Charleston, South Carolina
Graced with cobblestone streets, antebellum buildings and breathtaking landscapes, Charleston is often described as America’s most beautiful city. Yet with so many enticing photo opportunities, the biggest challenge for the first-time visitor might be where to begin in this historic South Carolina destination. While enjoying the sights independently clearly has its own rewards, another great way to see the best of Charleston is with an organized tour, such as Charleston Strolls, Bulldog Tours or even a carriage tour. Either way, the first day of a trip should include a visit through the historic downtown area for such landmark attractions as St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Heyward Washington House, Nathaniel Russell House, City Market and Waterfront Park. First-time visitors should also not miss the opportunity to take photos at one of the historic plantations, such as Boone Hall Plantation and Magnolia Plantation, featuring one of the most beautiful gardens in the country.
The Honolulu-Waikiki area is just one of several captivating destinations within the Hawaiian Islands that are truly camera-ready. The capital of Hawaii is home to some of the world’s most photographed landmarks such as the Diamond Head crater and Waikiki Beach. Although most every visitor will take home at least one digital image of these two iconic attractions, Honolulu offers so many other fascinating photo opportunities both above and below the sea. With the use of an underwater camera, visitors can create unforgettable pictures of native marine life at popular snorkeling places like Hanauma Bay, or even off the coast at Turtle Canyon with a tour group. Back on terra firma, visitors can explore other recommended places for photos such as Iolani Palace, Manoa Falls, Ala Moana Beach, Makapuu Lighthouse Trail and Hawaii’s top attraction, the USS Arizona Memorial.
California’s Central Coast is often thought to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, especially along the rugged coast in Big Sur. While there are several spots along the Pacific Coast Highway for gorgeous landscape photos, a more versatile spot is further north in the Monterey Peninsula. With spectacular ocean views of unrivaled natural beauty, the combined communities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and Carmel have drawn amateur and professional photographers for years. Perhaps the most recognized image of the Monterey-Carmel area is of The Lone Cypress along the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. Yet, this beautiful area yields all sorts of other opportunities for photos, such as Monterey Bay Aquarium, Carmel Mission, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Carmel Valley wineries, Point Lobos — the “crown jewel of the California state parks system” — and whale watching trips from Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
New York City, New York
As the world’s most photographed city, New York offers endless opportunities for snapshots and selfies. Obvious landmarks like the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square and Statue of Liberty often appear in a traveler’s digital scrapbook. But what may surprise many visitors is that the most photographed attraction is actually the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan’s Upper East Side next to Central Park. Other notable spots for picture taking include Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Coney Island, Grand Central Station, the flagship Apple Store, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Rockefeller Center. Lastly, as America’s largest city, New York also offers a number of hidden treasures for photo opportunities, such as the Grand Central Whispering Gallery, Bethesda Terrace, Tudor Village on Pomander Walk, the High Line, the Pneumatic Tubes inside New York Public Library and, for members only, the Frick Bowling Alley and the subway station under City Hall.
San Francisco, California
With iconic landmarks like Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco offers multiple picture postcard moments. But the City by the Bay offers so much more than snapshots of The Rock and the world’s most photographed bridge. Of course, there are several other obvious spots, like the Painted Ladies, the crooked street, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Palace of Fine Arts. But slightly outside the norm are many hidden and not-so-hidden treasures for even more photos, such as the Janis Joplin Tree, Musée Mécanique, Camera Obscura and Eagle Point Labyrinth. Other notable suggestions include The Bay Lights, Coit Tower, Ocean Beach, Sutro Baths and, for Star Wars fans, the Yoda Statue at Lucasfilm.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
As America’s oldest capital city, Santa Fe truly lives up to its nickname as The City Different. Founded more than 400 years ago, Santa Fe is a city truly rich in history, diverse cultures, natural beauty and a striking blend of architectural styles like Spanish Colonial and Pueblo Revival. All of these elements contributed to the city being named as one of the best places to photograph by Popular Photography in 2015, and it is destined for a repeat appearance this year. The gorgeous city of Santa Fe has a wealth of intriguing places to photograph such as America’s oldest church, the fascinating Loreto Chapel with its miraculous staircase, St. Francis Cathedral and magnificent hotels like the El Dorado Hotel, Loreto Inn Hotel, Hotel Santa Fe and La Posada de Santa Fe. Visitors should also set aside time to visit outside the city for more photo opportunities, including the open-air Santa Fe Opera House, Santa Fe Botanical Garden and the Santa Fe National Forest, particularly for enchanting winter scenes and in the fall when the leaves of aspen trees turn golden in the fall.
Georgia’s oldest city is also unquestionably the most beautiful. With images of live oak trees adorned with mesmerizing Spanish moss and stately historic homes, there literally seems to be an amazing photograph waiting to be captured with every turn of the corner in Savannah. As one of America’s best walking cities, many of the most beloved landmarks can be enjoyed on foot, particularly in spots like the Historic District, Forsyth Park, the towering Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and the hauntingly beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery, whose Bird girl statue is forever immortalized in the 1994 novel, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Much like Charleston, Savannah’s nearby plantations like Wormsloe State Historic Site offer extraordinary landscaping and several photo opportunities to last a lifetime.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com