How to reach the wreck of the Dominator: Ranchos Palos Verdes, California

All roads lead to the sea...

I stepped off the slick rock I was standing on, and hopped onto a large rusted panel that was wedged between rocks and tidepools. After steadying myself, I took a cautious second step, and then a third step to satisfy myself that it wasn’t going to collapse under my weight; which, if it occurred, would no doubt drive shards of rusty metal into my lower legs and ankles in a painful tetanus inducing manner. Only then, after watching my feet for the last forty-five minutes, did I look up and survey the wreckage around this portion of the shoreline. In the sudden low tide silence that followed my stop, I heard the clear clattering of a myriad of crustacean legs running over other pieces of metal. At that point, I allowed myself a rueful grin and wondered for the first time if heading out to the wreck of the Dominator had been a good idea.

I had not been phased by getting mildly lost on the streets of Rancho Palos Verdes, nor by the difficulties I had experienced in finding the trail down to the wreck, nor the cobblestone covered beach, rogue waves, rotting seaweed, squatters shacks, or the aforementioned rusty bits that could poke and jab exposed flesh and deliver all sorts of disease. But, the idea of being attacked by a horde of angry crabs made me pause for a split second before I started laughing at the ridiculousness of the idea. I took two more steps, and found myself at the base of the main remaining section of the wreck, which was now broken up into three large components. In 1961, the then SS Dominator, a Greek freighter ran aground in heavy fog, and since that point in time, the remains of the ship have been slowly disappearing into the sea. (

Captain Hook would be proud!

After hearing about the wreck from a friend of mine, I was curious to see how much of the ship was left; and was curious to see if I could even find the wreck. From what I had read prior to leaving on my weekend adventure, either some or none of the ship was left, after fifty years of weathering from the Pacific Ocean and scavenging from various tourists, and that it was near impossible to traverse the beach to get to the wreck. However, like a lot of urban legends, I quickly found that both assertions were incorrect. While I had technically been seeing portions of the wreck from the moment I made it down to the beach in small bits and pieces, broken gears and rusted beams; I had found three large sections of the wreck clumped together about a mile from where I had descended.

The first section, which I was standing beneath after my brush with the potential crab army, appeared to be the ruined section of a tractor, or large hoisting device for the ship. As I circled around the rusted and partially seaweed covered remains, I marveled at how the gears of the device had swollen into place, but still retained their distinctive forms and markings in many circumstances. After examining the gears and a large hook, I moved a short ways down to what were clearly two former sections of the hull which had turned a burnished orange over the last decade. As I looked around at the different pieces of the wreck which remained around these sections, up at the base of the cliff, and down at the tideline accompanied by only the silence of the tiny low tide waves and the wind, I thought of the fleeting nature of the works of man as compared to the timelessness of the planet, and universe. Then, on a less serious note, I thought about how the wreck reminded me of the end scene of the original version of the Planet of the Apes. But, before I could spend much more time thinking about serious or non-serious thoughts, I saw a group of thirty hikers heading up the shore toward me, and I decided to take my thoughts elsewhere while they explored the wreck on their own.

How to Get There: The best directions I found to the wreck (which I used) were as follows: park at the intersection of Cloyden and Paseo Del Mar. There is ample street parking. Immediately to the West of Cloyden, a foot trail exists between two houses. The trail descends down a large drainage pipe toward the beach. The area around the pipe is paved and gradually sloping, which is easily traversable, and in my opinion, substantially easier and safer than attempting to descend down any other area of the surrounding sandstone cliffs. From the base of the pipe, it is approximately a mile walk South to the main portion of the wreckage described and pictured above.

I went at low tide, and I would recommend that if you are to attempt this hike, you do the same, because the beach is very narrow and full of large cobbled stones. It is my opinion that at high tide, there would be no beach, and you would be forced to navigate the base of the cliffs, which would be a tricky proposition. Prior to attempting this hike, I read many accounts about how the beach was too difficult to traverse. The truth regarding the beach is as follows: the beach is chock full of cobbled stones to boulders. Yes, you will have to watch your footing. No, it is not impossible, or untraverseable. It’s an adventure!

There also may be large swathes of seaweed at low tide that you may have to cross, which is a little gross, but again, it’s nothing that can’t be handled easily. Sadly, there is a fair amount of new trash along the beach (cans, and other items that have washed up), but if you feel inspired to fix this problem, you can pick up a couple pieces on your return trip to throw away later. In terms of time, it took me two and one half hours to explore the wreck leisurely and return to my car. I’d imagine the hike could be done in an hour to an hour and a half, if people were in a rush, but take your time, have some fun exploring, and enjoy the remains of the wreck while it lasts.