American West, beach, california, Drone, Nature, Personal, Philosophy and Photography, travel

California 1, Part 2

The road after Monterey was new and exciting to me. Every panel and exit sign looked like a page from Steinbeck’s novels. Monterey, Cannery Row, Salinas, Moss Landing, Santa Cruz. The land I drove through was just as literary as agricultural. A city slicker with a fast car and a Western heart, I glided down the California 1 looking to my left and to my right, trying to guess what was the name of the crops grown along the road.

When the fog clears, Moss Landing is a fun sight to behold. It somehow reminded me more of the purpose-driven landings of the Northern Pacific coast than what I usually see in Southern California. Also the fact it’s called Moss Landing and not Moss Marina must be indicative of some difference. If the fog does not clear, you can still hear the clear calls of the sea lions who welcome themselves on the piers and pontoons.

After the busy bypass of Santa Cruz, the solitary wilderness becomes once again the most faithful companion of the California 1.

A few miles north of Santa Cruz I had to quickly pull over for what instantly became my favorite road sign west of the Mississippi. Someone had painted a capital red HAVE FUN on a white wooden board. Maybe I needed the reminder, the explicit injunction to have fun and enjoy the moment. That made me wonder if sometimes we are so absorbed in doing what we like and doing it well to the point that we forsake the importance of having fun.

Had someone asked me, “are you having fun?”, I would have enthusiastically said yes, but it’s also true that the road had not been devoid of overthinking. Primarily about where to stop and whether to stop and what photos to shoot which ones could or should be taken another time maybe a better time what does the future holds I remember when I was a child and this was the kind of trips we’d take with my parents from Portland, OR to San Francisco and where have all the flowers gone long time passing.

That sign cleared my mind as an instant mantra. Make sure you are having fun and quite literally enjoy the ride, and all the rest will come naturally. I smiled and took a deep breath, sat down, rolled down the windows, turned off the radio and put the car in gear.

I knew this was going to happen at some point, because most of the peninsula boasts some impressive mountains, but I did not expect the 1 to climb so abruptly as the gentle shore was replaced by humbling wind-swept cliffs. I stopped frequently, carefully crossing the road and carefully peeking over. I have a mixed relationship with heights but holding a camera usually makes me bolder – probably because of our usually unjustified exchanges of confidence between unrelated domains.

The California 1 descends to kiss the Ocean again at Waddell Beach. It appears to be a pretty cocktail of Ocean spray, wind, sand, and mountains that make the Beach a popular destination for hikers, kite surfers and hand-gliders.

One thing struck me since the very first miles past Santa Cruz: the extremely young age of the people I would run into. Now, I’m not that old myself but I am way past the age of college. At most gas stations, state beaches, parking lots, all I would see was college kids going surfing and enjoying the beach driving old Ford Explorers. I was not surprised, given the number of Universities scattered around the Bay Area, but it was amusing to feel as if I was really tapping into the cliché.

Such thoughts was I musing on when I saw another road-sign. “Slow for pie”, it said, in a neat cursive writing. That was not as good as “HAVE FUN”, but it was a refreshing change from the usual moralizing panels instructing drivers to slow down for kids, pets, cattle, trucks, pedestrians, bikers, horses, deers, bears and more horses. I slowed down indeed, I pondered it in my mind for ten seconds, I made a U-turn, and reverted back to the farm to which the sign belong. It was the Pie Ranch. I’ll keep it short, because if you go there, it’s worth a stop, while if you don’t plan on going there, I will only make you envious. The Pie Ranch is an educational farm south of Pescadero on the California 1. Among many wonderful things that they do, they bake pies out of amazing ingredients that are virtually all seasonal, local, and organic. I drove off with a blackberry peach streusel pie that gave us two wonderful breakfasts in San Francisco.

More miles. My eyes were on the road, my mind was on the load (the newly adopted pie). More beauty made me stop. The part of the road between Santa Cruz and Pescadero is overall astonishing and I’ve made many mental notes to come back and dedicate more time to each place.

Pescadero is incredibly magic. You’ll find some big rocks jotting out into the ocean, beaten by the wind and the waves.

Notwithstanding the gusty winds, the shore was too gorgeous not to attempt to frame it from above. I had one more full battery in my drone, and it quickly took off. It’s always interesting to notice how those little guys handle the wind far better than we think they would.

Look at the second jetty, if I can call it this way. There are two tiny black spots: those are people, and this should let you figure out the impressive magnitude of this natural work of art. My flight didn’t last long, because a flock of seagulls quickly caught eye of something braving the wind as well as them, and quickly moved over to have a closer look (and repel the aggressor). Out of respect and out of fear, I don’t take chances with probing birds. I landed right away – and a few seagulls followed way too close for comfort until the very touchdown.

At this point… my plan changed a bit. My original idea was to follow the California 1 all the way to San Francisco, park at the Golden Gate lookout, look out at the Golden Gate, and then meet Anne-Claire at the hotel. Truth be told, I had been on the road for more than eleven hours and I was feeling a little tired. I drove through San Gregorio, Half Moon Bay, and fancy Pacifica (I finally understood why the Chrisler car was called this way). In Half Moon Bay, a street, Ruisseau Français Avenue – literally meaning French Creek Avenue – caught my attention and I promised to enquire during my next trip. Why French creek? Did some French explorer come and baptize the place “French River” and his colleague said “Jean, let’s be realistic, this is more like a French Creek”? Maybe. We will never know. Or we will.

Anyway this was my intellectual level when, close to Daly City, I saw the sign for San Francisco via the Interstate 280 and I said “Alright, let’s bring her home”. I feel a little bad, because I cheated myself out of my original plan for a handful of miles, but they might have prolonged my trip by one full hour easily – and I knew I didn’t want to cross urban San Francisco from North West to South East at rush hour with twelve hours of driving on my back. I was happy to find out though, thanks to Wikipedia, that the Interstate 280 is “referred to as one of the most scenic urban freeways in America”. It was scenic indeed, and the elevated winding road got me away with a few nice captures of San Francisco during my final approach.

There I was, tired and happy. More than 450 miles, twelve hours and twenty minutes and two meals after leaving Los Angeles International Airport. This had been a mighty trip, a day to remember. A day of slow driving and windy roads, a day of fun and pie ranches and elephant seals and foggy mountains. A day of blue highways.


I meant to dedicate the following day to taking photographs of San Francisco, but unlike the day of my arrival the air was hazy with local fog and smoke carried from distant fires.

The only worthy image I could capture is this skyline of San Francisco from Treasure Island, monochrome for obvious reasons. You can go on my Instagram and see a detailed version of the same panorama in ten photos.

beach, california, Drone, los angeles, Palos Verdes, Sensor Fresh, South Bay

Gloomy Cove, Pretty Cove?

As you might already know, I have issues with June Gloom. Just as I dislike May Gray and No Sky July and Fogust. As some of you might also know, I have decided to (kind of) embrace it and look for facets of beauty in the gloomy weather.

That is why this morning I took my drone to Malaga Cove, Palos Verdes, to see if that wonderful neighborhood is just as marvelous when the Sun does not turn the scenery into a dazzle of emerald, gold, ivory and turquoise.

Let’s find out!

beach, california, Drone, los angeles, Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh, South Bay

Drone Narrative – Setting Sun

I love how the drone helps me put everything in a new frame. I’ve always been a sunset-chaser. “I really hate sunsets”, said no photographer ever, but before the drone, the sunset was a piece of its own. Now, through aerial photography, I can frame the sunset into a broader narrative, for instance the sunset and the city.

I caught a glimpse of the Sun setting over Redondo, last night. Summer solstice was just a couple of days ago, which means that the Sun sets at the most Northern point. From Redondo, the Sun is basically setting behind Malibu. That was quite a show.

beach, Birds, Nature, Redondo Beach

Duel in the Sky

Yesterday morning I felt like I had been too lazy in the past few days. Well, not lazy-lazy, just too “sedentary”, parked in front of my Mac editing photographs. Yes, “sedentary” is the educated word for lazy, in case you were wondering. You can blame your “extra coating” on laziness or on your sedentary lifestyle. Anyway, I decided to go for my 5-miles-roundtrip walk: Home – Avenue C – Esplanade – Beach – Burnout – RAT Beach – Malaga Cove – Saint Francis Episcopal Church – Paseo de la Playa – Esplanade – Avenue C – Home.

I never get tired of this walk. Sometimes I run it, too. Anne-Claire runs it all the time, she actually runs further towards Lunada Bay because she won’t even bother going out to run 5 miles. The real reason I don’t run it that often is because I like to take my camera gear with me. Granted, I could hold my Fujifilm X100V in my hand and run (maybe I should do it!), but this is a walk where I love to have my zoom lens, too, and it’s harder to jog with 4 pounds in your hand (especially knowing that those four pounds cost about one grand per pound).

I never get tired of this walk. Even when I don’t see anything unusual, the usual is wonderful enough. Should I ever get tired of this, then getting tired of this will be the least of my problems.

The beach is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get. A Tasmanian Devil hanging out at the end of the trail, for instance.

By the way, if this is yours, he said he was sorry and he didn’t mean what he said, and he’s ready to come home and appreciate what he has. But he also said he’s not desperate and enjoying his time at the beach, he does not want to be taken back just out of pity. Don’t blame me I am just the messenger.

I panted and puffed up the Malaga Canyon trail, cursing my sedentary lifestyle: little did I know I was about to run into an acquaintance of mine, Falco the American Kestrel. I’m always happy to see Falco. He’s a David Bowie among birds of prey. Svelte [I love this word], stylish, sharp, unpredictable, he always impresses his friends. Falco is always eager to pick a fight: not so long ago I witness him challenge and chase a much bigger Red-Tailed Hawk, guilty of perching on Falco’s tree. Was it a particular tree? No, Falco owns all the treetops.

Yesterday Falco was managing his Kestrel’s business from the top of the Gazebo at Roessler Point. I know what you’re thinking: “You’ve got yourself a mighty fine Kestrel, sir!”. And yes I do, thank you very much.

Falco bid me a good day and he fluttered away in the worst possible direction. No wingy action shot this time either. You son of a gun Kestrel!

It was clearly a bird-oriented day because I got a glimpse of this angry fella as I was approaching St. Francis Church. You don’t want to mess with this one! Look at the frown on that little hummingbird’s face!

I was happily trotting home, satisfied with the amazing sights I had witnessed for far, when I spied a shadow in my upper peripheral vision. I looked to the sky, and behold! it was a double shadow. The Hawk and the Crow where dogfighting in the air. It was more than High Noon: it was a…

I recommend you look at these images while playing some Ennio Morricone music. Either the Titles theme, or “The Extasy of Gold” from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Crows and Hawks pursue their timeless fight in our skies every day, and we just stare at them, powerless and dumb, wondering why is that a thing, whether it’s more for fun or do they really mean to hurt each other. Is it a vendetta that’s been going on for millennia? Or is it a folkloristic rivalry, like the Jets and the Sharks of the moderns skies? Are these joint trainings involving suspicious allies? Do they know they are nothing but each-other’s double? Are they just jerks? All of the above?

The fate of this duel is not ours to know, and perhaps it’s not theirs to know either – could they even agree on who was the winner? Blissful birds, both persuaded the other is the enemy and the loser, by race and by tradition, like the ancient Greeks and Persians…

And that was a wrap for another fascinating morning in Sunny California. Time to get back on the saddle and go home and think about it all.

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The beauty of living by the beach is that even when you’re just going to pick up groceries at Smart & Final, you can still take the long way and walk by the beach. The beauty of being a photographer with a compulsive gear acquisition disease is that there’s a good chance you’ve got the tool for each situation. A few months ago I gave in and bought the camera I had wanted for the past five years, the camera that had actually brought me to Fujifilm but that first I could not afford, and then I could not justify. Last September I could finally afford and justify the Fujifilm X100, in its fifth edition (V). Long story short, it’s the perfect camera to fit in the pocket of my new REI jacket that keeps me super warm in the 20 cold days we have in California.

I walked down to the beach and this is what I saw.

The sand had been smoothened by the wind. No footsteps. No tracks. Just sand. It looked like a pure desert. I stepped closer to the sea. Another angle? Okay, because it’s just too beautiful.

For a second, I considered walking back up to the Esplanade. Not so much because I was defiling the carefully polished sand – yes I gave that some thought to be honest – but because of the sand whipping my bare legs at every gust. Con gusto. I also thought that my lens would probably like it as little as my calves. But hey, we all serve some greater purpose. Drive on and look at the texture of the beach.

The sea looked like this: it was a swirl of mint and blue and ice and foamy frosting.

As usually, I lost track of time as I strolled South. I was witnessing Redondo at its best, when the R ends up standing for Rapture. Rapture Beach.

In the end I got to Avenue H, and I decided I had taken in enough beauty. I was elated. I felt as if I had attended a thousand masses from a thousand churches. It was time to step back into life.

Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh

Rapture Beach


The high wind and surf advisory was right. Those, they are usually right. And they are surprisingly precise, they know almost down to the hour when it starts and when it ends. I got a new jacket yesterday at REI. To go to the snow (as they say here), so that I don’t freeze to death while Anne-Claire is out running and I don’t start whining “It was so cold” once she’s back.

ANYWAY I packed all of my cameras (I really did) and headed to the beach this morning. The wind had kept us awake most of the night, so I might as well do something useful with it. Redondo Beach did not disappoint.

The Topaz Jetty, and Redondo Beach Pier in the background

There were very few people but a lot of birds. Some parts of the beach were actually paved with birds.

Birds contemplating the high waves in Redondo Beach

I tried calling these birds because it would have been a beautiful group shot, instead of a butt shot, but they did not tern around.

Terns don’t turn when asked to

The Topaz Getty, with its iconic lifeguard tower, is one of my favorite landmarks in Redondo Beach. I wish I had not left the 23mm in the car, but I think this image still conveys the way it majestically stands facing the weather. I also really like the Lifeguard trucks.

The Topaz Jetty and Lifeguard Tower

As I walked back to my car, on the Esplanade, I saw the same birds and they would still not tern. I can’t blame them, the Ocean was nothing short of mesmerizing.

Terns and Heermann’s gulls thinking about the weather

After all, I was not behaving much differently than them, looking out into the Ocean.

Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes

My parking meter was nearly expired so it was time to go. Instead of just driving home, I followed my hunch that the Point Vicente lighthouse could be quite the show, and so I headed there. On the negative side, the elements were even more unchained down there. It was wild! But the view was amazing, totally worth getting battered by the raging wind.

The Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes

At that point, my eyes were full of sand and my hands were starting to feel numb, but most of all I could not find the restrooms at the Interpretive Point, so I just packed everything up, got into my warm car and drove home.

If you liked these photos, you can find them – with many others – in the section of my website dedicated to the landscapes of the South Bay!

Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh

Stormy Weather