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!

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 the last weekend in January for an annual fundraising event. Reservations are recommended for weekends and holidays, but walk-in tickets are available Monday through Friday.

Quick Need-to-Know Info:

  • Guided tours are from mid-December through March 31. (No tours are offered on Dec. 25th and Feb. 4-5). Reservations are not required but highly recommended for weekends or holidays.
  • Guided walks are about 2.5 hours from start to finish and operate daily from early morning to mid-afternoon, rain or shine.
  • Cost: $10 parking / $7 per person + $3.99 reservation fee for public walks. (Children ages 4 and under free).
  • Layered clothing, sturdy shoes, and rain gear are strongly advised. No umbrellas, strollers, food, or pets.
  • People with accessibility needs may reserve an equal access tour along our boardwalk Fridays through Mondays and select holidays.
  • Reservations can be made online at or call 1-800-444-4445.
  • Self-guided tours are available April-November and require a free Visitor Permit issued at the park entrance.

Photo Courtesy of Año Nuevo State Park

Updated December 2022