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Travel BLOG
February 05, 2014

Elephant Seals Up Close and Personal at Año Nuevo

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. My first and long overdue visit to Año Nuevo was during the summer when my family stopped for a picnic on our way home from camping. I wasn't aware that elephant seals were present year round, but a nice chat with the park ranger convinced us to take the 3-mile round trip self-guided hike to view these massive sea mammals. What we saw and heard— mostly males fighting along the water’s edge blasting loud, intimidating roars through their trunk like noses— was fascinating and well worth it, but when I learned about the winter breeding season from a volunteer docent, I knew we had to return. And I couldn't be happier that we did because just look at the pictures below! Mating, birthing, nursing, fighting…it all happens up close and personal on a guided tour. Knowledgable and passionate docents lead the way over sandy dunes to the best viewing spots, answering questions and sprinkling fun facts along the way. My four children enjoyed learning that if they held hands and stretched out in a line, that was about the size of a sixteen-foot male. And a newborn elephant seal pup at birth weighs about the same as my 8-year-old does now. I can’t recommend the elephant seals enough, so GO GO GO to Año Nuevo! Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals   Año Nuevo Elephant Seals DETAILS

  • Reservations for guided tours are required mid-December through March 31, and can be made online at 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.
*Photo Credit: AJ Duryea.


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