The Xenopus oocyte has been a favored model system in which to study spatio-temporal mechanisms of intracellular Ca2+ dynamics, in large part because this giant cell facilitates intracellular injections of Ca2+ indicator dyes, buffers and caged compounds. However, the recent commercial availability of membrane-permeant ester forms of caged IP3 (ci-IP3) and EGTA, now allows for facile loading of these compounds into smaller mammalian cells, permitting control of [IP3]i and cytosolic Ca2+ buffering. Here, we establish the human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cell line as an advantageous experimental system for imaging Ca2+ signaling, and characterize IP3-mediated Ca2+ signaling mechanisms in these cells. Flash photo-release of increasing amounts of i-IP3 evokes Ca2+ puffs that transition to waves, but intracellular loading of EGTA decouples release sites, allowing discrete puffs to be studied over a wide range of [IP3]. Puff activity persists for minutes following a single photo-release, pointing to a slow rate of i-IP3 turnover in these cells and suggesting that repetitive Ca2+ spikes with periods of 20-30s are not driven by oscillations in [IP3]. Puff amplitudes are independent of [IP3], whereas their frequencies increase with increasing photo-release. Puff sites in SH-SY5Y cells are not preferentially localized near the nucleus, but instead are concentrated close to the plasma membrane where they can be visualized by total internal reflection microscopy, offering the potential for unprecedented spatio-temporal resolution of Ca2+ puff kinetics.