It’s Christmas season in Southern California, which means two things: palm trees covered in lights and gorgeous sunrise and sunset skies! After a week of traveling when I landed at LAX last night, I decided to check the weather and noticed conditions were predicted to be ripe today in Laguna Beach for a nice sunrise.
I had a busy day and a lot that I needed to get done, but of course all of that could wait if I had to go to the beach. My body’s clock still being on Eastern time, I figured it would be pretty easy to get up for sunrise, so I told Sarah we should aim to head to the Montage Laguna Beach in the morning.
We got to Treasure Island Park just before 6 a.m. and the sky didn’t look nearly as strong as I figured it would when we made the plans to get up early. I set up my tripod and camera anyway, and noticed the color slowly spreading across the sky, illuminating clouds that were seemingly appearing out of nowhere.
It was a sneak attack sunrise! Not only did the clouds directly in front of the sky illuminate, but color spread in every direction. Nephele (the cloud goddess–I had to Google that one) is a cruel temptress who has taken so many promising sunrises or sunsets and turned them to garbage on me this year, so it was nice to see things work in reverse.
I went home happy, and really needing to get to work. Wanting to avoid work at all costs, I looked at the afternoon forecast. Sure enough, there were all the trappings of a beautiful sunset. I got to work, with the light at the end of the tunnel being the light of the sunset…
We arrived at the Montage Laguna Beach again right at 4 p.m. Once again, the sky looked good, but not great with some wispy clouds above the horizon and a layer of thicker clouds at the horizon.
It all could light up, but the chances of a good sunrise and sunset in the same day were exceedingly rare. Granted, this is the best time of year in Southern California for beautiful color, but I’ve seen low clouds like that on the horizon before, and although I don’t know their technical names, they might as well be known as the “killers of fun and happiness.”
I’ve witnessed them turn many a promising sunset into a drab grey nothingness, and it seemed like that was likely on this particular evening. The color got reasonably nice, and then appeared as if it was starting to fade just before the official sunset time, with the fleeting sunlight likely being overwhelmed and trapped by one of those ne’er-do-well rogue clouds on the horizon (scientific explanation).
Then, in sneak attack fashion, the clouds lit up in a deep shade of orange as the sky went full-on nuclear. I can’t really describe it any better than that, but it was absolutely surreal. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t expect the sunset to exceed the sunrise in quality, but it did exactly that.
I went wild shooting this, bouncing around the park trying to find different spots to take advantage of the beautiful sky. Unlike the sunrise, it wasn’t stunning in every direction, but it was glorious at the horizon in the direction of the sun.
I finally found myself back on the lawn of Montage Resort. I’ve posted photos taken from Treasure Island Park at the Montage Resort before, and despite this being the beach I visit most in Laguna Beach, I had actually never been on the property of the hotel prior to today (I’m usually dressed in gym shorts and flip flops when I go shooting, and even the rabbits who reside at the swanky Montage are fancier than me!).
However, when I saw the gorgeous Christmas tree poking up in the middle of the Montage’s lawn, I just had to shoot it with the deep blue and red dusk sky behind the tree. It was a stunning scene to witness, and while I will always miss the snow-filled Michigan Christmases of my youth, this scene seemed to have the best of both worlds: a 55′ White Fir glowing with warm lights and the cool swells of the Pacific Ocean behind it.
As the colors of the sky slowly burned away, I collapsed by the fire pit, enjoying the fading embers of light. It had been a truly gorgeous day, and I could definitely get used to this type of Christmas.
The weather allowed for an embarrassment of riches in terms of “keeper” level photos, and I’ll be processing today’s photos for a while. I wanted to get a few edited and posted tonight before I fall too far behind, because the forecast for tomorrow’s sunrise is once again looking very strong…
These photos were all taken by me with my Nikon D810 Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens, and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens. I also used my MeFoto travel tripod. To get some more Laguna Beach photo ideas, check out my Laguna Beach Photo Gallery.
For more tips, info, and advice, please consult our Laguna Beach, California Planning Guide. If you’re visiting other spots during your California vacation, check out our California category of posts for other things to do. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you been able to enjoy the beautiful winter sunrises or sunsets in Southern California? Visited Treasure Island Park or Montage Laguna Beach? What did you think of the resort? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Would you stay at or visit the Montage again? Was it worth your time and money? Questions about what we’ve covered here? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!