitement, danger, and awe.
3.) Natomas Oaks Park
Ok so full disclosure here folks... I have a lot of bias for this little gem. While most city parks have landscaping, lawn mowing, and other human alterations, this one is wisely left alone to grow. The results are dramatically different, with colossal oak trees (quite possibly the biggest you'll ever see), dense green clover, and an overall aesthetic that makes it look like you're standing in a thick, far reaching forest. For you nature photographers there are also a surprising number of animals living inside, like songbirds, hawks, ground squirrels, insects, and even turkeys.
What's really unique about this location is what happens to it during the spring. From late February to around early May, the park is completely engulfed in dazzling yellow flowers that give it a mystical, almost otherworldly quality. It gives a potent aura of rebirth and serenity that is rare to find anywhere else.
2.) Lake Clementine Dam
There's nothing quite like a powerful, roaring waterfall. The thunderous noise, the booming echoes... Every time that I stand in front of one I feel as if I'm listening to the voice of Mother Earth herself. Sadly the aren't too many waterfalls around Sacramento, but we do have the Lake Clementine Dam close-by. It's spillway is the next best thing you can get, and although it's created from man-made causes, don't let that fool you. It's still just as impressive and just as beautiful as any waterfall that you'd' find in nature.
My favorite time to shoot here is in the spring while the winter snow is melting at it's peak. The spillway swells to an overwhelming size and the sheer amount of water swallows the terrain. The mist at the bottom also rises high with a thick, rolling curtain that recasts the morning light into a fantastic rainbow.
Like any waterfall this place still comes with some danger. The cliffside is very steep and the rocks can be very wet and slippery, so make sure to wear some good hiking boots and carry lightweight gear. Also don't forget to bring cash for the State Park entry fee (see the resource links below).
1.) Empire Mine Cottage
Elegant, captivating, and impeccably maintained, the Empire Mine Cottage (located in Grass Valley, CA) is my #1 photography spot in the Sacramento area. As you can probably tell by the name, this place was originally a home for a wealthy mine owning family, and later after their business shut down it was preserved for the public to enjoy.
Every time that I visit here I can't help but fantasize that I'm some medieval noble. The architecture is handsomely crafted and its design has a timeless charm to it that makes me feel like I'm stepping into a fairy tale. The estate that it stands on is also an exquisite feast, with wide open walking grounds, two large fountains, a flower garden, a glass greenhouse, and even a large water ladder and reflecting pool. Don't miss out on this incredible location. I've visited many times and I feel like my photos still don't do it justice.
As of 2019 all photographers wanting to shoot here must apply for a permit on the Empire Mine website (see the resources section below). Its always a lengthy process when you have to deal with the government but trust me, in this case it's worth it.
every place has distinct emotions and energies to explore.
share any spots that you like in the region below
Old Sacramento Website: oldsacramento.com
UC Davis Redwood Grove: arboretum.ucdavis.edu/t-elliot-weier-redwood-grove
UC Davis Parking: taps.ucdavis.edu/parking
B.T. Collins Park: yelp.com/biz/b-t-collins-park-folsom-2
Folsom Lake State Park: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=500
Fair Oaks Bluff: www.yelp.com/biz/fair-oaks-bluff-park-reserve-fair-oaks
Lake Clementine State Park: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1141
Empire Mine State Park: www.empiremine.org
Empire Mine Photography Permits: www.empiremine.org/photographers