San Mateo County Photos

San Mateo County

In some ways, this stretch of coastline gets overlooked despite being within a 1 hour drive (with good traffic) for more than 7 million people. Most people head to Santa Cruz and south, or Marin County and north on the weekend. But this is a very scenic and quiet stretch of the California coast with endless opportunities for some good landscape photography.


The Monolith of Grey Whale Cove #1, San Mateo County, CaliforniaThe Monolith of Grey Whale Cove 1, San Mateo County, California

A low tide at sunset during the winter time is the only time when this view can be seen. Usually this spot is underwater and large waves pass through submerging this place under 5-10 feet of water. Grey Whale Cove, about 20 miles south of San Francisco is an excellent beach for photography.

There are lots of elements here that are difficult to capture all at once. Winter is the only time to get light on the monolith rock , it must be a very low tide in order to get into this spot, I waited for the sand to become reflective, and I wanted to show a big wave in the distance.


Grey Whale Cove Surf - San Mateo County, CaliforniaGrey Whale Cove Surf – San Mateo County, California

The colors in the high thin clouds were just starting to change. 5 minutes earlier there was no color but blue in the sky. 5 minutes later, the reds were so vivid that I had to desaturate the colors in Photoshop to get them under control!

I got into this spot because I wanted to shoot the granite with the sun striking it as it can only do in the winter. It is almost like a magic cave or something. However, be very careful if you come here. It seemed like a harmless beautiful place, but the sea can ‘reach out and touch you’, if you know what I mean!


San Gregorio Light - San Mateo County, CaliforniaSan Gregorio Light – San Mateo County, California

San Gregorio beach is a great place to watch the sunset. This was taken as the first storm of the season caused the water in the river to breach the sand dunes and flow to the sea. Bubbles of sea foam made a line in the sand as the last light came through the fog. This is a very reflective beach at sunset. The water in the sand does not drain away and parts of the beach are flat. Perfect for reflections!


Sun and Storm - Grey Whale Cove, CaliforniaSun and Storm – Greywhale Cove, California

A big pacific storm churned up the ocean at Greywhale Cove just south of San Francisco, into a sea of spray and mist, just as the sun was setting. I experienced real storm surges while shooting this. They are different than ‘sneaker waves’ or ‘rogue waves’ which happen when three or more waves traveling at different speeds combine just as they hit the shore.

Storm surges are entirely different. They move similar to a tsunami in that they are not a single wave, but are rather a rapidly flowing river of white frothing water that can overwhelm an area for a minute or longer. In this case, what you see in the distance, especially to the right is a 10-foot wall of water that overwhelmed this spot about 30-seconds after I made this picture!


Test of Time, Hole in the Wall Beach, , Davenport, CaliforniaTest of Time, Hole in the Wall Beach, Davenport, California

As a winter storm approached, I decided to head out to the beach to see some storm clouds. I ended up at “Hole in the Wall Beach” a favorite local photo spot. You have to walk through a beautiful sea arch to get here. It pays to keep track of the weather in situations like this because you can move to a more favorable location!

I often wonder how long this rock formation has been here, standing up to storms and surf. 1,000 years? 100,000? 1 million? More? Since coastal erosion takes so much time at rocky locations like this, it really makes you think of the immense stretches of time required to carve out a scenic stretch of coast like this.


Pacifica Light #1 - Pacifica Pier, CaliforniaPacifica Light 1 – Pacifica Pier, California

The Pacifica Pier is a great place to watch a sunset. Even on a clear day, there is often a bit of fog here making for dramatic sunsets while elsewhere it is just another bland sunset with blue skies.

The waves were big and agressive after a winter storm and the spray required the lens to be constantly wiped clean. The air was salty and fresh!


The Monolith of Grey Whale Cove #2 - San Mateo County, CaliforniThe Monolith of Grey Whale Cove 2 – San Mateo County, California

Grey Whale Cove, about 20 miles south of San Francisco is an excellent beach for photography. Be careful what you ask for. I was hoping that these clouds would make a red sunset, but the camera had a a tough time with it. It was incredible to see with my own eyes but the reds were getting blown out and the clouds were turning into red featureless blobs. So I had to move into a position where I was pointing away from the sun and then angle two strong grads over the bright parts on the left side of the sky. Most of this picture is not darkened by the grads at all, just the bits in the upper left. I wanted to show a big wave in the distance. About 20 seconds later, that wave flooded this area quite efficiently I must say!


Gray Whale Granite #1 - Gray Whale Cove, CaliforniaGray Whale Granite 1 – Gray Whale Cove, California

Gray Whale Cove beach is about 10 minutes south of Pacifica. It is an easy drive and a less-easy place to approach. It is surrounded by cliffs and the parking lot is across busy highway 1. Fortunately there is a nice set of stairs which provide a nice workout on the way back up with no danger whatsoever. The soft golden granite sand is perfect for walking and photographing too. Here is a view down the beach looking south as low fog slides under a brilliant red sunset in the high clouds.


Ocean Mist - Grey Whale Cove, CaliforniaOcean Mist – Grey Whale Cove, California

The ocean turned into a white frothing fury as squalls of heavy rain passed through the area. I waited it out behind a cliff under my umbrella and then went out during the sunny openings in the clouds. I made sure to carefully plan my exits for when the water surged up the beach. And it really surged. This was different than when you get the occasional ‘sneaker wave’ when 3 waves may occasionally combine at the last moment. This looked more like the tsunami videos I’ve seen. There were big waves all the time, but sometimes you could look out and see the entire ocean become frothing white and rise high above the horizon until the horizon was blocked from my view. You can see it starting on the left horizon. When that happens, I knew that I had about 30 seconds to get my shot and get out of there!


Primordial Sea #1- Pebble Beach, San Mateo County, CaliforniaPrimordial Sea – Pebble Beach, San Mateo County, California

The sunset was turning a brilliant red during high tide at (the other) Pebble Beach, south of Half Moon Bay. Then a bank of fog moved in to turn this scene into what a seascape may have looked like hundreds of millions of years ago, at least in my imagination. Or, possibly on some alien world, this is a common sight?

The red high clouds turned the entire scene an eerie red for just about 2 minutes, and made the red sandscone even more red. And the sky became a very unusual color. The beach consists of extremely colorful pebbles and alternating layers of red and blue Tafoni sandstone.


Bean Hollow Surf #1 - San Mateo County, CaliforniaBean Hollow Surf 1 – San Mateo County, California

I’ve been writing about hundreds of my favorite paintings in my book, and some of them are just so hyper-dramatic that I got this unstoppable urge to go to extremes. So I headed out into the stormy weather to find the most drama that I could pack into a photo.

The wind was strong and the surf was agressive, so I found a good composition with a nice escape route and headed in. It all came together really quickly and then the light moved on towards the north. The light was awesome here on this evening. Sometimes there is nothing you can do but be open to the possibilities and spot them when they come your way!


Pacifica Light #2 - Pacifica Pier, CaliforniaPacifica Light 2 – Pacifica Pier, California

A dark filter over the lens allowed me to make a 90-second exposure during a bright sunset. The fog was streaking by in a very dramatic way so I want to show the motion in the sky.

This light was good for only a few minutes so this is the only photograph that possessed this quality of light. This pier is directly exposed to the biggest waves and is a great place to watch the sunset.