Laguna beach had my heart from the first time I discovered this almost 10 mile stretch of beautiful beaches, amazing surf and secluded coastlines. Moving to Southern California from Oahu, Hawaii in 2000 for work reasons found me looking for my slice of paradise that reminded me of home.
Armed with my camera, I quickly traveled up and down the coast line in search of what I was missing. In no time I discovered Laguna Beach for myself to be that place I was looking for. Located very close to where I reside I would explore Laguna Beach for years visiting each location learning more and more about swell directions, tides, and even down to finding that perfect sunrise or sunset spot depending on that time of the year.
Laguna Beach is now my new home and can't believe its been almost 18 years since I lived here in Southern California. For those that know, YES you might say that there are a lot of other amazing places to be listed. Trust me, it was a very hard decision but for whatever reason, these are the locations I find myself coming back to time and time again. I hope you all enjoy the images and words to follow.
Shaw’s Cove is one of many small, sandy beaches in Laguna Beach, California. A public entrance from Cliff Drive takes visitors down numerous concrete steps. Impressive beachfront homes sit atop the Shaw’s Cove, each one valued in the tens of millions.
Tide pools are numerous in the area and during low tide, can be found on either end of the cove. Scuba diving and snorkeling are popular activities due the water’s incredible clarity. Kelp forests harbor numerous fish species and seals and sea lions are frequent visitors to the area. While Shaw’s Cove can have some spectacular shore break, conditions seldom produce waves conducive to surfing. Directly to the south lies Fisherman’s Cove which is a much more popular among surfer’s and body boarders.
While this beach lacks a designated parking lot, both free and metered street parking is available. Like many beaches in the area, spots are limited and fill up quickly. Arriving early in the day is recommended.
This photo was taken in mid October during a particularly spectacular sunrise. At this time of year the sun rises around 6:15am, but the sky’s colors are most vibrant twenty to thirty minutes prior to sunrise. Facing directly south, the city of Dana Point is visible at the end of the cove.
This is a four second exposure enhanced with a Hoya Solas10 stop ND filter. This filter allows for a longer exposure and really adds drama and motion to the shot. I shot this with the Sony A7S a camera that performs remarkably well in low light and the Tokina Firin 20mm. While it is a fantastic low light camera, its main drawback is that it is only 12 megapixels. To increase the resolution of this shot, I took four individual, vertical photos and stitched them together in Adobe Lightroom during post.
ALISO CREEK BEACH PARK
Nestled into Laguna Beach’s picturesque coastline, Aliso Creek sits directly off the Pacific Coast Highway, just North of Dana Point, California. The beach gets its name from the creek that flows into the ocean and sometimes it flows so strongly that surfers and body boarders can actually surf on the river.
Depending on the time of year, the beach can look drastically different. In the summer months, South swells push the sands north, exposing rock and reef. This photo was taken in late summer when white sands have been washed away, and a long exposure shot captures the tumultuous path of water over the rocks. As winter approaches and the ocean swells change, sand will be carried back south and these rocky outcroppings will be buried once more. Sometimes, this radical transformation can happen overnight with one strong storm, resulting in a totally different landscape.
Aliso Creek beach and its clear waters and pristine waves attract visitors from all over. While surf conditions are best in the summer, its location allows for good winter surfing during north and north west swells. A grassy park complete with a children’s jungle gym lays right by the entrance to the parking lot, making it an ideal location for families with young children
This photo was taken at sunset during a time when the waves were particularly large. I had forgotten the tripod I usually use but because the Sony A6500 I was using has internal stabilization, I was able to take a long exposure at 1/10th of a second while holding the camera by hand.
Overconfident, I was standing on the rocks at the oceans edge and was not prepared for the especially large wave that broke a little too close to me. I was knocked off the rock and was completely submerged, along with my camera. While I survived with minimal cuts and bruises, my Sony camera did not. Fortunately the SD card was not impacted and I was able to recover the photos. This is the last photo that this particular camera ever took.
Crescent Bay beach is accessible by a long, steep concrete ramp that leads from Cliff Drive down to the sand. Multimillion dollar homes sit on cliffs above the beach and many have their own private beach access by way of restricted stairways. Much bigger than its neighboring beach Shaw’s Cove, Crescent Bay boasts fine white sand and good waves year round that attract body boarders and body surfers.
Crescent Bay Point Park sits atop the west side of the beach, and while the park offers no beach access, it is a popular place for photographers and whale watchers. The park features a semicircular concrete amphitheater that surrounds a statue of a diving seal. The amazing view and plentiful seating makes it a popular spot for marriage proposal and weddings alike.
Seal Rock is easily distinguishable off the coast of Crescent Bay, and gets its name from the plentiful seals and sea lions that climb atop the rock during high tide to sun themselves. Sea birds also frequent the rock. In fact, so many birds have visited the rock that the high points are all white due to bird droppings.
This photo was taken in November during the two week window where it is possible to capture the sun setting in the middle of Seal Rock. I shot with the Sony A6500, Zeiss Batis 18mm and also a Hoya Solas 4 stop ND filter. A two second exposure adds a little bit of movement to the water and makes for a more dramatic image.
While it’s not easy to get to, Victoria Beach is a beautiful stretch of coastline, surrounded by one of Laguna Beach’s premier gated communities. Like many of the local beaches, seasonal tides move vast quantities of sand, leaving Victoria beach rocky in the winter and sandy in the summer. The south side of Victoria Beach is an especially good place for surfing, with south east swells in summer brining the best conditions.
Victoria Beach’s most distinct and mysterious landmark is the tall structure known as “the castle,” to locals. Officially named La Tour (French for “tower,”) this sixty foot structure is tucked close to the seaside cliffs and is nearly the same color as the surrounding, rocky landscape. The beach curves, hiding the castle from view and the structure seems to appear out of nowhere to those walking around the side of the cliff.
Originally built in 1926 from poured concrete and ocean stones, the structure served as a pathway from the family’s house above to the beach. The house itself, known as “Norman House,” is still standing. Both the tower and the house are privately owned, and while the public can walk directly up to the tower, entry inside is prohibited.
Due to the beach’s unique landmark, white sands and clear water, the beach is an extremely popular location for engagement and wedding shoots. In fact, it is rare that the beach is not crowded in the afternoons and weekends with couples and their photographers, all vying for a shot with the mysterious castle. In fact, due to increasing popularity, the city is now stricter about enforcing their policy on having permits for all commercial shooting and filming. To find out more about required permits and how to obtain them, go here.
Just a short walk from Laguna Beach’s Main Beach lies Heisler Park. Sitting atop a hill, the park offers beautiful panoramic views of the Laguna Beach coast. Maintained lawns and numerous benches offer places to rest, and art sculptures in varying styles are displayed throughout the park. Charcoal grills and picnic tables make it a great destination for a family barbeque, but for those looking to eat at a local restaurant, Las Brisas provides outdoor dining and serves a variety of sea food.
Just off Pacific Coast Highway, the park provides easy access to the beach and even has an outdoor shower, perfect to wash away the sand and salt after swimming or surfing. Paddle boarding is also a popular activity and local instructors offer classes year round. Metered parking in the area is plentiful but fills up quickly, especially during summer tourist months.
Carefully maintained rose gardens are interspersed with wildflowers and indigenous vegetation. Seagulls, pelicans, rabbits and ground squirrels are all common, and grey whales, blue whales and dolphins can be seen at various times of the year. With so much to do, this Laguna Beach hotspot is busy
This photo as taken in March when a late winter storm was passing through, providing fantastic clouds that really enhanced the sunset. At this time of year, the sun is still visible as it sets from Heisler Park. By summer, the sun moves too far to the right and disappears behind the palm trees near Shaw’s Cove.
I had left all my filters at home on this particular day and decided to experiment with some of my camera settings. Shot at F4 focusing only on the foreground at 1/500th of a second, I was able to capture a bird in midflight. While I normally like to use filters in my landscape photography, I love how this photo turned out using just the Sony A7RII and Tokina Firin 20mm.