Venture across the picturesque beaches of Northern California’s Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve to encounter the world’s largest colony of northern elephant seals. Inhabitants of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, these seals migrate from Alaska to as far south as Baja, California, but return each winter to the rocky shores of Año Nuevo to mate. You’ll need a reservation for a guided walk during the winter season (December 15 to March 31), but can explore on your own any time between April and November.
Starting from the visitor center, wind through thick deerbrush on the Año Nuevo Point Trail before hanging a left onto the Pond Loop Trail. Keep your eyes open for the abundance of birdlife near the pond as you head toward the Año Nuevo Exhibit Building (featuring a real-time census count of the male, female and pup seals in Ano Nuevo) and the entry-point to the Sand Dunes section of the park.
In the Sand Dunes area, walk amongst the hundreds of elephant seals lounging, playing, feeding and mating on the postcard-like beach. Don’t expect privacy on the shore, though: Along with hordes of 14-foot, 2-ton elephant seals, you’ll likely run into coyotes on the prowl. Winter is the best time to see the adult seals, though weaned pups will remain at the beach through April.
Guided tours cost $7. Reservations can be made by calling (650-879-2025) or visiting Reserve America.
-Mapped by Dave Miller