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Elephant Seals of the Central California Coast

4 miles up the coast from a man-made wonder called Hearst Castle, an amazing
natural phenomenon has grown along the central California shore since 1990.

Almost hunted to extinction in the last century, elephant seals began arriving three decades ago along a sandy beach abutting the Pacific Coast Highway.

Today, protected by naturalists and organizations such as Friends of the Elephant Seal, the rookery at Piedras Blancas Beach has became a welcome home to one of California's largest elephant seal populations.

These oceanic nomads make California their home on route from their migration from Alaska twice a year - once to give birth and mate, and then return at various other times to molt, or shed their outer skin and fur.

Getting there:

From Hearst Castle in San Simeon, take Highway 1 N 4 miles until you reach
the"vista point" on the ocean side of the highway.

Now numbering into the thousands, elephant seals have become a spectacular open air tourist attraction and must-see stop for visitors making their way down the coast.

Frolicking in the ocean, or basking in the California sun, these wild denizens of land and sea are often blissfully unaware of hundreds of human onlookers who come to see them. But be warned: these are wild animals. Approaching them on their own turf is NOT recommended!

When to Go: The elephant seals can be visited from 8 am to sunset year round. Our visit occurred in October, when a population of young elephant seals was at its peak.

A bull elephant seal enjoying the surf at Piedras Blancas.

December-March is prime viewing time to see larger males who come to mate, or engage in sometimes loud and fierce territorial battles.

The winter months are also when females give birth. Special arrangements may be made by tour bus companies and school groups to have guides on hand to assist them or answer questions.

Call (805) 924-1628 for more information.

Viewing tips: Look for guides in blue jackets who can expertly answer any questions.

Otherwise, read the colorfully illustrated markers along the path that explain elephant seal social life, feeding and mating habits. Here's more:

Elephant seals
On land, elephant seals spend
most of their time either snoozing
or relaxing to preserve energy.

  • Take heed of the warnings posted. While it may be tempting to engage elephant seals, they can be quite aggressive & territorial, so keep on the designated path to avoid injury.

  • Although the weather is generally sunny along the coast, bring at least a light jacket and be aware of the day's forecast for possible coastal wind or rain.

  • Just observe, and be prepared to spend more time than you had planned for the day to be completely mesmerized by these fascinating creatures.

  • Don't forget the camera!

About the Author: Travel Editors

More about elephant seals around the Web:

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Elephant Seals, Big Sur California


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