Ano Nuevo Giant Sea Lion
United States

A must do in California – Watching the Giant Seal Elephants at Año Nuevo State Park

As my kid said watching the Giants Seals at Año Nuevo State Park is amazing, and a must-do in California Año Nuevo State Park is one of the best places in California. Not just because of its stunning views, vast dunes, coastal scrub hosting a high diversity of plants and animals beaches and more importantly, Elephant seals!

Giant Sea lion
looking at the Giant Sea Lion in Año Nuevo

I have been in Año Nuevo with the family before, but I didn’t get to see the giant Sea Lion until I chaperone at my kid’s school. Which nickname is “Sea Lion”. My son 4th grade class as a part of his curriculum got to visit Ano Nuevo State Park last January. It was the perfect time to visit. We were immediately captivated for the coastal terrace prairie view in contrast with the Ocean, Gosh it is really beautiful! However, the star of that day was the Giant Sea Lions. They were so close by that we could touch them, but we were advice to keep our distance and no try to touch them. Although these animals look big and heavy, don’t underestimate them, they can move fast because they weight tons, no one shoul be on its way!

Año Nuevo State Park is one of the largest mainland breeding colonies in the world for this Seal. The Giant Seals mating, giving birth and molting at this scenic beach. You can see all of this at this State Park!  I found out the is around up to 10,000 elephant seals that return to these beaches and this is a Natural Preserve established to protect the seals along with many other animals such as otters, elephants seals, coyotes, cormorants, terns and more. Not wonder why this place brings people from all over around the world.

Ano Nuevo Scenic View
Ano Nuevo Scenic View: ocean and Dunes
Ano Nuevo Sea lions during January
Ano Nuevo Sea lions during January

Before the Gate:

Our guided tour started walking from the parking lot to a historic nineteenth-century dairy ranch of the Dickerab/Steele family. In this building, you find a marine education center, also a bookstore and a viewpoint. Bring some money you can find cool souvenirs. The park features the Marine Education Center boasting a natural history exhibit, bookstore, and theater. The building has a nostalgic feeling of the American Settlers.

After I was able to pull the kids out of  the store (don’t make my mistake – don’t stop there first!) we did a mild hike of ten minutes to the gate, where a little exhibition shed is located. It didn’t feel to long because the view during our hike was great. We saw so many different birds because Ano Nuevo State Park is also a major bird migratory route and birding location. Also,  native plants and an untouched intertidal ecosystem also find shelter inside the Natural Preserve.

An example of the magical view during our hike to the main sight point at Ano Nuevo State Park
An example of the magical view during our hike to the main sight point at Ano Nuevo State Park

After we admired the birds and local plants on our hike, we arrived at the exhibition shed where the kids were able to see and touch different sea animals bones and birds. Volunteers guided them through a hand-on the activities of  guessing and proceeded to explain what animal every bone belong. Kids love to guess and be right! Volunteers, there are very knowledgeable people. Once we finished that activity, kids were allowed to pass the gate and hike on the dunes to see the Giant Seal.


After the Gate:

Before crossing the Gate, they explained that we need to keep our distance for safety reasons. Giant Seal was on the path and having a great time. I didn’t know we could get so close.  The experience was amazing to see this beautiful creatures so close. It was possible because we visit during the matting time. To view the elephant seals during this season, you must be on a guided walk only. Elephant seal viewing requires a 3-4 mile moderate hike over varied terrain, including sand dunes. The walks last about two and a half hours.

Ano Nuevo Giant Sea Lion
Ano Nuevo Giant Sea Lion battle

People can onserve the Giant Elephant Seal all year-round either on a docent lead tour or through a self-guided permit system within the Wildlife Viewing Area.

Another thing AMAZED me is how loud these creatures are, also how exhausted they are.

What to Expect From  The Elephant Seals Year Round

Once you book your visit it is important to learn the life cycle of Elephant Seal:

Elephant Seal Molting Season

April 1 to August 31 – During molting season seals come ashore to shed their outer layer of skin and fur. This happens during the spring and summer months. The Park is open during these months for self-guided hiking by Visitor Permit only. You don’t need reservations  but visitors must exit the Natural Preserve by 5 p.m.

Fall Juvenile Haul Out

September 1 to November 30 –  By the time summer ends only a few numbers of seals are around because most elephant seals have returned to sea to feed. Just the one to three-year-old juveniles hauls out on remote beaches as part of their early development. During this time the Wildlife Viewing Area of the Natural Preserve is open for self-guided hiking by Visitor permit.

Natural Preserve Closed

December 1 to 14 –   It is close to visitors during this period because pregnant females arrived at the beach. And adult males begin to arrive on the beaches and form harems.

Elephant Seal Breeding Season

December 15 to March 31 – This is the “magical time” when you can see them from close through a Guided Tour. this is the time when we visited. The Northern elephant seals come ashore to give birth and mate. Also, Bull seals battles for breeding access to the females. While pregnant females come ashore to the pup, and mothers nurse their pups for about a month. After that time mate and return to the sea. By the end of this period, Pups remain behind through March basking in the sun and learning to swim but most of the adults have returned to the sea. Crazy right!  To view the elephant seals during this season, you must be on a guided walk.

Park Information

Phone (650) 879-2025
Park Hours
  • 8:30 am to Sunset Permits to view seals issued 8:30 to 3:30 p.m.
  • 3-4 mile moderate hike over varied terrain, including sand dunes
  • Visitor permits to see the seals inside the Natural Preserve are issued from  8:30 to 3:30.
  • Keep your distance from Seals Elephant seals are dangerous wild animals and are protected by the park. The majority of the time they are very much alive. Never get within 25 feet of an elephant seal.
  • No pets.
  • No bikes on trails.
  • No collecting Shells, rocks, wood, plants or animals. All features of this park are preserved and protected by law.
  • No smoking or fires
  • No drones


California Ano Nuevo State Park
A great place to visit in Northern California
Ano Nuevo State Park
California Elephant Sea Lion
Ano Nuevo State Park

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