Shannon Across America: The Coast of Southern California

Beaches to heaven, highways to hell and piers that go on forever

This is part of a series of posts chronicling my travels across the western United States over the course of several weeks, living on the road and randomly visiting places along the way. You can start reading about the journey from the beginning.

After traveling nearly 2000 miles and burning off just as many minutes in podcasts, I finally saw the horizon of the ocean slowly enter my view as I reached the west coast. And I could not have timed my arrival any better: I was only about a half hour to sunset.

Laguna Beach

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I located a place to park along the beach and switched into appropriate beach gear. It was a blast to be wearing shorts outside in 80 degree weather in November while it was undoubtedly cold and wet back home. The ocean breeze and sand between my toes felt wonderful as I stepped out onto the beach and started surveying the location.

I found some nearby rocks in the water and set up my camera to shoot long exposures of the ocean and sunset, taking advantage of my ND filter for the first time on this trip. The above picture was a 60 second exposure with a ten stop ND filter, if I recall. As the area went dark, I peered over my shoulder to see the town of Laguna Beach along the moonlit waters and was able to turn the camera around for that as well.

It was hard to get a bad shot in this location, and I found that was the case for many of the ocean scenes I photographed as I traveled up the coast. Around here, you have so many random things like trees, power lines and signs cluttering the scene no matter how the composition is changed, whereas the ocean the scene is very simple and decluttered and simple things like rocks or piers because interesting focus points.

Laguna Beach is a very rich area, so I spent the rest of the evening in an equally rich coffee shop working on my photos and browsing the internet. I managed to track down a place to camp for the night, and was up bright and early before sunrise to head to the next location.

Newport Beach

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Mornings are not just the best time for photography because of the light, but because the people you meet at that hour are probably just as weird about their hobbies as you are and don’t judge. Well, usually.

Newport Beach had all the staples of the early morning: the joggers, the surfer, the couple trying to have a moment, the old fishermen and even the guy with a metal detector walking the sands. I was even approached by another photographer who claimed to build his own custom underwater housings for DSLRs.

By the time morning had fully set in and people were arriving, the scene was getting dull and I packed it up. Later that morning I ventured into Los Angeles but I honestly didn’t really care for my time there and wanted to get back out to the beach. (The less said about the highway drivers and traffic, the better.) I did spend the afternoon at the Walt Disney Concert Hall which was an awesome piece of architecture, and by late afternoon I was back to the coastline up in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica Pier

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Up to sunset I just sat and decompressed on the beach while taking in the scenery of Santa Monica Pier. As sunset came, I moved up to the beach and photographed underneath the pier. I don’t do HDR or exposure blending often, but I did try several shots of the pier and sky and blended them together with good results.

After the sun went down, I moved up to the amusement park on the upper pier. The best way I can describe Pacific Park is that it’s a place that remains updated and populated in the modern day, yet has a foothold in a bygone era when amusement parks were a staple of many areas. Sadly, it seems that many amusement parks I remember as a kid eventually fell out of favor with the changing times or increasing liabilities and only the ruins of their existence remain today (some which I’ve done a little unauthorized exploring).

I didn’t actually go on any rides – especially with a camera – but the solar-powered ferris wheel was a sight that lent itself well to long exposure photography. Out of all the piers or beaches I went to over my entire trip, Santa Monica Pier was probably my favorite place.

El Matador Beach

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7V1B0932-EditThe following day I was on El Matador Beach in Malibu. There were some others out there, but it was fairly lonely and that was fine with me: I spent the day relaxing on the beach and surveying spots up until nightfall.

As I left the area, I spotted a lone couple on the beach deeply embracing each other, completely oblivious to the outside world. Unfortunately I was already halfway up the climb when I noticed them and only had short focal lengths to shoot with at that. I can’t help but wonder how they would have looked silhouetted with a long lens and the beach in the background…they were so distracted with one another they probably would not have even noticed me snapping away.

After staying the night in Malibu, I woke up before sunrise and headed northwest to Ventura.

Ventura Pier

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The city of Ventura was cool, and one of the few places with a coffee shop I was in that had power outlets at every single table. The fishermen paid me no mind as I spent the dawn photographing the pier and area. After morning set in, I spent the rest of the day relaxing again on the beach. Not a bad way to spend unemployment.

The skies throughout my California travels since arriving were completely clear, which made for a nice shade of color but not as visually interesting as if some clouds had been present to reflect some of that color. But this extreme was now about to flip in the other direction…fog was on the way as I traveled north towards the Central Coast.

Next time: Central Coast…and a lot of fog