Early Novemver, 2018
California’s vast coastline undoubtedly harbors many great landscape locations. We chose Santa Cruz just south of San Francisco. Its natural beauty is present in the pristine beaches, lush redwood forests and rich farmland. The county is situated at the northern end of Monteray Bay on a wide coastline between the Pacific Ocean and the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here the ocean is flanked by steep cliffs that are difficult to traverse in order to gain access to the various coves and beaches that shelter the best photography locations.
We started our trip with a quick visit to Wilder Ranch State Park where we hoped the well-preserved buildings and farm machinery might produce some interesting images of the historic settlement of the area. Then on to Natural Bridges State Beach in the heart of the City of Santa Cruz to try our luck at a late evening sunset. This is also a well-known location to view the monarch butterfly migration between October and early February. The beach is named for the naturally occurring mudstone bridges that were carved by the ocean into cliffs that jutted out into the sea. Only the middle arch remains and is in danger of also collapsing due to erosion by wind and waves. It is a great location at sunset as the rock makes a wonderful foreground object and the image can be spectacular if the sky is punctuated with scattered cloud cover and high, cresting wave action. Unfortunately, the week we visited the sky was clear with a mild smoke haze from several late season forest fires. Translation, conditions were not conducive to capturing compelling landscape images. The adage “work with what you’re given” certainly produced some interesting challenges throughout our stay. Nonetheless, we had a good time and came away with an appreciation of the significant potential of this section of coastline for landscape photography and plan to revisit, perhaps when we venture down to take in the fall colors at Mammoth Lakes.
Notwithstanding, it’s worth mentioning several of our location highpoints, especially early morning and late evening sites. Sunrise was best at the Panther Beach and Hole-in-the Wall Overlook, Four Mile Beach and Pigeon Point Bluffs. All provided great coastal vistas, the latter where a large lighthouse could be included in the frame. Sunsets were best at Natural Bridges State Beach, Seven Mile Beach and from the viewing stand at the end of the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail. There were also good locations for what we would describe as interesting rock or erosion formations, most notably Point Pinos near Pacific Grove and the bluffs on the beachside of Hole-in-the-Wall at Coast Dairies State Park.