If you’re planning on taking a trip along Coast Highway 1 this summer, there are plenty of opportunities along the way to stop and see elephant seals on the coast. Between April and August, elephant seals are numerous in many places in California, and are worth the stop for a photo opportunity.
Seals were hunted to near-extinction in the 1880s but a small population of about 100 migrated to Baja California and survived. Since then, the seals have started to move north and repopulate in beaches along the coast. Here are five places along the California coast where you can see elephant seals:
Elephant Seals in California: Here's Where to See Them!
Located about 50 miles north of San Luis Obispo, the rookery at Piedras Blancas Light Station is home to elephant seals. The first colony of seals came here in 1992, and today the population of seals at Piedras Blancas is in the thousands! You can also visit nearby Hearst Castle during your visit, which is a beautiful historic monument with sweeping views of the ocean.
Located along the coastline just south of the San Francisco Bay Area, a natural preserve has been set up at Año Nuevo State Park to protect elephant seals. Every year, 10,000 elephant seals come to breed, give birth, and molt. Make sure to visit the Marine Education Center, where you can learn more about the elephant seals and other species on this part of the coast.
A smaller elephant seal colony lives here, with a population of about 100. From the Elephant Seal Overlook near Chimney Rock and at Drakes Beach, you can observe elephant seals. The best time to visit is between December and March, during the breeding season, but between April and July, you can also see adult males and females.
There is a rookery at San Miguel Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara. Visiting the Channel Islands is a great idea for an overnight camping trip, since the travel time is about four hours. Cuyler Harbor, where most visitors land on San Miguel Island, is the first place that you can see huge populations of elephant seals. Consider going on a ranger-guided hike for some of the best viewing locations.
The Farallons are 27 miles off the coast west of San Francisco, and the islands are a great day trip destination. There is a rookery where you can see the seals molting between April and July. The Marine Mammal Center, located in the Marin Headlands, is also an interesting place to visit to see rescued elephant seal pups.
Want to check out more of California's wildlife? Discover the 6 Best Places for Whale Watching in California!
This article was written by Cathy Trianor.