On clear days here in Santa Cruz, the peaks and ridges above Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula rise above the marine layer on the far side of Monterey Bay like some sort of alpine island. This is the Santa Lucia Range, home to some of the steepest and highest coastal terrain in the lower 48.
I was asked to create an idealized version of our view across the bay to help identify distant features. A nice crisp photograph might do the trick, and it's certainly possible to take good photos of the Santa Lucia skyline on a clear day. But Santa Cruz and Monterey are 25 miles apart, far enough that the cities' immediate coastlines are actually hidden from each other below the surface of the bay due to the earth's curvature. So a photographer can’t really get a complete view of the opposite coastline. On top of this, boundary layers in the lower atmosphere act like shifting lenses that can distort whatever features are visible close to the horizon at any given moment. You can find out more about these phenomena here.
There are some good reasons not to use relief mapping techniques to create a photorealistic vista. For one thing, imagery captured from overhead generally does not look very good from the side. But in this instance I found that I could get reasonably realistic results by selectively drawing in the outlines of trees and buildings.
We chose Seabright Beach near the middle of town as the best vantage point for this cartographic illustration. In addition to its central location and popular coastal overlook, two of the highest and farthest summits of the Santa Lucia Range happen to be visible from this spot, revealed in a notch between two of the nearer ridges.
Pan across the map with this short video: