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Central California Coastline

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The central California coastline is beautiful, rugged, and fantastic for photography. In this guide I show photo spots from San Francisco, down through Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, and into Big Sur. Most of the spots can be found by driving along Highway 1, with a few short detours.

I'll keep adding new great spots as I continue to explore this awesome coast!

Map view

22 spots in this guide

  • Davenport Crack

    Davenport Crack

    37.0078475994, -122.192079127

    Details

    Getting the shot

    There is a great interesting beach just across the street from the Davenport Roadhouse (which by the way has good food). At the far end is a crack that meanders through the rocks. Be very careful - the rocks are slippery! Also note that sometimes the crack can be filled in with sand.

    Recommended gear
    • Wide angle lens
    • Tripod
    • Graduated neutral density filter
    Best times to go
    • Sunset/evening

    Photo info

    Date / time
    Dec. 8, 2012 at 6 p.m.
    Exposure
    15 sec at f/22
    ISO
    100
    Focal length
    24 mm
    Camera
    Canon EOS 5D Mark III
    Lens
    EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
  • Natural Bridges State Beach

    Natural Bridges State Beach

    36.9497548354, -122.058030367

    Details

    Getting the shot

    This spot is great at sunset, especially if you're lucky enough to get some clouds in the sky. Parking in the park costs a few dollars, or you can park on the street and walk in.

    Recommended gear
    • Wide angle lens
    • Tripod
    • Graduated neutral density filter
    Best times to go
    • Sunset/evening

    Photo info

    Date / time
    Dec. 20, 2012 at 6:13 p.m.
    Exposure
    16/5 sec at f/16
    ISO
    100
    Focal length
    24 mm
    Camera
    Canon EOS 5D Mark III
    Lens
    EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
  • Natural Bridges State Beach

    Natural Bridges State Beach

    36.9499185307, -122.058529258
  • Twin Lakes Beach

    Twin Lakes Beach

    36.9618259613, -121.998903751

    Details

    Getting the shot

    This is a wonderful little beach in Santa Cruz. It also has a few fire rings where you can do camp fires until about 10pm or so.

    There's a lighthouse there, and it's near the marina, so quite a few sailboats go by, making for a perfect subject for your composition.

    Best times to go
    • Sunset/evening

    Photo info

    Date / time
    Nov. 4, 2012 at 6:34 p.m.
    Exposure
    1/50 sec at f/5.6
    ISO
    800
    Focal length
    190 mm
    Camera
    Canon EOS 5D Mark III
    Lens
    EF75-300mm f/4-5.6
  • Tractors - Wilder Ranch

    Tractors - Wilder Ranch

    36.9609707934, -122.083619859

    Details

    Getting the shot

    There is an interesting farm with a lot of different buildings that are open to the public by the main visitor center to Wilder Ranch. You'll find tractors, tools, sheds, and all kinds of interesting machinery to photograph.

    Best times to go
    • Mid-day

    Photo info

    Date / time
    Nov. 26, 2011 at 11:46 a.m.
    Exposure
    1/25 sec at f/4
    ISO
    100
    Focal length
    24 mm
    Camera
    Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
    Lens
    Not available
  • Barn - Wilder Ranch

    Barn - Wilder Ranch

    36.9609643638, -122.082816537
  • Coastline - Wilder Ranch

    Coastline - Wilder Ranch

    36.956126457, -122.102884825

    Details

    Recommended gear
    • Wide angle lens

    Photo info

    Date / time
    Nov. 26, 2011 at 3:21 p.m.
    Exposure
    1/125 sec at f/11
    ISO
    100
    Focal length
    24 mm
    Camera
    Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
    Lens
    Not available
  • Railroad - Wilder Ranch

    Railroad - Wilder Ranch

    36.9599961641, -122.09142911

    Details

    Getting the shot

    At one point, if you follow the trail that runs along the coastline, it jogs back toward the railroad. We played around for several minutes with different poses along the rail.

    Photo info

    Date / time
    Nov. 26, 2011 at 4:14 p.m.
    Exposure
    1/160 sec at f/4
    ISO
    100
    Focal length
    24 mm
    Camera
    Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
    Lens
    Not available
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