The California coastline is beautiful, but it’s also home to an array of wildlife. If you’re looking for a glimpse into this underwater world, there are plenty of places where you can find sea lions and seals!
If you’re a California resident and love the ocean, then this post is for you. From Seal Beach to Santa Cruz, there are many unique spots where visitors can see seals and sea lions in their natural habitat.
For those who live outside of California or don’t have time to visit our beautiful state, we’ve put together a list of 15 spots that highlight these adorable animals playing on seashores and rocks. Check them out!
1. Santa Cruz, CA
There are several great beaches in the Santa Cruz area where you can find sea lions and seals. One of our favorites is Seabright State Beach, a pocket beach that’s perfect for families. This protected beach runs along a pier, which makes it even more fun to visit!
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience, head out to Cowell Beach. Located right next to the famous West Cliff Drive, this secluded spot is hidden from view by large boulders and cliffs. In addition to watching sea lions, visitors often see dolphins during whale migration season.
During the winter months, check out Bakers Creek Rocks, where anglers love to catch rockfish.
2. San Francisco, CA
San Francisco has several great places to see seals and sea lions, including Baker Beach. This beautiful beach is open to the public for free and offers gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
In addition to finding wildlife in the water, keep an eye out on land where you’ll find plenty of California quail, western bluebirds, and human visitors! Another great spot is Fort Funston, which sits right across from Ocean Beach.
3. Ano Nuevo State Reserve
The coast around this area features several excellent spots that offer incredible wildlife viewing. One of our favorite areas is Point Montara Lighthouse, a historic landmark, the first lighthouse built on the West Coast of the United States after it became a state in 1850.
The area around this point provides visitors with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and offers incredible wildlife watching opportunities when visiting between December and March.
4. Piedras Blancas
One of the unique spots in California is Piedras Blancas. This area is part of a state park and features incredible tide pools. As if this isn’t enough, there are also plenty of sea lions and seals on the rocks! One great thing about this location is that it’s a more protected spot for wildlife watching.
A popular spot to find these animals is at Natural Bridges State Beach, which has some fantastic shoreline walking paths that visitors can enjoy during their trip.
5. Arroyo Burro Beach
Another beautiful beach with some excellent animal viewing opportunities is Arroyo Burro Beach. Located north of Santa Cruz, this beach offers scenic views from its higher elevation and sandy shores.
If you’re in the mood for some wildlife, keep in mind that this spot also offers excellent opportunities to see seals in their natural habitat.
6. Cambria, CA
Located a few hours outside of San Francisco is a serene coastal community called Cambria. This quiet little town features several local businesses and farm-to-table restaurants that locals love!
One of our favorite things to do here is enjoy kayaking along Moonstone Beach, where visitors can often find sea lions as well as harbor seals. On your way back from this trip, stop by Moonstone Grill for an incredible seafood feast at sunset!
7. Sunset State Beach
Sunset State Beach is another excellent spot for wildlife watching and is part of the Monterey State Beach system. Visitors have many options here as there are campgrounds, picnic areas, trails, bocce ball courts, surfing spots, and more!
One spot that has been popular with visitors over the years has been Sand Dollar Beach, where you can try to hunt for your own sands dollar as well as see some seals on the rocks! There’s also a small pond near this location which provides a safe habitat for many animals.
8. Morro Bay Harbor
This beautiful harbor town has several great spots to view wildlife, including Morro Rock. If you’re looking for an incredible tide pool experience where you can find tons of sea creatures from starfish to octopuses, this location is a must-see!
To find out the best times to experience low tides, check out their website. In addition to seeing these amazing creatures in the water, visitors can also see many different marine birds, sea lions, and dolphins near San Simeon.
9. Bodega Bay
In Sonoma County lies Bodega Bay, which was made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film, “The Birds.”
Although we wouldn’t recommend visiting during spring break and don’t say we didn’t warn you — some great places within this area offer wildlife viewing. Salmon Creek Beach is one of our favorite spots, where local fishers often go for rockfish and lingcod.
The Northern Coast of California offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. One town that is a hidden gem in Humboldt County in Eureka. This peaceful coastal city has several fantastic restaurants and accommodations.
Many visitors don’t know about this area because it’s also home to the Redwood National and State Parks. These parks offer great activities, including hiking trails through old-growth redwoods, mountain biking, camping, kayaking, fishing, and more!
11. Wilder Ranch State Park
Wilder Ranch State Park is another fantastic spot for wildlife watching on the Northern Coast. It’s located just outside of Santa Cruz and features some incredible dunes, great for sand sledding!
Although you can’t bring your board, renting one at the park is pretty much the next best thing, and there’s no shortage of sand to go around! In addition to these dunes, it also features beautiful beaches where you can find different types of marine life.
12. Pacifica Beach
Another great local spot for surfing is Pacifica Beach, located just south of San Francisco in Pacifica. If you’re looking for some sound waves, this area is often a hot spot during the big winter swells that come along each year.
Although swimmers should exercise caution at all times when visiting any coastal beach due to strong currents, rip tides, sneaker waves, or other hazards, this location is well-known for being one of the best spots for catching some solid waves.
13. Fort Funston & Ocean Beach
If you’re looking to watch some wildlife along the coast, one great place to start is Fort Funston in San Francisco. This area has been a local favorite for many years and is often referred to as “The City’s Backyard” and “Giant Sandbox.” However, if you want to be sure to catch a fantastic sunset, we recommend grabbing a bite at The Cliff House and setting up your tripod overlooking the ocean – the views here are second-to-none!
For those who like exploring off the beaten path, this area features plenty of trails where you can witness all sorts of wildlife, from egrets and pelicans to raccoons and deer.
14. Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County is a must-see for any nature lover! The park offers incredible views from Tomales Bay, Limantour Beach, and more! In addition to these gorgeous spots, it also features the beautiful Point Reyes Lighthouse, which you can climb to get even better views of this picturesque park.
If you’re looking for an activity that’s good for the whole family, much less active than hiking, try visiting during one of their interpretive walks or programs. You can learn all about the history surrounding this area and take a guided tour along some of the best trails.
15. Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument is another excellent spot to visit if you’re looking for something a little less strenuous than hiking. This beautiful forest and wetland are located just north of San Francisco and features trails through ancient redwood trees.
Although the short loop trail isn’t too demanding, we recommend bringing some water and wearing long pants as there are many poison oak plants in this area. However, it’s well worth the trip – not only will you get to witness these majestic old-growth trees, but you can also catch glimpses of the local wildlife along the way!
I hope you find this post helpful in planning your seal visit.