Huge and ugly brutes, yet very quirky and funny; that’s how I’d describe the elephant seals in California. Look at their snouts in the pictures and you’ll understand why they’re called as such. I’d never heard of them before, but it was one of the many simple highlights of our trip north on the Californian coast road. If you’re planning to drive the HWY 1, this is a not-to-be-missed sight for any animal lover. You won’t be sorry!
Some 10 minutes north from San Simeon there’s an excellent point – visible on the map below – to view the seals from up close. The platform is very well placed above their natural and very pristine habitat and free to enter (yay!).
It’s really cool to be so close to the seals and see so many of these extraordinary creatures all together. Hundreds of them on the beach are wallowing, shuffling, flicking sand on themselves, annoying their neighbours, swimming, growling, barking (a really specific sound!), fighting for the leadership or just simply sun bathing. It’s like just watching this bizarre seal riot from up above, and they are totally not affected by your presence.
Even if you’re limited in time, it takes only a couple of minutes to see them, although you probably could spend hours watching them. If you do allow yourself a bit of time you’ll see that’s it’s possible to distinguish their attitudes and characteristics. Or maybe I just have a bit too much of imagination.
There are a few volunteer guides along the boardwalk, owning a wealth of knowledge in case you’re having some questions about their behaviours. Apart from that you might spot other creatures too, like sea otters eating in the kelp beds just off the beach, lots of crows and tons of squirrels that are focusing on the lunch crumbs of the visitors.
It might happen that the seals all together or a part of them have chosen a different spot to chill out. Don’t worry, there’re most likely still very nearby. The second place where you might spot them is a bit more up north. You’re able to walk from the viewpoint towards the next parking place, or go back on the HWY 1 and take the next exit on the left side (it’s also pinpointed on the map below). From there on a long trail leads you along several bays, with lovely wildflowers, a historic lighthouse, board walks, gorgeous beaches, sea grasses and magnificent views.
The seals could be basically around every corner, and you’ll probably hear their sounds or smell them before you see them :). In general: if you see cars pulled over along the rest of the HWY 1, you know there is animal action!
If you have some time left, drive a little southwards on the HWY 1. Some 10 minutes from the elephant seal view spot you’ll find Sebastian General Store. It’s more of a cute tiny store including a cafe with a charming patio instead of a big shop. And it also contains the town’s post office!
Though the place is often crowded and you might have to stand in line, they’ll provide you some excellent comfort food in exchange in here. Walk to the nearby pier or the lovely family beach afterwards and enjoy golden hour from up here!