Each winter, another kind of visitor comes to town—the elephant seal. These ocean giants haul out on beaches along Northern California's coast for the mating season. The massive male bulls arrive first. In one of the most fascinating spectacles in the animal kingdom, the lumbering bulls, which can weigh more than 2.5 tons, battle for dominance. In the following weeks, pregnant females arrive. By mid-January, populations are at their highest, and the breeding beaches become a loud and crowded community. Read on to discover the best spots to observe these bizarre mating rituals.
Año Nuevo State Park
Located off Highway 1 near Pescadero, Año Nuevo State Park is the second largest mainland breeding colony of northern elephant seals in the world. The reserve offers naturalist-guided walks, which allow visitors extraordinarily close views. Reservations are required. 650.879.2025
Piedras Blancas in Big Sur is the largest mainland breeding colony, attracting about 20,000 seals. You’ll find easily accessible vantage points along the highway. Docents in blue jackets staff the site daily from 10 am-4 pm. 805.924.1628
In Point Reyes, a smaller colony of about 100 seals can be observed from Elephant Seal Overlook, near Chimney Rock and above beautiful Drakes Bay. During weekends and holidays, docents staff the overlook, equipped with binoculars, spotting scopes and a wealth of information. 415.464.5100