The elephant seals are a sight to behold. Cambria, California is fortunate to host a colony of elephant seals approximately five miles north of the central coast’s famed landmark, Hearst Castle. It’s just a short drive up Highway 1 from our Cambria hotel, the Burton Inn, to see these beautiful marine mammals in action. It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular things to do in Cambria. You can spend hours watching the interaction between the alpha bulls, females, and their cute newborn pups.
The Best Time to Visit the Elephant Seal Colony near Cambria, California
Elephant seals take over the coastal area near Piedras Blancas Lighthouse from November to early March. The males are first to arrive on the scene in November. A series of fights and scuffles ensues to establish dominance in preparation for the arrival of the females. The female elephant seals give birth to their pups in late December and January. It is a true national geographic moment and, for those that are never without a camera in hand, it’s photographic bliss. You’ll capture aggressive alpha males fighting with their behemoth counterparts and females shielding their young from overzealous seagulls dive bombing to get their fill on nature’s aftermath from welcoming a new pup to the shores.
The sheer size of the alpha males is worth the drive out. Elephant seals reach a maximum size of about 16 feet and 6,600 pounds. What’s more impressive is their ability to move quickly on land as well as being one of the supreme divers of the underwater world. They’re capable of going under the sea for just under two hours at a time. The females resemble a seal as we know it, but the males have a protruding snout that makes them less than attractive, but highly distinguishable.
Friends of the Elephant Seals
There’s a newly built boardwalk to roam about the area while keeping a respectful distance from the elephant seals. Around the spectating area, you’ll find docents available to answer questions and talk about highlights. The docents are part of Friends of the Elephant Seals, a non-profit organization founded in 1997 with the aim to educate the community about these magnificent mammals of the sea. The group has done amazing work making the vista point accessible and safe for sightseers and elephant seals.
Getting to the elephant seal colony from our Cambria hotel:
Simply hop in your car at the Burton Inn. Merge onto Highway 1 and head north toward Hearst Castle. Once you reach Hearst Castle, keep driving north for another five miles and be on the lookout for signs and a parking area on the ocean side of the highway. You can’t miss it.