Updated: Mar 6
Collage by Lewis Minor
San Louis Obispo
If kitsch is your wish, look no further than the famed Madonna Inn. It's incidentally the furthest north location on this list, but well worth the drive no matter where you're coming from. Nicknamed the Pink Palace, this mid-century marvel is way more than a hotel--it's an experience. It was built in 1958 with the grandeur and craftsmanship of an opulent Victorian manor--if that manor was built on psychedelics. Patent pink leather! Caveman themed rooms! It's a bizarrely beautiful backdrop for your more creative and out-of-the-box themed vintage photoshoots.
Suggested photoshoot themes: Kistchy, Jungle, Ultra-Girly, Barbie
Photo by RJ Perez
The city of Avalon on Catalina Island has served as a Los Angeles area island getaway since the 1920s. Developed largely by William Wrigley (yes, like the chewing gum) beginning in the 1920s, it's served as both Hollywood filming location and Hollywood star getaway for the last century. Thanks to it's island locale, lots of the formative years charms are still felt and seen. It offers some lovely Deco Era resort style backdrops. The most famous is the 1929 Avalon Casino building; the iconic landmark doubles as an authentic era dance floor and, until recently, opulent silent film-era movie theater. Everywhere you turn in the round building is a vintage photo opportunity. The oldest still operating bar on the Island is the Marlin Bar, and this colorful watering hole serves up Navy-strength drinks from a boat shaped-bar, as shown in the picture above. The Island town comes to life with vintage enthusiasts each May during the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles' Avalon Ball.
Suggested photoshoot themes: Art Deco, Swimwear, Beach Scenes, Nautical
Photo by Angie Hu
Doheny Mansion (AKA Greystone)
Built in 1928, the Doheny Mansion is often a go-to for movies and music videos when an opulent old mansion is called for. If a Gatsby-like grand manor is called for in your shoot, you'll be in good company using Greystone as your backdrop. The outdoor grounds are free and open to the public, but the interior of the mansion does require a special ticket on very select days, so plan ahead. It was the site of a ghastly, supposed murder/suicide in 1929, which adds a somber air of intrigue and mystery to the hallowed and beautiful historic grounds–which only adds authenticity to any Gatsby-themed narrative you spin with your shots.
Suggested photoshoot themes: 1920s, Romantic, Vintage Glamour, Storybook Tales, Vintage Bowling Alley, the Great Gatsby
Photo by Taylor Hamby
The vintage-themed backdrops of the Disneyland Resort are so numerous, it deserves it's own article! But for the sake of brevity, let's just say the world-famous theme park puts, well, Disney-level care and attention to recreating each of its themed locations. Many of the locations–whether its 1900s midwest Main Street USA or 1920s era Hollywood–even use real antiques from the era to create their looks. And it's here at the Disneyland Resort you can still take pictures with their recreations of landmarks now long gone, like the demolished Carthay Circle Theater or the streamline moderne Pan Pacific Auditorium. There's bonus vintage magic at the Parks twice a year during Spring and Fall Dapper Day events.
Suggested photoshoot themes: Storybook tales, Old West/Cowgirl, 1910s Americana, Tiki, 1920s Hollywood, California Craftsman
Photo by Taylor Hamby
This beautiful and staggering work of art is a gift to the city of Los Angeles that keeps on giving. Dedicated to a different type of star-gazing than we're used to in LA, this observatory has been a picturesque landmark in Griffith Park since 1935. It's played host to many a movie and photoshoot, including a pivotal scene in Rebel Without A Cause starring James Dean. You can recreate the iconic scene yourself, or do your own unique intergalactic vintage themed shoot. And just behind the museum is the iconic Hollywood Sign, which is always a must take photograph when talking Old Hollywood.
Suggested photoshoot themes: Art Deco, Space, Vintage Glamour, Old Hollywood, Rebel Without A Cause
Photo by Taylor Hamby
Knott's Berry Farm
If it's an Old Western or Pistol-Packin'-Mama pinup style shoot you're after, a natural choice would be Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park. America's first theme park is historic in it's own right but did you know that the famed Ghost Town inside the park is made up of many authentic Old West buildings from a real ghost town? Or that their train is an authentic Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge train from the 1880s? If it's authentic Old West picturesque you're aiming for, Knott's Ghost Town hits the mark.
Suggested photoshoot themes: Western, Pinup Cowgirl, Victorian, Old Train Travel
Photo by Brandon Ferguson (@feralferg)
Long Beach is known for 1930s Art Deco architectural marvels and the Queen Mary sits as the city's crown jewel of Deco Era oppulence. It was built by the best efforts of master ship builders Cunard and White Star Line at the height of ocean liner travel and it shows. Key photoshoot locations include the Observation Bar (an Art Deco cocktail lounge), the wood paneled deck, the ballrooms and up on deck with the beautiful Long Beach skyline lit up in the background.
Suggested photoshoot themes: WWII, Art Deco, Vintage Glamour, Traveling, Nautical, Titanic
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Messick
Hicksville Trailer Palace
If you're searching for a kitschy backdrop for your vintage shoot in the Southern California desert Hicksville Trailer Palace is a natural first choice. This ain't your auntie's trailer park, unless your auntie's a kitsch bitch like us! This motel offers accommodations at 10 uniquely themed vintage trailers with themes based off Big Top Pee Wee, The Cramps' Lux Interior, and the nearby Pioneertown old western filming location. So bring plenty of outfit changes! A pool sits in the center of the festive trailer park motel lot which makes for a great poolside shoot location as well. Oh, and if it's "Magic Hour" lighting that you're looking for, well, California desert sunsets just can't be beat.
Suggested photoshoot themes: Western, Poolside Pinup, Pink Flamingos/John Waters, 1950s Trailer Park, Circus
This landmark hotel offers backdrops that are whimsical, regal and grand. Almost every corner of the Mission Inn compound is a photo opportunity. Built in stages beginning in 1903 through 1931, this marvel uses a beautiful architectural medley of Mission Revival, Spanish Revival and Asian architecture, all accented with lush gardens. The Inn has attracted the likes of all walks of historic notables; both Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis chose it as the site of their respective weddings (Davis found it so nice, she got married there twice!). If the Mission Inn is picturesque enough for Old Hollywood luminaries on their wedding days, it will be marvelous for your photoshoot.
Suggested photoshoot themes: Romantic, Christmas, Victorian, Fantasy, Renaissance
The Bali Hai in San Diego is one of the last standing vintage Polynesian themed palaces left in Southern California, despite the area once being practically a breeding ground of them in the mid-century. This two-story "tiki temple" was built on Shelter Island in 1953 and has been operating as the Bali Hai since 1954. It has two iconic characters: Mr. Bali Hai (immortalized in tiki mug effigies of past and present) and the Goof on the Roof. You're far more likely to get your photo with Mr. Bali Hai, who sits just outside the entrance of the restaurant. The Goof, however, is literally on the roof and is not accessible to the public. But not to worry, the rest of the vast grounds are incredibly photogenic inside and out. The waterfront property is commonly used to host weddings and festive events such as the Tiki Oasis kick-off party each year because it is so photo-friendly. Unlike other tiki bars, which tend to be dank by design, the Bali Hai has 360 degree windows offering plenty of light for photography.
Suggested photoshoot themes: Tiki, Tropical, Swimwear, Vintage Beach Vibes
Please Note: These locations are for educational purposes only. Many of these locations are private property and businesses. Please call ahead and communicate with the venue beforehand if you plan to use their facility for a photo shoot. Please pay any admission fees required and obey all rules of the location as well as adhere to all applicable laws. Sputnik's Vintage is not affiliated with any of these locations and has not received any renumeration for writing about them. Sputnik's Vintage is not responsible for any photo shoots that may occur as a result of this article.