Photoacoustic imaging (PAI) may have the ability to reveal the composition and the anatomical structure of carotid plaques, which determines its mechanical properties and vulnerability. We used PAI and plane wave ultrasound (PUS) imaging to obtain three-dimensional (3-D) images of endarterectomy samples ex vivo and compared the results with histology to investigate the potential of PAI-based identification of intraplaque hemorrhage. Seven carotid plaque samples were obtained from patients undergoing carotid endarterectomy and imaged with a fully integrated hand-held photoacoustic (PA) probe, consisting of a pulsed diode laser (tpulse=130 ns, Epulse=1 mJ, λ=808 nm) and a linear array transducer (fc=7.5 MHz). The samples were rotated 360 deg with 10 deg steps, and data were spatially compounded to obtain complete 3-D images of the plaques. Areas of high absorption in the 3-D datasets were identified and compared to histological data of the plaques. Data in six out of seven endarterectomy samples revealed the presence of intraplaque hemorrhages that were not visible in the PUS images. Due to the noninvasive nature of PAI, this ex vivo study may elucidate preclinical studies toward the in vivo, noninvasive, vulnerability assessment of the atherosclerotic carotid plaque.