California is known for its amazing west coast sunsets. Those of us who don’t live there dream of being able to get the perfect sunset photo, perhaps with a pier, surfers, rock formations, or palm trees sprinkled in. San Diego sunsets are among the finest sunsets in the world, either to photograph or just sit and enjoy.
I live in Florida on the east coast, so I can see a sunrise over the beach, but never a sunset. Unless I drive over to the west coast, of course, but that hardly feels like the same thing! Plus, I’ve spent more time in California than on the Gulf of Mexico.
If you’re heading out to San Diego and want to catch a sunset – or two or three – here are some of the best places to go.
Best Spots to See a San Diego Sunset
Some spots are popular and crowded, while others are less known to tourists. Here are some of the best places in San Diego to watch the sun go down each day.
Windansea Beach is located in La Jolla, and it’s considered one of San Diego’s most beautiful beaches. That’s especially true at sunset, when the sun sinking into the Pacific Ocean lights up the sky and waves so strikingly.
Windansea is a popular spot for locals, and less well-known to tourists. It’s even dog-friendly in the mornings and evenings, so if you want to catch the sunset with your pup, you can! Just make sure Fido is leashed.
While there you may see surfers, as it’s a great hotspot for the sport. (The surf can be rough and dangerous, however, so it’s only recommended for experienced surfers and swimmers.)
You can sit on top of the rocky outcroppings, or if the tide is low, on the beach itself. Either will give you the perfect vantage point for amazing San Diego sunsets.
Ocean Beach Municipal Pier
The storied Ocean Beach Pier is 1971 feet long and a favorite for tourists. Locals enjoy fishing from the pier, and that was its original purpose when built back in 1966. It’s close to some other major attractions, such as SeaWorld, making it an easy walk or drive for visitors who are in San Diego for family activities.
You can get amazing uninterrupted sunset photos from the end of the pier, or back up a ways along the beach to see the sunset with the pier in front of it. You’ll likely get to watch some incredible surfers at the same time.
This is a popular place to catch the sunset, so give yourself enough time to beat the crowds, especially if you want to walk to the end of the pier.
Cabrillo National Monument
Point Loma, with the Cabrillo National Monument and two lighthouses, is a great visit any time of day. The new lighthouse is pretty ugly, but the old one is quaint and full of charm. The monument itself is quite lovely. One of the most incredible sights, however, is the view of downtown San Diego, as well as the Coronado Bridge.
Due to its location, this can also be a wonderful spot for the sunset. Keep in mind you’ll need a pass, or to pay an entrance fee, to visit.
If you’re there at low tide, you can also make your way down to the tide pools to see really cool ocean critters up close.
Hospitality Point, Mission Bay
Hospitality Point is a lesser-known spot between the popular Ocean Beach and Mission Beach, but slightly more inland. It’s located at the entrance to the Quivira Basin. There are several spots for parking along Quivira Court.
You won’t get an uninterrupted photo of the Pacific Ocean, but many photos are better for having items in the foreground. Try capturing items silhouetted against the sunset behind them for a dramatic photo. Or just hang out and enjoy everything around you as the sun goes down!
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
With a name like Sunset Cliffs, you know it has to be perfect for catching a San Diego sunset! It’s also easy to figure out for tourists, so expect this one to be crowded.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is just south of Ocean Beach. The cliffs have a pretty dramatic drop-off, and including them in a sunset photo can produce lovely results. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a migrating whale off the coast!
You can find parking on Lomaland Drive and on Ladera Street where it intersects with Cornish Drive or with Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Get there early to make sure you get a spot.
While you’re at Sunset Cliffs (and it’s still light), you may want to visit the Sunset Cliffs caves as well. They’re pretty amazing!
Scripps Coastal Reserve Biodiversity Trail
Scripps Coastal Reserve is owned and managed by the University of California Natural Reserve System. It covers 126 acres of land in La Jolla, just outside of San Diego. Primarily it is used for teaching for the university system, and only parts of it are open to the public.
The trail is only a half mile and considered an easy hike, with great views of the beach. Some have reported that the gate has been locked recently, so you might want to have a backup plan in case this is the “new normal” for this location. The best resource is probably the official website, in the Visit the Reserve section, which also has directions to the trail.
Crystal Pier is located in Pacific Beach, which is south of La Jolla but north of Mission Beach. It’s part of the Crystal Pier Hotel and Cottages now. The cute little white cottages are right on the pier, but not so far out as to interfere with the views of the setting sun!
You’ll find that fishing is quite popular at Crystal Pier, and the waters nearby are popular with surfers. Either activity could make for a beautiful foreground with a colorful sunset sky behind it. Or head out onto the beach to get a photograph of the iconic pier itself!
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is a beautiful park-like setting, with cliffs overlooking the tidal pools and beach. The semi-circular cove gives you lots of opportunity for a beautiful foreground with the sunset behind it. If you want to capture pictures of seals and sea lions, this is the place to do it – any time of day!
The area is also great for seabirds such as cormorants, who rest (and nest) on the cliff side.
The only question is whether you want a birds-eye view from the top of the cliffs, or be down with the action next to the beach! Either way you’re sure to catch a beautiful San Diego sunset at this location.
Torrey Pines State Reserve
Although the name Torrey Pines is most closely associated with golf, it’s actually a state national reserve with lots of hiking through and around protected lands. Many of the trails offer beautiful views of the sunset; Razor Point trail is a good option. If you love outdoor activities like hiking, make sure to check out this post about some of the best outdoor activities in San Diego and southern California.
Or, like other San Diego locations, you can get down to the beach for a shot of the sun setting into the waves. Just don’t go within a few hours of sunset, as they warn you of dangerous conditions including rockslides.
Palisades Park, Pacific Beach
Palisades Park is an easy choice for a beach sunset photo, but that makes it all the more popular for tourists. If you want to try this location, get there early. The park is located in Pacific Beach close to Crystal Pier, mentioned above. The good news is that you don’t need to do any hikes or climbs to enjoy this location.
Hotel del Coronado, with its white walls and red roof, is an iconic sight on the island of the same name. Getting there is a simple, yet frightening for some, drive over a really big bridge between mainland San Diego and the island of Coronado.
Click here to book a room at the Hotel del Coronado, or consider other nearby hotels if you prefer a less expensive option.
Even if you’re scared of heights, it’s worth the drive for the beauty of the island alone. Wonderful beaches, small shops and cafes, and the laid back lifestyle make Coronado a special destination within the greater city area. It’s also perfect for sunsets.
Coronado Beach, located directly behind the hotel, makes for beautiful photos. It’s a white sand beach with a special attraction: the sand actually glitters, due to small particles of mica within it. Make sure to include some of the manmade structures of the island to truly capture the location within your sunset composition.
Coronado’s ferry landing also gives you a great view of downtown San Diego, so take time to capture that as well!
Oceanside Pier is in the town of the same name, and it’s a bit north of San Diego. But the almost-2000 foot long pier is a timeless sight in the area; it was built in 1888 so you know it’s a classic! The original was partly destroyed in a storm, so the current pier isn’t really that old. In fact, there have been six different piers in this location.
Oceanside is another great location to capture the sunset with the pier itself in the foreground. Like other locations, you’ll usually find both surfers and fishermen here as well. While on the pier itself, take time to enjoy the street performers.
The Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial, less than a mile from La Jolla, is a great place to get above the average height for San Diego, giving you breathtaking vistas in all directions. You might even get lucky enough to get a reverse sunset, as the setting sun reflects off clouds to the east.
The memorial is known for its tall promontory topped with a beautiful white cross. What you might not know is that this is the third cross to hold this position of honor. The one that stands there now was erected in 1954 to honor servicemen and women lost in the first and second world wars and in the Korean war. (While visiting, please show appropriate consideration and respect.)
Of course, one of the most striking scenes is the cross itself with the sunset arrayed in colors behind it.
I bet you thought all San Diego sunsets happened at the beach! While the Pacific Ocean does make for a great sunset photo opportunity, don’t overlook the possibility of more inland locations.
Balboa Park is home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, along with 16 museums and 1200 acres of urban green space. Its architecture is well-preserved and offers the chance at unique photographs, whether you include the lovely fountain, the California Tower, or any of the beautiful gardens.
The park itself is open 24 hours, so you don’t have to worry about closing times, unless you want to be inside the zoo or a museum or such.
What Time Does the Sun Set in San Diego?
During the summer, the sun sets in San Diego between 7:30 and 8:15pm. During the winter, it actually happens before 5pm on the shortest days of the year.
When formulating your plan to photograph San Diego sunsets, make sure to check the sunset based on what time of year you are there. You’ll also want to make additional time for parking, hiking or walking to the location you want (such as the top of a cliff or the end of a pier), and time to set up any equipment such as tripods.
If you’re trying for a popular location during a busy time of year, allow extra time for crowds as well. The sooner you arrive, the more likely it is that you can stake out your desired spot.
Hopefully you can see that there are tons of options for photographing a San Diego sunset! This list will give you plenty of different views, with different foregrounds and backgrounds, so you can get a variety of shots or the one perfect photograph you’ve hoped for all along. Good luck!