Whale watching is a popular activity this time of year, but you never know if or when you’ll spot the migrating animals along the California coast. If you want a sure bet for viewing sea mammals, there are beaches along the Central California coast where seals migrate each year to give birth to their cubs.
The Harbor Seal Preserve in Carpinteria (near Santa Barbara) is one such spot. The beach is closed to humans during birthing season, December – May, however there’s a viewing spot on a cliff above the beach. Spectators can watch about 100 harbor seals waiting to give birth. As the season progresses, you’ll see cubs resting near their moms. The Carpinteria city website calls this one of the city’s best kept secrets!
California Seal Preserves
See mother seals give birth to their young along California's central coast, in Carpinteria (near Santa Barbara) and San Simeon (near Cambria, Hearst Castle, Big Sur). Photos by KenPfeiffer/Traffic411
This beach in Carpinteria, CA is off limits to humans from December-May. Harbor seals migrate here to give birth to their cubs (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/california-seal-preserves/thumbs/thumbs_seal-rookery-carpinteria_traffic411_pfeiffer.jpg]170
A mother and baby elephant seal on a beach in San Simeon, CA. (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/california-seal-preserves/thumbs/thumbs_piedrasblancas_seal-mother-and-child_traffic411_pfeiffer.jpg]250
There were several mama seals with their babies on an Elephant Seal preserve beach in San Simeon, CA. (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/california-seal-preserves/thumbs/thumbs_piedra-blanca-herd_traffic411_pfeiffer.jpg]80
A herd of elephant seals rest on the beach near the Piedras Blancas point near Cambria CA. (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/california-seal-preserves/thumbs/thumbs_piedrasblancas_sealsbaby-1_traffic411_pfeiffer.jpg]100
A mother and baby elephant seal on a beach in San Simeon, CA. (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
About three hours up the coast (on Highway 1) from Santa Barbara, near Hearst Castle in San Simeon, is a seal preserve on steroids! Giant elephant seals, preparing to give birth, gather along beaches near the Piedras Blancas point in San Simeon.
On a New Year’s visit to Cambria, I saw hundreds of elephant seals, and many babies, lounging up and down the coast. There is a large viewing area at this preserve (12 miles north of Cambria), and you can get within 20 feet of the creatures. Some seals were quite active in the late afternoon, slinking to the water for a swim, some males sparring, or letting out a noisy scream, perhaps a cheer welcoming in the New Year!
It’s amazing to see, nature at its finest and, perhaps best of all, it’s free!
Note: Click here for turn-by-turn directions to the Carpinteria seal rookery.
Traffic411 Insider’s Tip: Visit in the late afternoon, when seals may be more active.
Distance from LAX: 86 miles to Carpinteria