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California Harbour Seal

Where to see Sea Lions & Seals on the Pacific Coast Highway

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2 January 2020 by Patrick Griffin

One of the Highway One’s most overlooked draws is its thriving sea lion and seal population. They can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look, so we’ve created this list to help you on your search. Here are our top places to spot California’s iconic marine life along the spectacular Pacific Coast – the ideal location for a scenic self-drive.

Point Lobos State Park

Californian baby seal relaxing on a beach
Baby Seal, California

At this state natural reserve, the sound of barking sea lions carries over rocky headlands and echoes in secluded inlets. A myriad of walking trails provide great access while harbour seals with spotted silver-grey coats can also be spotted. What’s more, proud bulls and reclining females are on show year-round, so you won't miss out due to changing seasons. In addition to the sea lions and seals, watch out for otters and whales, and below the surface, a delicate ecosystem of kelp and fish, best seen on a scuba dive – book ahead to secure your slot.

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Monterey Bay

Sea lions and birds reclining on the rocks at Monterey, California
Sea lions and birds at Monterey

If you're the outdoorsy type, renting a kayak is an exciting way to see Monterey’s indigenous sea lion population. Paddle across the bay to Cannery Row, a protected marine conversation area, where an underwater kelp forest affords these magnificent sea mammals rare protection. You’ll even spot the rare southern sea otter, currently a threatened species with only 2,900 left in the wild. Meanwhile, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is famous for its interactive exhibits, which showcase a myriad of incredible marine animals including penguins, sharks, and jellyfish. This area is also home to some of California's most beautiful beaches – another place to spot seals and sea lions basking in the sun.

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San Simeon & Cambria

Perhaps best known for its proximity to Hearst Castle, San Simeon also features an impressive colony of elephant seals. Males, growing up to five metres in length, are the largest seal in the northern hemisphere and, with their enormous nose, are a truly unique sight. Spending up to ten months of the year in the open ocean and diving up to depths of 5,000 feet for anything between 15 minutes and two hours, they can be forgiven for their lack of grace on land. The Piedras Blancas Rookery in nearby Cambria is the only elephant seal rookery in the world that is easy to reach and free to the public all year round. The best time to see them is from December through to March, when winter storms and windy conditions bring them to the shore for pupping season.

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San Francisco

California’s bohemian golden-child has possibly the most accessible sea lions in the state. Ever since its refurbishment in 1989, more and more californianus – to give them their proper name – have been ’hauling out’ on the now famous Pier 39. As many as 1,700 have been reported here, with some weighing up to half a ton, choosing the sheltered bay for its abundance of food and lack of natural predators – sharks and orcas. And, San Francisco itself is a lively, bohemian city, with bustling streets, great restaurants and hip bars to retreat to after soaking up the coastal views.

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Pacific Coast Highway

Road winding along coastal cliffs on Pacific Coast Highway, California
Pacific Coast Highway

Of course, knitting all these sights together is the fabled Pacific Coast Highway. Spanning 100 miles of rugged coastline, the route takes about five hours to complete at a leisurely pace and covers both the Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway. Undoubtedly the most spectacular section of the drive joins San Luis Obispo with Monterey via Big Sur, once referred to as 'the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world' by novelist Robert Louis Stevenson. A Wexas favourite, the classic Pacific Coast Highway Tour, takes in all these highlights. And, for more journeys along this scenic stretch of tarmac, or any number of great American road trips – the Deep South, New England or Route 66 for example – simply call us on 020 7590 0610 or enquire here.

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