Legendary California sunsets, spectacular nature, and a diverse beach community define Pismo Beach, a family friendly community located on the Central Coast of California. Once known as the Clam Capital of the World, Pismo Beach preserves the spirit of the golden days, when daydreamers and thrill seekers met to surf the impressive waves and relax at the beach or in their hippie vans.
You can still encounter this rare breed of aging super hippies who stubbornly refuse to grow up. While observing them pass through life with a remarkable ease, I sometimes wish I could peel off my hard working skin and join them in their endless summer.
I enjoy sitting on the pier and romanticizing the bum lifestyle, but when the sun sets, it is time for me to wake up and work my camera to capture the beauty of Pismo Beach.
How to get there
Heading north on US-101 in Pismo Beach, take Price Street exit and follow Price Street to the intersection of Pomeroy Avenue. Turn left on Pomeroy Avenue and find a parking spot.
Take the CA-1 exit if you head south on US-101 and drive straight-ahead onto Dolliver Street. Continue until you get to the intersection with Pomeroy Avenue and turn right.
Monarch Butterfly Grove:
How to photograph Pismo State Beach
Capturing the beauty of a beach on camera is no easy task. Fortunately, Pismo Beach has a fantastically photogenic pier that can serve as a foreground to your sunset photos or as a platform to photograph the city, the beach below, the spectacular coast, the surfers, and the albatrosses.
Walk to the end of the pier and turn around for a superb view of the town’s houses hugging the hilly landscape (image below) and to watch the surfers below and the beachgoers dig for clams.
For my sunset photographs, I prefer to use the pier in the foreground. The wide-angle lens that I used in the picture of the introduction and the picture above makes the sun appear small and star like. It also lets me capture the shadows and light below the pier that seem to radiate from the sun itself. This draws the viewer deeper into the center of the picture. In the introduction picture, I used the golden mean to place my horizon, the sun, and the end of the pier off center. This creates a dynamic composition. The pier leads directly from the top left of the frame, where westerners usually start “reading” a picture, directly to the sun, the main focal point of the image.
I used a telephoto lens to capture the image above. The golden light of the sunset reflects on the wet sand after the water retreats. Using a telephoto lens lets me pull the pier closer. It also changes the appearance of the highlights that dominate a much larger area of the frame, creating strong contrast.
Pismo Beach is also the winter home of tens of thousands of monarch butterflies. A special generation is born that makes the 2000-mile journey south from Canada. The countless individuals that cluster together to preserve heat are a remarkable sight and offer a unique chance to photograph one of nature’s miracles.
The bright sky in the picture above distracts too much from the butterflies. Try to find a cluster that you can photograph against a darker tree crown. Making your main foreground subject brighter than the background usually works better, since our minds instinctively focus on brighter areas.
Photographing with a long lens against a dark background may require that you boost your ISO sensitivity, even on bright days.
Best Time of the Day and Best Season
The Monarch Grove is staffed from 10am to 4pm from November to February. There are no butterflies here during the rest of the year.
I prefer the atmosphere of a winter sunset, but the weather in Pismo Beach is usually good throughout the entire year.
You do not need long to discover Pismo Beach, but you can spend an entire weekend here. The choice is yours. Conveniently located along Highway 101, you can just take the exit, see the sunset, and continue your trip. A short walk on the pier takes no more than 30 minutes.
- Wide-angle lens
- Telephoto lens
- Quarters to feed the meters
Entrance to the Monarch Grove is free of charge. Parking directly at the pier is metered, but the beach parking lot about 0.2miles south (between Park Avenue and Addie Street) was still free during my last visit.
- Shell Beach
- Avila Beach
- Guadalupe Dunes Park
- Point Sal State Park
- Santa Maria
- San Luis Obispo Mission
- Mission San Miguel Arcangel
- Montana de Oro State Beach
- Morro Bay
- Santa Ines Mission
- La Purisima Mission
- San Simeon Otters and Seals
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