Plein Air Painting California

The Golden State, California – one of the best places on Planet Earth for almost year round accessibility to landscape painting due to a generally temperate climate and diversity of scenery. Having been a resident of the State for many decades, I have had the privilege of plein air painting here for much of that time.

The relatively close proximity of ocean, mountains, desert, farmland, vineyards and urban centers such as San Francisco and the Bay Area make it possible to paint by the ocean at Big Sur one day and then, after a drive of less than 5 hours, be up at Lake Tahoe in the High Sierra, Yosemite Valley, Giant redwoods, surfing beaches… the list goes on and on.

In creating this section of this website I have taken a small sampling of plein air paintings and stories from my collection to share with you – many places remain unpainted and waiting for me. The road as yet untraveled – tantalizing and just ahead on the horizon

Readers of this section may also enjoy specific plein air painting site location directions in many different parts of the great state of California.

Plein Air Painting at Point Lobos, Nr. Carmel, California

Late winter on the central coast of California is often a glorious time. Poppies are in bloom, sunshine is everywhere and the Gray Whales are migrating back from their breeding grounds in Baja to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska.

In summer, this coastline is usually blanketed with thick ocean fog. Locals know that spring and fall are the best times on the coast if sunshine is what you seek. This painting was done on such a day. While I was painting, a pod of mother Gray Whales with their calves swam into the cove and spent some time in this protected environment. Resting their young calves before crossing the deep canyon of Monterey Bay on their way North to Alaska.

The gentle lapping of waves occasionally punctuated by the sounds of whales clearing their blowholes is what I remember when looking at this image.

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Surfing at Steamers Lane, Santa Cruz, California

Santa Cruz is south of San Francisco on the Monterey Bay. It is world famous for great surfing waves and the surfing lifestyle. The quintessential California beach town, Santa Cruz is also home to many artists, writers and musicians. Must be the laid back lifestyle. None of the Silicon Valley hyperactivity has seeped across the mountains even though it is just 20 miles away. A different state of mind exists along with the change in area code from 408 to 831.

One of the best surfing breaks in Santa Cruz is called Steamers Lane – this painting was done on the cliffs above Steamers Lane. I was watching my 22 year old nephew, visiting from South Africa, surfing with the local dudes at Steamers. It wasn’t a “big” wave day but still fun to watch and paint the action. I did my painting and he surfed. Since my studio is only 15 minutes away this was an easy painting and surfing outing.

Sierra Nevada Mountains

Early Summertime in the High Sierra mountains of Northern California can be amazing.  I was able to get this remote site on a dirt road.  The road had just opened for the season - a month before it was buried in snow.  The Pacific Crest Trail head can be accessed from this location.  I painted this beautiful scene in afternoon light with snow patches still visible on the north facing peaks.

Burney Falls, North Eastern California

I did this painting during a camping trip to North-Eastern California in June 2007.

This magical waterfall took me completely by surprise with its’ size and magnificence. The waters of Burney Creek hurl themselves over the basalt lava ledge and down 129 feet into the gorge below.

The plunge pool at the base of the Falls is 22 feet deep and ice blue and emerald green in color.

The morning sunlight shining on the white foam and sparkling droplets create a rainbow which arches over the gorge. The snow melt water causes a temperature differential of at least 40F between the top of the Falls and the base. During my visit it was 100F+ on the rim trail and 55 or 60F at the base of the Falls.

Painting at Burney Falls ranks as one of my top plein air painting experiences!

Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, California

Elkhorn Slough is a tidal wetland  near Moss Landing on Monterey Bay.

The tide driven waters are home to many creatures including the endangered California Sea Otter. Large groups of otters hang out together in this area, safe from the open ocean and with a steady supply of shell fish to snack on. The Elkhorn Slough is also a sanctuary for birds of many kinds, both resident and migrating.

The constantly changing water levels due to tidal action, and the ever evolving drama of sky and water reflections make this spot irresistible to plein air painters in our area.

An excellent Nature Center at the Reserve is a good place to start in visiting the Slough. They are open every day except Tuesdays.


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