Monterey County, California is a dreamland of photography opportunities. I moved to the City of Monterey in 1987 as a 21-year-old man. I had lived there for four months in 1986 and fell in love with the area and photography. I moved back and began my journey as a photographer.
Monterey California | Ocean Photography
Monterey County comprises the Salinas Metropolitan Area. It borders the Monterey Bay from which it derives its name. The northern half of the bay is in Santa Cruz County.
The coastline, including Big Sur, Highway 1, and the 17-Mile Drive on the Monterey Peninsula, has made the county world-famous. The city of Monterey was the capital of California under Spanish and Mexican rule. The economy is primarily based upon tourism in the coastal regions and agriculture in the Salinas River Valley. Most of the county's population live near the northern coast and Salinas Valley, while the southern coast and inland mountain regions are sparsely populated making it a perfect place for landscape nature photography.
The coastline of Monterey County is rugged, windswept and beautiful. Truly a place for artists of every genre to be inspired. Photographers such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston lived and photographed in the Monterey and Carmel area inspiring photographers for many years to visit the area. Writers such as Steinbeck and Stevenson visited the area as well as many musicians. Monterey City puts on the world's longest running Jazz festival, which has been going on since 1958. Musicians such as Armstrong, Gillespie, Holliday, Hendrix, and Redding have performed for the festival.
Old Fisherman's Wharf is a wonderful row of shops and restaurants with amazing views and atmosphere. Offering reflections of colorful buildings in the water, picturesque scenes of boats and even the occasional sea lion basking on a dock. This place is perfect to be in the early morning hours to photograph interesting scenes. In the evening stop and relax while dinning on incredible seafood.
Big Sur on Highway 1 is a wild place full of windswept cliffs, wildflowers, rugged beaches, and deep canyons full of coastal redwoods. This stretch of highway between the Carmel Highlands and San Simeon is the longest and most scenic undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States. I think it is the most beautiful coastline anywhere in the world. If you have an SUV take the Old Coast Road at Bixby Bridge and explore the back canyons and cattle country of this little known road. You will pass through forests of redwoods and colorful chaparral in the Santa Lucia Mountains giving amazing photography opportunities. This drive from Bixby Bridge to Andrew Molera State Park is long so be prepared for solitude and vastness away from the crowds of people at the state parks.
Garrapata State Park about 7 miles south of Carmel is another amazing place to spend the day. With rocky beaches, fields of wildflowers in early summer, and hiking on the Soberanes Canyon Trail this place is a popular location for day outings and photographic adventures.
Big Sur is also known for having wonderful dark skies and sweeping views of the Milky Way for nightscape photography. If you are lucky and the fog does not roll in, you can photograph the galaxy arching over scenes such as McWay Falls and Vista Point.
Do not miss photographing 17-Mile Drive in picturesque Pebble Beach with it's amazing white sand beaches and stunning sunset views. Primary scenic attractions include Cypress Point, Bird Rock, Point Joe, Pescadero Point, Fanshell Beach, Seal Point, and of course the Lone Cypress Tree. If you watch closely you can also find herds of coastal black-tail deer browsing near the golf courses or among the flowers and shrubs.
Monterey County, California truly is a gem of the United States and a destination surely worth visiting. I have only visited twice since I moved away in 1990, with my most recent trip in 2020. It was an amazing vacation full of fine dinning, late night photographic adventures and the wonderful sounds and smells that only the ocean can bring. We enjoyed amazing sunsets, walks on the beach and even a nice bicycle ride on the bike path from Monterey to Seaside. Even though Covid was in full swing and the State Parks, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and many other areas were closed, we were still able to enjoy our stay and capture some amazing photographs.