Northern California Beaches: Misty Sonoma Coast

June 14th, 2012 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Northern California Beaches: Misty Sonoma Coast

Story and Photographs by David Leland Hyde

(See my portfolio, the last one on

Ice Plant, Mist, Rocks, Pacific Ocean, Duncan Cove State Beach, Sonoma Coast, California, copyright 2012 David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

From home I swayed down the Feather River Canyon with the Ford Van loaded for a week on the road. I drove two curvy hours on California Highway 70. Then I rolled smooth and straight on flat ground through Oroville and Marysville and on south to Sacramento.

While my Mac hard drive was born again at Arden Fair Mall, I drove back to downtown Sacramento to a real live old-fashioned retail camera store, part of the chain of Ritz Camera Stores, for some extra SD cards and carrying case. I found great wall mural photographs in downtown Sacramento near the Camera Store. I retraced on Arden Way to Whole Foods for healthy nuts, fruits, veggies, a burrito, water, green tea and other road food supplies. I circled back to pick up my computer and headed toward San Francisco.

Flowers, Mist, Rock Off Shore, Sonoma Coast, California, 2012 copyright David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

I made a right at Vallejo, left in Santa Rosa, drifted through dusk in downtown Sabastopol, made the right turn onto Highway One and started getting sleepy by the time I reached Bodega Bay in full darkness. Drove on up the coast with eyes heavy and saw the extra large wide spot at Duncan Cove, Sonoma Coast State Beach without any “No Camping” signs. Pulled down close to the cliffs and fell asleep listening to the Pacific Ocean sigh against the rocky shores of the Sonoma Coast.

At first light, heavy fog broiled around and gradually lifted a bit, but not enough to let the sun come through. I made some photographs looking north, down at a secluded, inaccessible beach walled off by cliffs. The beaches south were walled off too, but also worth photographs, especially with brilliant green and red ice plant against the black rugged rocky shore and gray-green sea showing soft through the white mist and fog. The Pacific Ocean was calm and the waves were mere surges with minimal white water, except for a few crashing spray geysers here and there.

Harbor Seals At The Mouth Of The Russian River, Sonoma Coast State Beach, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde.

I wound on up the coast with stops whenever I saw something good. A number of the images, especially those made around sundown were more dramatic than those containing beaches show here. Many images in the batch depicted huge rocks, cliffs, rushing mists and the faint dancing ocean sliding back and forth almost out of sight, almost unnoticed, working on the rocks, crunching, rumbling, mashing, growling, whirling, swirling, swishing and gnashing. Illumination, veiling, unveiling, opaque, translucent, then clear, the misty air slicing at my skin with cool, damp gloom and mystery. This Sonoma Coast is famous for shipwrecks in the fog.

After a damp morning I arrived in Point Arena just as the sun came out. More on Point Arena, my Uncle Nick’s Memorial and the Mendocino Coast in future blog posts…

What is your favorite beach that is usually in the mist and fog more than the sun?

For more blog posts of my photographs see the Blog Category: “David’s Perspective.”



  1. Richard Wong says:

    Sonoma Coast is probably the most underrated stretch of coast in California in my opinion. It gets none of the love that Big Sur gets and yet it’s wild, and intimate at the same time. It’s probably best that way. I’d like to go revisit Salt Point SP sometime.

  2. That’s true, Richard: Little or no love for the Sonoma Coast. I know everyone south of Santa Barbara considers everything north of Santa Barbara to be Northern California, but to us up here in the Northern Sierra, we consider Big Sur to be Central California or the Central Coast. I remember when I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, everyone from Los Angeles and points south considered San Luis Obispo Northern California, while everyone from the Bay Area considered it Southern California or Central Coast. Even for strictly Northern California beaches and coastline, Mendocino County and the Mendo Coast get all the accolades and the Sonoma Coast only a rare mention.

  3. pj says:

    Good piece of writing David, and the photos sure give the sense of that ‘damp gloom and mystery’.

    Being from the ‘interior’ I don’t know many beaches. Mostly just Venice, and I’ve never seen it foggy. Just crowded.

  4. Thanks for the compliments, PJ. That’s one item to put on your list to do before you die: visit a foggy California Beach. Fog and mist really are the ‘other’ California, and much more common than most imagine. I remember while attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Morro Rock and Morro Bay would often be completely socked in. Big Sur is, of course, famous for fog, as are most beaches anywhere north of Big Sur on up to Alaska. One of the top world-famous radio stations in the Bay Area is KFOG. What is most beautiful about the Sonoma Coast is its solitude. It is remote and sprinkled with one horse, or one whale towns, often with other world village charm. When you get way out on the Sonoma Coast and the fog rolls in, you get an eerie sense that the rest of creation has disappeared and you are the only person in the world. It is the Montana of Pacific Ocean coasts.

  5. pj says:

    Guess I’ll have to make a point of getting up there…

    I’ve seen the fog roll in up on the North Shore of Lake Superior which is probably similar in some ways, and I did see little but fog a couple of years ago when I was in San Francisco, but I’m sure those isolated beaches on the ocean are a world of their own.

  6. Hi PJ, thanks for the ‘be back.’ The North Shore of Lake Superior sounds interesting. It appears you’ve seen some coastal fog, but the rocky Northern California Coast is something else entirely. It is spooky how fast the fog goes in and out and how those huge craggy rocks appear out of nowhere and disappear just as fast. The Sonoma Coast and all of the North Coast above San Francisco is known well for the silence and peace and for sending ships and sailors to Davy Jones’ locker.

  7. Dan Baumbach says:

    I love the Sonoma Coast. Most of my ocean photos are from Pt. Reyes or Muir Beach, but I’ve always wanted to spend some time at Salt Point, north of Jenner.

  8. Hi Dan, Point Reyes is much harder to photograph, in my opinion, than the Sonoma Coast. I skipped Salt Point State Park on this last trip due to time constraints. I have always wanted to spend more time there too. My dad made some nice California beach and coastline photographs at Salt Point.

  9. Hi David. I just finished a trip to Maine which had similar conditions…foggy and overcast for most of the week. Your images sure do capture the foggy conditions.
    Very nice narrative and I am looking forward to you next installment.

  10. Hi Steve, appreciate hearing about Maine. I would think Maine hard to photograph in the mist. I like this sunrise. I like the way the foreground rock formations and Atlantic Ocean surface wind patterns compliment in similar colors and patterns: Did you photograph in the mist?

  11. Hi David.
    I am glad you enjoyed the image. Thanks for visiting and checking it out.
    Otter Cliffs/Rocks has been photographed countless times, but it has its lure still for me.

  12. Thanks for returning, Steve. It’s interesting that on the West Coast and on the East Coast we each have locations that we know have been photographed often, but photographers on either coast are not as familiar with the images that have been captured more often on the opposite coast. I know in this case, I had no idea that location had been photographed a lot.

  13. Sharon says:

    We do fog quite a bit. 🙂 Sounds like you had a wonderful trip, David.


  14. I always enjoy seeing your own work, David – and I your words and images compliment each other quite nicely. Sounds like a great little adventure!

  15. Thank you both Sharon and Derrick for your comments. It was definitely a fun and worthwhile trip.

  16. Greg Russell says:

    This is a great commentary and a wonderful set of images, David. I look forward to the next installment.

    Man, I live in southern California…we don’t have fog all that often, but I love it when we do. The most time I’ve spent on foggy beaches was around Monterey, and I really enjoyed my time there. I would like to get back to make some images…

  17. Thank you, Greg. I believe I’ve seen foggy conditions at every beach in California at least once. I remember the Winter 1977 State Parks trip I went on with Mom and Dad. We visited many of the California Missions again or for the first time, all the State Beaches and many other California State Parks. It was a foggy and rainy Winter. Near the end of the California Coast, Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego county was completely socked in. Dad said to God or Nature, he prayed to both interchangeably, “Well, if I’m meant to be here to do this, then let something interesting happen.” The heavy rain and mist lifted for a few hours and the sun showed through in a number of places, while Dad photographed Torrey Pines. True story. I was there. It might be in Mom’s log too. Dad had that kind of thing happen to him throughout his life though. Many people have observed it, but he never drew attention to it. He had a lot of faith he was doing the right thing on behalf of nature. He had faith nature would take care of him and it always did.

  18. Nancy E. Presser says:

    Hi David, There are two places that come to mind that semi-qualify to answer your question. Of course both of these places do see plenty of sun, but the mist and fog do their magic on them just the same. Pacific Grove outside of Monterey is my first favorite place. Across from Ocean View Blvd. there is this incredible cliff or what used to be a cliff, called Lover’s Cove surrounding the town that glows when the sun and fog meet. Second, and probably it should be first, since this is my favorite childhood place and I’ve talked about it before, is the Isthmus (now Two Harbors) on Catalina Island. Many mornings I would awaken before the rest of my family, to see the fog as I slid back the hatch and looked out from the companionway of our Cal 29 sailboat. Many mornings I could only see our own boat, not even the boat moored less than 20 feet next to us. I would only know that we were not alone in the harbor from the slapping sounds the water made against the hulls of the boats around us and the low moaning tone of the fog horn as it made its eery warning call over the harbor.

  19. Hi Nancy, thank you for sharing your fog and mist experiences in Monterey and on Catalina Island. Sailing can be fun, but also at times harrowing, including around rocky coastlines in the fog.

  20. Greg Russell says:

    David, that’s a really nice story and sentiment about your father’s experiences in nature (and at Torrey Pines). Thanks for sharing that.

    I think some photographers are blessed with great light, and some people (in general, not just photographers) are blessed by nature–I think your family falls into either of those two categories quite well.

  21. Thank you, Greg. It takes one to know some.

  22. Charles says:

    Nice photos of the coast! I might say that hopefully one day I make some reservations to head up there and take some pics of the ocean – as I reside in the desert!

  23. Thank you, Charles. The Sonoma Coast, Mendocino or Humboldt Coasts are all great places to go to cool off in the fog and mist during the summer.

  24. I think this may be on interest to your readers

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  25. Hi William, thank you for the heads up on the Ansel Adams Gallery 2012 photo contest.

  26. Lizzie Buxton says:

    Very nice photos of the coast David and the photos really do give the sense of the ‘damp gloom and mystery’. I was also looking around and have found some great Landscape Photography. Keep up the posts and photos.

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