Best Locations for Family Photos in Phoenix
As an Phoenix local and Arizona native, as well as a photographer of 12+ years, I’ve familiarized myself with most locations across the greater Phoenix area, as well as across the state. Locations for family photos in Phoenix require a little more effort and planning than other locations for engagement photos, elopements or high school senior photos. When you have little kids involved, logistics such as “will my baby or toddler stick their hand in this cactus?” and “is this location easy for my kids to walk in?”, as well as “are there bathrooms easily accessible for my potty training toddler?” are important factors to consider. I’ve tailored this list to places best for each age group, as well as some important information for each location. If you’re looking for a location for your family photos, I’d love to be considered! My style is documentary and candid-based, meaning I help you craft an experience around your photoshoot. This means more photos for you, kids have more fun and you get more real photos of your family’s relationship. My style is all about the connection between you and your family, between each person and as a whole. When everyone is having fun, we get more natural smiles too!
What makes a good location for family photos?
Why can’t I just have photos done at my nearby park? You certainly can, but in my 12+ years of shooting, I find that “regular” parks- the ones with just an open, grassy field or a retention basin with a simple park, especially ones here in the Phoenix area, don’t really provide a lot of variety for your photos or have great backgrounds. But it really depends on the park! Some local parks here- some listed below- are great options.
What makes a good location is a combination of a lot of factors.
- A variety in backgrounds and textures gives you a lot of options to make your photos look different in a small amount of time and ideally, minimal walking so littles don’t get tired. So instead of just a sloped grassy field, does it have trees, desert areas, and other options?
- How accessible for little kids is it? Are there tons of cacti to fall on and get hurt, large rocks that make it difficult to maneuver around, or water to run into, other hazards?
- How interactable is it? I think the best locations have some sort of interactable element in them. Water is a great one! Interactability gives your family something to do, which sustains little ones’ attentions and gives you an experience and keeps everyone happy rather than parents trying to get kids to smile (but parents, that’s also mostly my job!).
- Bathroom accessibility: for recently potty trained kids, this is a big one! Many locations don’t have ideal bathrooms, so I’ve made a special note on this on each location.
- Meaningfulness: I always love when a location is meaningful to people. Sometimes that’s not always an option of course and that’s ok! But if you grew up going to the Salt River and now are taking your kids there for the first time, that makes those photos even more special. Even if a location isn’t necessarily pretty, if it’s really meaningful, that’s a reason to attempt the location!
The Salt River in northeast Mesa is a diverse and beautiful area with a little bit of everything: trees, green, mountains, water and desert. It’s my top recommendation for good reason and even some Phoenix natives haven’t been there before. It gets quite busy in summer due to tubing season, and unfortunately can get a lot of trash left behind, but during other seasons, it’s a stunning place. There are multiple stops along the river that each provide a different look and many places have areas to walk around and find your own semi-private spot to play. The Bulldog Mountains light up at sunset which is a view that can’t be beat and rivals Sedona, in my humble opinion.
Cost: $8-$12/vehicle parking permit, many locations along the river have kiosks to purchase. Cheaper to buy in town at nearby gas stations though!
Logistics, accessibility and info for families: Most locations are great for toddlers and babies in arms. Accessibility is relatively easy, with a gently slope in most areas. Keep a watchful eye on toddlers because of rocks and the occasional cacti in some areas. Some areas are great to spread out a picnic blanket. Water play is possible. During summer, water can be swift but there are often areas of slower moving water.
Times to avoid: Weekends can be busy, summers particularly weekends and holiday weekends not advisable. River tubers can leave trash behind which is a major bummer, but we can work around it or do a quick clean up.
Gilbert Riparian Preserve
The Gilbert Riparian Preserve is another favorite of mine for green plants, trees and water, a bridge with ducks, as well as a small desert area. It has wide, flat walking paths and is great for active toddlers that love to run. The park area is very large with a lot of area to spread out, see wildlife such as birds and bunnies and has great shade, a rarity in Phoenix. This shade allows you to shoot during less ideal times of day, such as later in the morning or several hours before sunset. Most locations in Phoenix are only shootable around golden hour- an hour or so before sunset due to the harsh light outside those times. The Riparian Preserve allows you to extend that shooting time in case very early morning or sunset doesn’t align with your baby or toddler’s wake schedule. The water is dyed and reclaimed, so I wouldn’t recommend touching it, but it still allows some great interaction with kids. It also has some interactive playground-like areas for kids to burn off energy, though no slides or swings so it’s not really suitable for smaller kids. It’s also a very popular birdwatching spot.
Cost: Free parking and entry to park; ample parking both at Riparian entrance and Gilbert Regional Library- both have entrances to the park.
Logistics, accessibility and info for families: flat, wide dirt paths throughout most of the park with some paved sidewalks at the beginning in and around the main lake. Minimal elevation changes. Suitable for strollers throughout most areas. Easy to drive to throughout most of the Phoenix area. Popular spot for families, birdwatching and photoshoots.
Times to avoid: Holiday weekends, weekends during fall family photo season, prom season- if you go during these times, just expect it to be very busy and to have to walk to find a spot open to shoot.
The Superstition Mountains are in Apache Junction and are an iconic landmark of Phoenix and the east valley area. The mountains face west and get beautiful sunset light and look best at sunset, in my opinion. There are lots of beautiful desert areas surrounding the mountains. The Superstition Mountains themselves reside in Lost Dutchman State Park. The area is heavily desert with minimal green trees besides ironwood trees and no water features. But for families looking for desert, that is the perfect place for beautiful desert mountains!
Cost: Lost Dutchman State Park charges professional photographers $50/hr to shoot within the park and there is an $8/vehicle entry fee. Contact me for some nearby and free alternatives though!
Logistics, accessibility & info for families: Free area parking lot fills up quickly because only 8-10 cars can park there at one time. Minimal walking required. Lots of cacti around for littles to get their hands in, but avoidable! Minimal elevation changes. Not super stroller friendly though! No bathrooms though!
Times to avoid: Can get busy during weekends an hour before sunset during peak season- usually fall family photo season, but occasionally spring, or if there is a big hiking group going through.
Downtown Mesa is a cute urban location without the crowds of downtown Gilbert! It’s great if you are looking for concrete looks or colorful murals. It’s very easily accessible with easy parking and shops to check out and eat at after your session!
Cost: Most parking free unless there are events going on.
Logistics, accessibility & info for families: Busy streets because of it being a downtown area, but plenty of areas to walk without cars. Stroller friendly, very accessible. Bathrooms in shops and restaurants.
Times to avoid: Event days but otherwise usually not super busy!
Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA)/ Tempe Town Lake
Tempe Beach Park/Tempe Center of the Arts is centrally located and easy to get to! It can be pretty crowded, especially on weekends, but there is usually plenty of areas to go without as many people. It’s a great spot with water, bridges, lots of concrete looks, and can be a fun place to watch the sunset and continue shooting at night!
Cost: $3/hr parking garage
Logistics, accessibility & info for families: Bathrooms may be problematic to find – Tempe Beach Park has some but may not be well cleaned. Sidewalks throughout so easy access. Dog friendly! Expect lots of dogs along the paths.
Times to avoid: Events at TCA, at Tempe Beach Park or along Mill Ave such as marathons
Desert Botanical Gardens
Desert Botanical Gardens is a great spot with manicured desert plants as well as a herb garden, wildflower paths in the spring, and lots of fruit trees and a small edible garden area. It has some great architectural elements with adobe style buildings and metal arches and some mountains and of course lots of cacti representing the southwest. It’s a fantastic spot to take out of town guests. It can be crowded but there is typically enough room to spread out and take plenty of photos. There is absolutely no going off paths here in order to respect the landscaping & plants!
Cost: $15-$30/person, kids under 3 free, 3-17 years $15
Logistics, accessibility & info for families: Everywhere is sidewalk for easy stroller access and plenty of bathrooms! No dogs allowed. Expect crowds especially on weekends but generally plenty of room to spread out. Look for any events ahead of time!
Times to avoid: Holidays, weekends in fall & spring, look ahead for any scheduled events or closures due to special events!
Papago Park, nearby Desert Botanical Gardens, is a great free location with lots of cool red sandstone buttes and easy, central access from freeways and nearby Sky Harbor.
Cost: Free parking
Logistics, accessibility & info for families: Bathrooms available! Plenty of walkable areas for little kids and toddlers with minimal cacti. Only Hole in the Rock tends to be crowded and typically only at sunset.
Times to avoid: Event days such as any marathons or holidays. Hole in the Rock is crowded at sunset always but other areas are always fine.
Arizona Science Center/Heritage Square
Heritage Square & Arizona Science Center is a great place with a mix of backdrops all in one very easy, walkable area. By the Arizona Science Center is a lot of concrete and modern architecture. At Heritage Square, there are many colorful shop walls and a lovely green plant area to round out your session! Expect some crowds whenever you go because of the central location, and always check event days to make sure this area isn’t hosting an event, making the area unshootable!
Cost: Parking varies depending on location of parking and if there are events going on. The location itself is free for the outside of the Science Center and Heritage Square. No photoshoots are allowed inside the Arizona Science Center to my knowledge.
Logistics, accessibility & info for families: Easy, walkable paved paths! Events are common, so double check before deciding on a date. Can be crowded especially on weekends!
Times to avoid: Event days (which are frequent) and holidays. Can be busy during fall family photo season.
In Your Home
This is my favorite option. I find kids are most comfortable in their own home and beyond having to clean a bit, this is the easiest option! Your whole home doesn’t have to be impeccably clean, just tidied in the rooms we will be shooting in (no judgement here, I’m a mom too and know it’s an impossible endeavor!) Kids are more comfortable in their own homes, with access to their own snacks and toys, and no need to pack 3 extra outfits and haul the kitchen sink because everything is accessible. I also find that in home shoots are so much more real and authentic- it’s your home, the home your child grew up in, surrounded by your style, your photos. Remembering that has so much meaning in my opinion. Your home doesn’t have to be magazine worthy and all we need are a few different nooks with good light to make beautiful photos in. Still not convinced to do it in your home? There are some local lifestyle natural light studio options available for a home-like look without it being in your actual home. But I still think it’s worth doing it in your home for the authenticity and meaningfulness aspect!
Hi! If you found this article helpful and are looking for a Phoenix family photographer, I’d love to photograph your family! Contact me below to reach out.