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Best spots to view the Milky Way in SLO County

Central Coast photographer Brady Cabe captures a view of the Milky Way from Shell Beach.
Central Coast photographer Brady Cabe captures a view of the Milky Way from Shell Beach. bradycabe.com

Brady Cabe of Grover Beach enjoys capturing moments some people may never take the time to appreciate.

For the 32-year-old wedding and landscape photographer who also teaches astrophotography on the Central Coast, taking photographs of the night skies is one of his specialties. Cabe’s work has been recognized nationally, including a 2015 photo of the Perseid meteor shower that was honored by National Geographic.

In a post on bradycabe.com, Cabe details some of his favorite locations in San Luis Obispo County to capture images of the night sky and the Milky Way.

Cabe, a father of two who works full time in marketing, says knowing when and where to look for the Milky Way is key. (Take note: The Milky Way is dormant between late October and February.)

“When photographing the Milky Way, you’ll want to adjust your camera settings to record as much light as possible to capture the details of your surroundings using manual exposure settings,” Cabe said. “This means adjusting the ISO to 3200 or higher, using a shutter speed of at least 15 seconds, and opening the aperture to the widest possible setting. A wide-angle lens and a sturdy tripod will have you up and running in no time.

“Don’t forget to switch your lens to manual focus, and try adjusting your focus to the brightest star or furthest bright light in your scene to ensure the stars will be sharp,” he added.

Those who want to dive deeper can contact Cabe through his website about his astrophotography workshops, where he shows participants how to photograph and edit images of the night sky from start to finish.

Here are some of Cabe’s favorite places to capture the Milky Way in SLO County:

Avila Beach, Pirate’s Cove Parking Area

Far enough away from the lights of Pismo Beach and Avila Beach, this parking area offers “great star-gazing opportunities on a clear night,” Cabe says. He encourages people to be careful navigating the uneven dirt parking lot, and to bring a friend and a flashlight.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Cabe admits getting to the Carrizo Plain National Monument in eastern San Luis Obispo County is a bit of a trek, but “it’s truly a beautiful area that we are fortunate to have as part of our county.”

Morro Bay/Cayucos/Cambria

Light pollution isn’t something Cabe has to deal with in coastal communities such as Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria and San Simeon. “Explore the beaches for the darkest skies and great Milky Way views,” Cabe says, adding that, when Highway 1 toward Big Sur is finally open again, the “entire stretch is a night photographer’s dream.”

Santa Margarita/Pozo

In the summer months when the marine layer clouds have taken over the coast, Cabe often finds himself on the other side of Cuesta Grade in Santa Margarita or Pozo, looking for lone oaks to photograph. “East of Santa Margarita is dark, and gets darker the farther you drive,” Cabe says.

Pismo Beach/Shell Beach

Getting away from the bright lights of the hotels and neighborhoods is important when finding stars at these popular beaches. There is plenty of public access, Cabe says, and the Oceano Dunes can also be a good viewing spot. “Any evening in Pismo with clear skies and no moon should be considered an absolute treat in the summer,” Cabe says.

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