Winter Wildlife Watch: Elephant Seals

Photo by Instagram, @wpgsfo

Photo by Instagram, @wpgsfo

The secret’s out! Winter is the BEST time to visit Santa Cruz for some great wildlife watching! And one of our winter must-sees – the elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park!

Photo by Instagram, @sstolte

Photo by Instagram, @sstolte

Año Nuevo State Park is the site for one of the largest mainland breeding colonies in the world for the northern elephant seal, and lucky for us, it’s just 22 miles north of Santa Cruz along scenic Highway 1. Mating, birthing, nursing, fighting — it all happens up close and personal on a 3-4 mile guided tour. Knowledgeable and passionate docents lead the way over sandy dunes to the best viewing spots, answering questions and sprinkling fun facts along the way. Although the elephant seals are present year round, guided tours are available daily from December 15 through March 31, excluding December 25 and January 24 & 25. Reservations are recommended and can be made through Reserve America.

Photo by Instagram, @brentstagrammar

Photo by Instagram, @brentstagrammar

  • Reservations for guided tours are required mid-December through March 31, and can be made online at anonuevo.reserveamerica.com. Or call 1-800-444-4445. Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks does accommodate walk-ups day of for unsold, or no show ticket holders, but pre-ticketing is highly recommended.
  • Cost: $10 parking / $7 per person (Children ages 3 and under free)
  • Self-guided tours are available April-November and require a free Visitor Permit issued at the park entrance.

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