Diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis necessitates the detection and differentiation of rupture prone plaques. In principle, intravascular photoacoustic (IVPA) imaging has the ability to simultaneously visualize the structure and composition of atherosclerotic plaques by utilizing the difference in optical absorption. Extensive studies are required to validate the utility of IVPA imaging in detecting vulnerable plaques and address issues associated with the clinical implementation of the technique. In this work, we performed ex vivo imaging studies using a rabbit model of atherosclerosis. The intravascular photoacoustic (IVPA) and ultrasound (IVUS) images of the normal aorta and aorta with plaque were obtained and compared with histological slices of the tissue. The results indicate that IVPA imaging is capable of detecting plaques and showed potential in determining the composition. Furthermore, we initially addressed several aspects of clinical implementation of the IVPA imaging. Specifically, the configuration of combined IVPA and IVUS catheter was investigated and the effect of the optical absorption of the luminal blood on the IVPA image quality was evaluated. Overall, this study suggests that IVPA imaging can become a unique and important clinical tool.