Highway 1’s Hidden Secrets: Through a Photographer’s Lens

Take a photo, it’ll last longer! Whether you’re a professional photographer, an amateur shutterbug or simply someone who enjoys orchestrating the perfect selfie, you’ll find more than one good reason to snap your shutter along Highway 1. From breathtaking ocean views coveted by nature photographers of all levels to sunny beachside photo opps ready for family smiles, you’ll soon discover why Highway 1 is known as one of the most photogenic coastal wonders in the world. So, what are you waiting for? Zoom in, hit portrait mode or go for that panorama. Every day along Highway 1 is picture day!

Montana de Oro

#1 Always take the scenic route

Cruise with your camera and don’t forget to break for beauty. Sure, you’ve snapped photos that have garnered a few hundred likes. But what about a million bucks? See what all the fuss is about when you take the scenic drive from San Simeon to Ragged Point’s Million Dollar View, an ethereal window to the Big Sur Coast. Take your aim through the circular wooden sculpture, capturing wildflowers, mountains, waves and sky all in a single shot. It only looks like a screen saver (trust us, you’ll have a doozy of a time explaining to friends and family this one has not been photoshopped). 

Shoot like a local: This stellar slice of Highway 1 is coveted for its pristine, untouched photo opportunities dotted with hidden black sand beaches, romantic waterfalls, nature preserves, Elephant Seals, lighthouses and even exotic zebra sightings (if you know where to look). In other words, plan your shot list accordingly and make a day of it.

#2 Hop on a horse (or bike)

Giddy up, we ride at dawn (OK, maybe not that early, but we’re riding nonetheless). Want to capture Highway 1’s coastal magic from a whole new POV? Gallop over to Covell Ranch in Cambria, where a herd of majestic Clydesdale horses roam the countryside (the resulting photos will boast a gauzy storybook feel, sans filter). Embark on a trail ride backdropped by Monterey Pines and don’t forget your hat, iPhone and sense of adventure. Sure, your inner thighs might hurt a bit afterward–but the views you’ll capture from the saddle? Priceless.

Covell's Clydesdales in Cambria, CA

Shoot like a local: Slow down and snap at your leisure. From a famous olallieberry fruit stand nestled among rolling hills to scenic drives that meander from sea to meadow, Cambria is awash in fairytale charm just begging to be immortalized on film (or your Instagram feed). Of course, not all of this wonderland can be investigated via horse. Do what the locals do and hit the road on two wheels: a bicycle does a pretty swell job getting you and your camera into Cambria’s green and blue beyond.

#3 Don’t be afraid to get wet

Get into the splash zone! No, we aren’t suggesting you invest in a bunch of expensive underwater camera gear. However, you may be wise to slip on a good pair of water shoes. Why, you might ask? Oh, the photos you’ll snap along Highway 1’s alluring tidepools! In Cayucos, these watery ecosystems are plentiful as they are photo-worthy: capture cool pics of anemones, urchins, crabs, star fish, sea slugs and more. Your kids, especially, will enjoy getting to know this colorful cast of characters lounging in shallow, rocky waters. Plan to spend some time peeking around and playing with apertures: it’s easy to lose hours when captivating underwater models sit pretty for your own personal photoshoot!

Tidepool children playing

Shoot like a local: A trip to Cayucos is incomplete without a quiet sunset savored along the sand, a post-photo picnic along a hidden cove or a stop at the area’s resident shipwreck, a sight to behold. Yes, you read that last part correctly–you can actually photograph a real-life shipwreck without having to tango with any unsavory pirate-types. Of course, this isn’t the kind of thing you’ll find advertised from the main road. Most treasure is a bit off the beaten path, eh?

#4 Let the wildlife come to you

We’ll let you in on a little secret: If you remain still, they will come. Photographers of all skill levels needn’t worry about whether they’ll spot wildlife along Highway 1 (as we already mentioned, Elephant Seals and zebras and on the itinerary). It’s really a matter of “when” these critters will appear, so don’t be surprised when an otter pops up to say hello. Being in the right place is key, and Morro Bay’s little-known California Sea Otter Preserve is one such place to observe, shoot, and giggle. In these calm and protected waters, adorable otters play, nap, (or, more often than not, snack). Want to find out what they’ll do next? Follow our wildlife viewing tips and keep your camera handy to grab candid shots of these hilarious troublemakers in their natural habitat. Some come so close to shore, you might not need a zoom lens after all.

Sea Otter

Shoot like a local: Most locals have seen a few whales in their day! You can too–and perhaps even snap an epic keepsake pic for yourself–when you check out Highway 1’s awesome Whale Trail. Although whale watching is fabulous all along Highway 1, the area around Avila Beach sees a large proportion of these otherworldly creatures (plus, if you miss the whales that day, you’ll still have lovely scenery to shoot). Win win!

#5 Shake up your family photos

Ready for a better closeup? We suggest avoiding the urge to say “cheese,” which pretty much always produces an unnatural smile (sorry, someone had to say it). Instead, say words like “mocha” or “yoga,” which will give you and your clan a far more flattering expression. Another hot tip? Freshen up your family photos with compelling backdrops that wow, amaze and generally bring a sense of awed togetherness. I mean, isn’t that why you’re all out there, exploring Highway 1 together? Traverse a wobbly, ancient swinging footbridge in Arroyo Grande, strut along the smooth peaks and valleys of Oceano’s iconic dunescape or find the hidden swing that awaits at Point San Luis Lighthouse, accessible by kayak. These photos might be a tad blurry, back-lit or sun-streaked, but that’s the whole point. Take advantage of Highway 1’s rugged family photo opps (the kind you’ll want to actually hang on your living room wall, not just your Facebook wall). The best part? Each hard-won photo will hold a tremendous story for generations to come.

Swinging Bridge, Arroyo Grande

Shoot like a local: There’s nothing like a family hike to keep the camaraderie pumping! Embark on an outdoor challenge that will bring everyone together for a sweeping view they’ll never forget. The Edge of the World hike in Montana de Oro might require a bit of sweat and teamwork, but the reward–a clear view from Point Concepcion in the south to Piedras Blancas Lighthouse in the north–will live forever in the annals of family lore.

Find your way

Not quite sure where to start? No worries! Download our easy-to-use map and hit the highway! As you snap photos along your journey, don’t forget to hashtag Highway 1 Discovery Route with #Hwy1HiddenSecrets. Who knows, you might just inspire a fellow photographer to get out there and explore the road less traveled.

Get your free downloadable map with all 25 Hidden Secrets.