While Big Sur, Hearst Castle, and many of the towns and cities such as Carmel-By-The-Sea will be rightly high on your list of must-see Highway 1 excursions, there’s also some pretty incredible shows of wildlife along the way that won’t cost you a dime, including otters, seals, sea lions, and, the daddy of them all, elephant seals.
What are elephant seals?
Not to be confused with smaller sea lions, which can be found up and down the coast, especially in Monterey, and famously crowded onto Pier 39 in San Francisco, northern elephant seals are a less common sight due to their journey of migration, which can take them as far away as Alaska. Once hunted for their blubber, these heavyweight aquatic mammals (males can grow up to 20ft long) are a ‘must see’, and, depending on the time of year you are visiting, are very accessible.
When is the best time to see them?
Winter is the best time when they come ashore to mate and give birth, but we’ve seen them – mainly the pups – even in September.
Where is the best place to watch?
There are two locations in California, but by far the best is the Piedras Blancas elephant rookery, which covers a six-mile stretch of beach, which begins just a few miles north of the historic Hearst Castle. You’ll be greeted by the sight of these huge mammals lazing on the sand, and probably some of the pups playing in the water. Best of all, they are literally right next to the road. Just pull over and park in the free car park, and take your spot on the boardwalk, where you’ll have a fantastic view of these incredible mammals.
Have you seen the elephant seals? Tell us about your experience and helpful hints and tips.