Ano Nuevo – Elephant Seals

This was one of those “recreate a trip from your youth” journeys.  My parents took me here when I was eight.  I remember it quite vividly, with the blue-green waves and the blanket of frolicking seals along the beaches, which stunned my 8-year old mountain-grown mind.  Oceans trips were a big deal.

You know how things sometimes seem different when you try to recreate something, especially if it’s an event or a place from your childhood?  I know I was a lot smaller at eight than I am now, but I remember a literal sea of seals jammed so close together that it was hard to see sand between them.  I asked the docent on our walk if the population had dropped considerably in the past 30 years, and it turns out we just went on a “slower” time.  Still gorgeous, even if you can see the actual beach between the seals.

Ano Nuevo is one of the largest breeding grounds for elephant seals in the world.  It’s a protected sanctuary, also frequented by otters, sea lions and a host of marine birds, especially the diving kind (those are so fun to watch!).   The elephant seals come and go as they please, and depending on the time of year and their breeding cycle, the beach may be more or less crowded.

So what can you see here?  May through August is molting season.  Sounds gross, but it means lots and lots of seals will be at the beach, lounging in the sun while their outer layers shed off like a really bad sunburn.  Breeding season is December through March.  You might see the bulls fighting for dominance and breeding rights, pregnant elephant seals, and of course, BABIES! Towards the end of March, the babies are making their first forays into the ocean, and the beach population dwindles again.

We went in late March.  During that breeding season, you need to be on a docent walk.  I actually preferred it to the self-guided tour, because you get a lot of history and cool facts.  It wasn’t rushed, and in fact the 3-mile round trip takes about three hours on the docent tour.  If you’re visiting during those three months, make a reservation here for the Docent Tour.  If you just walk up, you’ll most likely be disappointed by already booked tours.  If you’re visiting the other nine months of the year, you can do the self-guided tour and laugh at all the seal facial expressions on your own schedule.

Directions: 1 New Years Creek Rd., Pescadero, California.  It’s about three hours south of Sacramento or an hour south of San Francisco.  Wear good walking shoes!  You’ll be up and over dunes a lot, and walking amidst driftwood and some periodic bramble bushes.

Cost: $10 per car to park (it’s a California State Park).  If you choose the docent tour, it’s $7/person.


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