7 Plein Air Painting Places in San Diego

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Places to paint in San Diego

The following is part of a series featuring a leader in the plein air painting community who will be joining us on the faculty of Watercolor Live, a virtual art conference taking place January 26-28, 2023, with a Beginner’s Day on January 25.

7 Plein Air Painting Places in San Diego

Watercolor artist Gabriel Stockton
Gabriel Stockton is on the faculty of Watercolor Live, January 2023

by Gabriel Stockton

San Diego is a city that offers an abundance of beautiful places to paint and sketch outdoors. Whether you’re looking for a quiet spot to enjoy the sunset or want to explore the beaches by day, these seven locations are perfect for any artist who wants to experience nature’s beauty in all its glory.

1. La Jolla

La Jolla Shores is a great place to paint. The beach has a variety of subjects (sea lions, rocks, lifeguard towers, and more), and it’s especially a beautiful place to paint in the morning.

Watercolor plein air painting of a lifeguard tower
Gabriel Stockton, “La Jolla Lifeguard Tower,” watercolor, 12 x 18 in.

2. Balboa Park

Balboa Park (east of downtown) is one of the most popular locations for outdoor painting in San Diego, and it’s easy to see why. It was founded in 1868 as a park to celebrate the opening of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (or “World’s Fair”). It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District and is home to many museums, gardens, and monuments.

Nearby is also the San Diego Zoo, where you can see a cheetah, hippo, red panda, and including lions!

Balboa Park watercolor plein air painting
Gabriel Stockton, “Balboa Park Spreckels Organ Pavilion,” watercolor, 7 x 10 in.

3. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is a popular place to paint outdoors. It has been preserved to look like it did in the 1800s when it was first built. The area boasts many old buildings and lots of interesting subjects for painting, including waves of visiting tour bus groups. If you happen to forget any of your art supplies, the Blick art store is nearby in Little Italy.

plein air Painting of Old Town San Diego
Gabriel Stockton, “Old Town San Diego,” watercolor, 7 x 10 in.

4. Point Loma / Sunset Cliffs National Park

Sunset Cliffs is a national park in San Diego. It has a great view of the city and ocean, making it a great place for plein air painting. It’s an ideal location to paint while looking at the sunset over the ocean and historical homes. A little south, you have tide pools that are magical in the morning and two amazing lighthouses.

Watercolor painting of Point Loma beach
Gabriel Stockton, “Point Loma Tidepools,” watercolor, 15 x 22 in.

5. Oceanside Harbor

This harbor is known for its quaint iconic lighthouse, where you can also enjoy the beach while on your painting adventure. The harbor has plenty of space for artists to set up easels or relax with a fresh seafood lunch or dinner. There are many different types of boats that provide your painting inspiration during the day as well as colorful fishermen in their orange or yellow gear coming and going out of the harbor. The oceanside pier is also not too far for a picturesque painting of historic value.

Painting of a beach pier
Gabriel Stockton, “Oceanside Pier,” watercolor, 5 x 7 in.

6. Torrey Pines / Del Mar Lagoon

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers a variety of beach landscapes and ocean views. There are many trails to explore, so you can create your own path through the park and see what opportunities are available. The park also has plenty of open spaces for plein air painting, so you can set up camp out in the open air with no worry about rain or snow. Just off to the east, ducks and herons populate the lagoon.

This location is ideal for beginners (and experienced artists, of course) because it’s easy to access and there are plenty of places to get started painting as soon as possible, and there’s plenty of wildlife.

Watercolor painting of a lagoon
Gabriel Stockton, “Los Penasquitos Lagoon,” watercolor, 7 x 10 in.

7. The Temecula Valley Wineries

The many wineries in this area offer beautiful views of the valley. If you’re looking for an outdoor venue that’s easy on your wallet and doesn’t require much planning ahead of time, then this might be just what you need! The Temecula Valley Wineries have free parking available on-site, but if it’s full during peak season (which can happen), there are plenty of other options nearby, such as the Bernardo Winery.

Painting of a winery
Gabriel Stockton, “Bernardo Winery,” watercolor, 7 x 10 in.


With so many beautiful places in San Diego, you can walk or ride your bike and find something new to paint. If you’re looking for a way to get some exercise while painting outdoors, then consider visiting one of the following locations: Balboa Park, Old Town San Diego, Sunset Cliffs, Mission Beach, Mission trails, Torrey Pines, and Temecula Valley Wines.

Be sure to join me on Beginner’s Day at Watercolor Live as I share my selected supplies for plein air painting.

See you there!
Gabriel Stockton

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– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

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