How to See the Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo State Park

by Feb 13, 2018Travel1 comment

Why You Should Visit Ano Nuevo State Park

Visiting Ano Nuevo State Park is by far the best thing to do in winter in Northern California. Every December 15 through March 31, elephant seals like clockwork converge onto Ano Nuevo State Park Reserve to give birth and mate. The park opens this gestational event to the public with guided walking tours from December to March.

What You Need to Know to Visit Ano Nuevo State Park

Location:   Ano Nuevo State Reserve, Highway 1 at New Years Creek Road  (20 miles north of Santa Cruz) Pescadero, CA 94060


Phone #: (650) 879-2025

Time: first tour is at 8:45 or 9:00 and last one starts at 2:30 or 2:45 pm.

Duration: 2.5 hours

The BEST time to go:  The best time is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s not so hot. Then the seals are more active. It’s better to go at the end of January when they

Cost:  $11 for the guided seal walk (nonrefundable and unchangeable), $10 for parking. The tours are from December 15 to March 31. During the other times of the year, you can go without a tour, but there aren’t many elephant seals.

How to buy tickets: Reserve online for the guided seal walk at this address:

Purchasing tickets on their site is not intuitive, so here’s what you need to do:

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How to Purchase Tickets
Enter the following information:

  1. City or Park: Ano Nuevo SP
  2. Choose Activity: Other Tours/Activities
  3. Click “Go”
  4. Search Text: (leave blank)
  5. Category: Guided Seal Walks
  6. Place: Ano Nuevo SP
  7. Choose Date:  (enter the date that you want to go)
  8. Click “Show Availability”
  9. Click “Show # session available”
  10. Click “Sign up” for the time of your tour
  11. Create an account
*You can buy tickets at the park, BUT weekends are sold out weeks in advance and Fridays can also be sold out. Supposedly there are some tickets available for walk-ins, but I’m not sure how many.

**Another way to buy tickets for the popular weekend walks is to stay at the Pigeon Point Hostel 10 minutes from Ano Nuevo. They can get you last minute tickets for Saturday and Sunday. Call them for more information ((650) 879-0633) or visit their website:

The BEST time to go:  The best time is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s not so hot. Then the seals are more active. It’s better to go at the end of January when they are giving birth or at the end of February and March when the males are fighting each other for the right to rule a haram. That’s right! There is no #MeToo movement in elephant seal land.

What to wear:  Bring really good walking shoes or hiking boots. It’s a long walk and you’ve got to walk over sand. Wears layers. I wore a light windbreaker, a fleece, a sweatshirt, and a t-shirt and I was not too hot and not too cold, but I wish I had brought a scarf.

What to See and Do on Your Visit at Ano Nuevo State Park

When I got to the Ano Nuevo State Park, I paid $10 for parking at the Visitor’s Center. Make sure to ask  for a map

After parking my car, I went to the gift shop in the Marine Education Center, a big white barn at the end of the parking lot, to check-in. I was given a wrist band indicating the time of my tour. My tour was at 2:30 pm, the last one of the day.

In the Horse Barn Theater, the white building next to the Marine Education Center, there was a film about the elephant seals. The film was excellent. I highly, highly recommend it if you have time. It’s about 20 to 30 minutes long. There was a really bloody, long, drawn-out scene of two seals fighting until one of them succumbed. It gave me some idea of how violent these seals could be.

There were some beautiful views from the back deck of the Marine Education Center where I had lunch.
My tour began on the back deck facing the ocean of the Marine Education Center. There were just 9 people on my tour.
The elephant seals are on the other side of that piece of land that is jutting out into the ocean. I was told that the island t in the distance contained some abandoned buildings.
After meeting my tour mates, we all walked for 30 minutes on our own to the Staging Area to meet our guide/docent.
We waited at the staging area for around 15 minutes for our guide. We had plenty of time to use the bathrooms there
For the next 30 minutes as we slowly made our way to the beach, our docent told us some fun facts and stories about elephant seals that totally floored me. The tour really raised my respect and admiration for these creatures and my interest in protecting and preserving marine animals and their habitat.
Finally, our group made its way to the beach. As we walked, we saw some solitary elephant seals just hanging out and resting. They didn’t pay any attention to us as we quietly walked by them.
There are several viewing areas. We didn’t get to go to the one with the most seals. It was closed for some reason. The first viewing area was just a few feet off the ground. There must have been about 25 seals in this area. There was one large male in the middle surrounded by his haram
The females lied around the haram’s head male as their seal pups got milk from them. Every once in a while, two females would start arguing with each other. Our docent said they might have been arguing about space or that the male seal had sat on their pup. It’s common for the male seal to unknowingly crush one of the baby seals.
The most interesting incident was when a seal gave birth to her baby right in front of us. After she gave birth, the seagulls started fighting over her placenta. The pup that was just born is the one in the background.
To be honest, these elephant seals didn’t do much when I was there. It’s a good idea to come during the early morning when it’s cooler out. Then they are more active.
We then made our way to another viewing area high up on a cliff. Most of the seals were too far away to really see anything.
In the second viewing area, we had one seal that was actually kind of active. Supposedly, they move very fast and if they feel threatened, they can be quite dangerous.
The male elephant seals make the most interesting sounds. Our guide said that they are calling out their name like “I am Sam, I am Sam.”
We headed back to the Marine Education Center at around 4:30 pm.

It was a fascinating tour. I know there are some other places in California to view the elephant seals that don’t charge a fee. But I think having a docent with us and telling us all about elephant seals was more than worth the $11. Also, you get to see the seals at closer range here. In other places, you usually can only see them from up on top of a cliff.

I’d pay to go back at the end of February or March to watch the male seals fight.

Have you been to Ano Nuevo before? Did you see the male seals fight? Leave comments below.

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