Address: 5970 S. Palos Verdes Drive, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275 [ Map It ]
I stumbled upon Abalone Cove almost by accident when using Google Maps to find another location. I spotted the parking lot while in satellite view and thought it might make a great place to stop while in the area to catch some photographs of sunsets. Upon further research, I found that there are tide pools and some sea caves which made the location attractive to me.
Visiting the location’s website, I saw that there is a $5.00 entrance fee. Using Google’s Street View, I scouted the road along Palos Verdes Drive to find a place to simply pull over and park for a bit with the intent to simply walk down to the beach, however, I found plenty of No Parking signs and only two turnouts that held no more than four cars at a time and the signs posted there were marked “1 hour Parking.” Really no way around paying the $5.00 to visit the location. I chose to visit the location in the afternoon and when I arrived, the gates were open and no fee was charged. Also, I did notice on the website that the location has marked hours and I was curious what my time frame to park, get down to the beach, set up some shots, and get back to the car before the gates closed, so I telephoned and the gentleman said that once inside the parking area, you can leave whenever with no worries about having your car trapped there overnight if you arrive after the stated hours (use your own judgment).
Once on site at the location, I put on my hiking boots and slipped into my Lowepro camera backpack. For this shoot, I brought along my Canon 5d Mark II and my favorite Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens and my heavy Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5 lens. I also packed my tripod, battery grip and the usual extra batteries, miscellaneous camera gear, and a large bottle of water. All told, my backpack most likely weighed in over 30 pounds.
At a little after 3:00 pm, I set out on the trail leading down to the beach. There are two trails from the parking area. One in the lower corner and one in the upper corner. Most people appear to chose to take the lower trail. I took the upper trail because the sea caves were my priority. Taking a wrong turn, I ended up in the same place as a lower trail which comes out on a very rocky beach. By rocky, I mean, large rocks that make walking slow as the rocks move and roll under your feet. Caution: You can easily twist an ankle on this beach while walking on the rocks, so be careful and take your time. Hiking boots that support your ankles would be advised. Once on this beach, you can find the waves crashing into the rocks for some great shots. You can also see the curvature of the beach and the cliff (Portugese Point) that juts out to the south.
The hike down to the beach takes about 20 minutes, which includes a stop or two at look out points to admire the view. Going back up takes a bit longer as the trail is much steeper than it looks making me wish I would have left my heavy 5 lb. Sigma lens at home. Keep in mind, this is a steep dirt trail that I imagine could cause you to slip and slide with worn out basketball or tennis shoes with no tread left on them.
The lower trail ends at the rocky beach, however, if you go back into the small canyon where you came out, the trail can be picked up again on the right to continue along the bluff and on down to the bottom of Portugese Point, and if low tide, tidal pools. Around the corner, on the south side of Portugese Point is Smuggler’s Cove, and the better sea caves where the ocean rushes in making for some great shots. Caution: While at the tide pools, having a spotter along to watch for rouge waves is advised as many have been swept into the sea without notice. In fact, recently the park was closed for several weeks after several people, on different occasions, were swept to their deaths by rouge waves caused by a southern hurricane.
Capturing the Shot: It’s best to check the tidal charts before scheduling a trip to Abalone Cove. Low tide days are best to visit the tide pools and high tide days produce shots of the waves crashing on the rocky beach.
I chose to visit this location in the late afternoon so that the sun would be off to the north of me while shooting the beach in the opposite direction and which would make the ocean appear more blue with less reflections, and I wasn’t disappointed. The draw back to late afternoon is that the nightly marine layer begins to roll in and you can see it coming off in the distance. Use your best judgment for the shot that you are looking for.
All told, this is a great location that seems to be overlooked by many photographers by virtue of the hike. Getting down to the rocky beach is fairly easy. Getting to the tide pools and sea caves will take a good bit of hiking but well worth it to capture that unique shot that is rarely found in California and more often associated with Hawaii.