Category Archives: Central Coast

How to photograph Mission Santa Barbara

Known as the “Queen of the Missions”, Santa Barbara Mission is a primary tourist attraction in Santa Barbara, a Spanish style coastal town in Southern California. The parish church is still in use today.

The façade of the mission and the nearby rose garden are popular backgrounds for wedding photography, whereas the mission grounds and the architecture are the main subjects for travel photographers and tourists interested in early California history.

The location of the Santa Barbara Mission sets it apart from all other California Missions. It sits atop a small hill, exposing it to a cool breeze from the ocean. The nearby Santa Ynez Mountains provide a wonderful backdrop for panoramic images while the rose garden is a popular foreground motif for mission photographs.

I highly recommend spending some time around the waterfront to soak up the cool relaxed atmosphere of Santa Barbara before photographing the mission. Take advantage of the location.

Font - Santa Barbara Mission

Santa Barbara Presidio

Santa Barbara’s Presidio hides in plain sight in Downtown Santa Barbara. Occupying parts of two typical city blocks, the red roofed buildings fit well into the overall city architecture making them nearly invisible at first glance.

The Presidio was the fourth and last fortress that the Spanish built in California. Not much is left of the original 1782 buildings. The reconstructed buildings are home to a few interesting artifacts and a fountain in the backyard that remains of the original building.

The Presidio is definitely not a main attraction for photographers, but it is worth a quick stop. It is a fantastic place to learn about California’s early settlement history.

Carriage at the Presidio

Stearns Wharf – Santa Barbara

The quaint coastal town of Santa Barbara with its palm lined beaches and mountain vistas is also known as the American Riviera. Stearns Wharf, California’s oldest working wharf,  is a favorite tourist destination. Strolling over the water and feeling the wharf shudder under the power of the waves crashing against its pillars, taking a breath of fresh sea air while gawking at the busy fishing boats and surfers or hunting down a souvenir and and a tasty snack are among the many things you can do here to kill time.

To photographers the wharf is a superb platform and subject. From the pier you have sweeping views of Santa Barbara, you can see seals and albatross compete for fish, you can observe the surfers, and on good days even witness a whale blow in the distance. The wooden colorful stores, tourist crowds, and pillars of the pier are also worthwhile subjects.

Beach from Pier

Santa Barbara Superior Court

Santa Barbara’s nestles between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Coast. The Spanish architecture and clean, palm dotted neighborhoods, and the superb location create a relaxed holiday atmosphere unparalleled anywhere else. When city planners chose to rebuild Santa Barbara in this clean villa like image, they built America’s most beautiful courthouse as the crown jewel of city architecture.

Santa Barbara’s Superior Court occupies an entire block in downtown. The building complex features a tall clock tower, a garden, murals, a fountain, ornaments, tiles, and other architectural highlights. Of all the features, the views of Santa Barbara from the “El Mirador” clock tower are the most remarkable.

No other building in downtown is higher, making this the best spot to photograph overviews of the city. Amazingly, I have never encountered crowds on the tower during my previous visits, but tourist traffic has increased over the years.

Do not miss the chance to visit the courthouse and enjoy the view from the eighty-five feet tall tower.

Santa Barbara Mountains

How to photograph Pismo Beach

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.

Pismo SB Pier

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

One of California’s most iconic and most photographed locations is McWay Falls, part of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Less than ten years ago, I was alone on the overlook trail. Today, tourists step on each other’s toes.

It is no surprise. The serene beauty of this place will blow you away. A secret cove, a waterfall that plunges into the ocean, and turquoise waters seem to stem from the imagination of a painter, yet the unspoiled nature of this park is real. The solitude is all but gone these days, but you can still capture the essence of this place, thanks to the non-existent access to the beach below.

Understandably, most people come to see McWay Cove and leave in a rush to see even more of Big Sur’s beautiful coastline. However, if you have time, you should consider the canyon hike opposite to the overlook trail that leads you through a coastal forest to yet another waterfall. Not nearly as spectacular, the refreshing hike offers a pleasant diversion from the day’s driving and from the crowds.

Do not miss California’s most spectacular beach cove!

McWay Cove, McWay Falls overlook trail

Old Coast Road – Bixby Bridge to Andrew Molera

The stretch of California Highway 1 that hugs the coastline between Carmel and San Simeon is among the most iconic drives in world. Featured in countless movies, commercials, and print advertisements, this section of highway symbolizes the freedom of the open road. Countless drivers from around the world come here each year to enjoy this spectacular scenic detour.

Although driving without stopping is one of the greatest joys, we will take a detour from the detour and explore a backcountry road that leads us through the nearby mountains, where we will find tranquility from Highway 1, which does tend to get too busy occasionally. The green meadows, hills, and creeks offer a glimpse of another California, where time paces itself.

Overlooks with spectacular views, wildflowers, and Bixby Creek Bridge itself abundantly provide us with photo subjects that make this also a worthy detour for photography.

Bixby Bridge from Viewpoint

How to photograph Solvang

Solvang, a Danish town, is located in the fertile Santa Ynez valley, just north of Santa Barbara. The valley receives nearly 300 days of sunshine every year and is home to many fine wineries. The climate could not be more different from the northern European Denmark, yet the city, complete with Danish style studwork houses (bindingsvaerk), windmills and Danish culture feels authentic.

It is fun to explore California’s quaint little Denmark and immerse yourself in a different culture, in a town where time seems to stand still. The stores carry items that you can only find here and the bakeries tempt your senses with the sweetest smells. During Danish Days in September, the town turns into a giant fairground, where the towns’ people celebrate their Scandinavian heritage.


How to photograph Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a delightful fishing town with a sheltered harbor. At the entrance of the harbor towers Morro Rock, a volcanic granite dome and Morro Bay’s most prominent feature.

I used to bypass Morro Bay on my travels after I first moved to California. From a distance, it did not seem to offer much and the three smoke stacks of the local power plant are still an eyesore to me. Since then I have come to appreciate Morro Bay. The fishing boats, the sea life, and the dramatic sunsets that backlight an equally dramatic landscape have won me over. I love coming to Morro Bay and I am never short on excuses for another stop at Morro Bay. After all, it is conveniently located at the confluence of Highways 1 and 101.

Do not miss Morro Bay, a fantastic family destination with countless photography choices.

Morro Bay Marina

Hearst Park Otters and San Simeon Seals

The drive along scenic Highway 1 is one of my favorite pastime activities in summer. The drive in itself is immensely satisfying, even without stopping, yet each stop reveals something special. San Simeon is one of those stops that does not always reveal its beauty at first glance, but does fascinate countless visitors who dare to take a second look.

Learn about the enchanting wildlife viewing spot that brings you close to the majestic elephant seals, allowing you to observe and photograph them in their natural habitat. Discover the otters dancing with seagulls beneath the pier in Hearst Park.

San Simeon is famous for nearby Hearst Castle SHP. Many visitors see the Castle, but miss the real stars of San Simeon, the sea mammals.
San Simeon Pier


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