When I wrote Embers of the Sun, I used actual locations throughout the story, only changing the names to 'created places' in the very final edit. I found this helped picture the characters more realistically, putting them in the actual environment.
What was fascinating was the ability to find locations without ever having to leave my office, or even my laptop.
Technology is a wonderful thing! Just think of the elements you want - surfing, beach town, east coast - then Google it! There were so many options to choose from. It was great to 'go on location' once the choices had been made, and 'walk in the shoes' of my characters.
Embers of the Sun, being urban fantasy, needed a mythical location, a valley ablaze with flowers, a place that defies imagination. Again Google came to my rescue, especially as this was not a place I was ever going to get to...
This photo gave me the basis of what I was looking for and painted far more than a thousand words for me!