A Photographic Trek thru Central California: San Francisco, Big Sur and Yosemite

Last month my son and I got to spend a week in one of my favorite locales: Central California.

It was Ryan’s first trip there so I had the added pleasure of introducing a new generation to one of the Earth’s  most photogenic regions.

We flew into San Francisco and although Ryan and I usually avoid urban areas on our trips, this was an exception to that rule:  the City by the Bay is one of the most beautiful places touched by the hand of man.

We hit the highlights:  Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Sea Lions at Pier 39, Cable Cars and Lombard Street

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“Receding into the Past” Fort Point

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How often do you get to photograph old windmills? A early morning shot in Golden Gate Park
How often do you get to photograph old windmills? A early morning shot in Golden Gate Park
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“Hop on board!”

















Toward the end of the day we headed over to Marin County to check out a sunset location I’ve wanted to see for years:  Rodeo Beach. On the way, I had to stop at Hawks’ Hill, which has arguably the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge

One of the world's truly magnificent vistas: San Francisco seen from Hawk's Hill in the Marin Highlands
One of the world’s truly magnificent vistas: San Francisco seen from Hawk’s Hill in the Marin Highlands
Rodeo Beach Sunset in Marin County
Rodeo Beach: I’d wanted to try my hand photographing the sea stacks here at sunset for years. Fortunately my rookie effort got a nice assist from Mother Nature who kindly provided a mesmerizing sunset.

After the sunset we recrossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went back into town for some night shooting.

Night photo of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Frisco
The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It is surprisingly massive and after nightfall it appears magically elegant

We welcomed the next sunrise at one of my favorite spots:  Pier 9.  The perspective of the Transamerica Tower from the end of the Pier is epic.

Pier 9 Transamerica Tower

We said goodbye to San Francisco but not until we stopped for breakfast at Safeway (a west coast grocery store).  On our first day, Ryan had discovered the Breakfast Burrito at Safeway and that became his choice for the first meal of the day.  In fact, on our way to the airport at the end of trip, he made me stop at another Safeway so he could have one last one to eat on the plane:)

We spent a couple of days photographing the highlights of the California coast between San Francisco and Big Sur.  The spring rains had destroyed parts of the Pacific Coast Highway and we were unable to reach McWay Falls, which is one of the true highlights of the coast but even so, there was no shortage of amazing places to photograph.

Natural Bridges State Park Santa Cruz California
Natural Bridges State Park. The full moon provided plenty of light to illuminate the rock arch and the nearby stream that meanders into the Pacific

Ryan wanted to see Sequoias, so we drove inland a bit and hiked in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.Big Basin State Park

Big Basin State Park



















Boy, did he see Sequoias!

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I adore otters.  Well, central California has one of the premier locations to photograph Sea Otters: Elkhorn Slough near Moss Landing.

California Sea Otter Moss Landing Elkhorn Slough
You looking at me?
California Sea Otter Moss Landing Elkhorn Slough
“I insist on FRESH seafood!”

I shot over 1700 frames in about two hours there….the image above was my favorite of the bunch.

At the very northern edge of Big Sur is Garapatta State Park.  This occupies a strip of land along the rocky shore that includes an embarrassment of breathtakingly beautiful coastal views…whether you shoot at before sunrise:

Garapatta State Park
I’d hoped to photograph the Milky Way from this spot but the full moon made that impossible. On the other hand, it did a great job lighting up the coast before dawn.

or during a mid-day fog:

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A misty view of the Calla Lillies filling the little valley along Dodd Creek.

or at sunset:

Garapatta State Park
The sea stacks at Soberanes Cove. One of my favorite spots on the California coast…

We also had a chance to hike thru Point Lobos State Park which has a lot of incredible terrain packed into a condensed sliver of heaven:

Point Lobos State Park
The Veteran Cypress. This amazing 1000 year old tree has taken a beating but is still hanging on the side of a cliff refusing to slide into the Pacific!

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the park,  We ran into a local painter right after sunrise who was painting a stunning location called China Cove: China Cove at Point Lobos State Park

After a couple short days on the coast, we climbed in the rental car and headed east across the Central Valley with our sights set on Yosemite, the highlight of our trip.  I had sung the praises of Yosemite to Ryan for years and I was curious if he would feel the same or decide that I had over-hyped it.   As soon as we entered the park I took him straight to the park’s most magnificent vista:  Tunnel View:

Artist's Point Yosemite Sunset
March sunsets ocassionally create a spotlight effect on Bridalveil Falls…it is an amazing sight to witness

Ryan took a long look, grinned, slowly turned to me and said my praise had been severely understated.

We spent three days at the park.  Sleep wasn’t an option.  We were up well before dawn so we could photograph the valley illuminated by the full moon…

Night Photography at Yosemite
A long exposure from “the Gates of the Valley.”
Night photography at Yosemite Falls
Ryan on the trail to Yosemite Falls at “O dark thirty”












Once the sun was finally up we kept at it until it was dark again…we photographed the valley from dozens of perspectives,

We hiked quite a bit…our favorite of the trip was the Mist Trail.  This hike provides the novel experience of climbing up steps cut into the rock alongside Vernal Falls all the way to the top:

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Vernal Falls from a hiker’s perspective…
Vernal Falls
Rainbows grace the base of the falls in late afternoon


The trail is well named and we got happily soaked.  Plus the snow and ice on the steps made the climb, well, let’s say it was entertaining at times;)  I was actually getting kinda proud of myself since it’s a challenging trail and I’m not exactly a teenager…but then a lady in her 70s passed me on the trail with her two grandkids….needless to say, I was appropriately humbled.

We made our way up to Nevada Falls where we conducted our traditional snowball fight (sorry, but when Floridians actually see snow, you can’t expect anything less).  Later that day back at camp we relaxed and soaked in the view (and a few brews).

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It’s only an iphone shot….but you get an impression of how incredible the view was. Ryan said all we needed was a Hot Tub and it would have been perfect!

I think we could have spent the rest of the trip in that spot.

The remaining days passed far too quickly.  However, there is no doubt that we will return again to enjoy the magic that is Yosemite.












This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your photos. So many of them take my breath away. With your permission, is it possible to use them as wallpaper on my phone?

    1. Hi Pam,
      Sure, as long as they are only on your phone and not for any commercial use, then go right ahead!

  2. Beautiful photography! Love the shot of the 1000 year old tree.. Someone said “If you want to know the nature of God, get to know nature…”

    1. Thanks Jerry! I love that quote…hope you don’t mind if I steal it and use it on my blog!

  3. Your photos as always made me happy. The beauty you capture. Love looking thru your camera.

    1. Thanks so much for your note Sharon. Sometimes I wonder why I put so much work into the blog/website and then I get a note like yours and I’m sure it is all worth it!

  4. All wonderful photos, Jeff – but for some reason, I really like the last one!

    1. Funny thing is, I don’t remember taking that shot (maybe it was because I had just finished up a full 6 pack?)

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