I stood on an elevated platform surveying the panorama. Blue sea and skies. Carpets of wildflowers. Reddish bluffs. Fine, warm sand.
The views are postcard perfect. Just like commercials promoting California’s Central Coast promise.
But there is something tarnishing the entire scenario. A hideous smell is taken by the breeze everywhere. I even gagged a couple of times.
I learned about the creatures responsible for the smell from a brochure provided by a docent.
They can weigh up to 5,000 pounds
They spend up to 80% of their lives in the ocean (spend 8 to 10 months of the year in the open ocean).
Males battle for breeding rights for up to 100 days.
They can dive for periods of 15 minutes to 2 hours.
They migrate thousands of miles, twice a years.
They make obnoxious sounds.
Their names come from the large proboscis (?) of the adult male.
No, I am not describing the neighbor with an aversion to using deodorant or that member of the family who insists on using the same clothes for a month. I am referring to elephant seals!
Elephant seals get their name from the elongated piece of flesh that hangs from their faces (that is what a proboscis is). Some have compared their facial features to an elephant’s trunk. To the relief of all females around the world, this feature occurs only on the males.
Elephant Seal Vista Point
A small stretch of beach located 5 miles north of San Simeon, California is the largest elephant seals rookery in the West Coast. The spot is exactly located one mile south of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. It is impossible to miss the place when driving along Highway 1 since multiple signs point to it.
A large parking area and a boardwalk offer easy access to view the elephant seals. From July to August hundreds of seals can be seen on the beach. This number increases to the thousands from January to May, which is the birthing season. Keep in mind the entire population in the area is 17,000.
It doesn’t matter what time of the year you stop by Piedras Blancas. The seals are so much fun to watch.
Pay close attention to their behavior and you will leave amazed.
They sleep (what a good life).
They sunbathe (and don’t care about their weight).
They fight (this behavior is called sparring).
They flip sand (don’t know why they do this).
They extend their arms when resting.
Their skin sheds (from April thru August).
They get in and out of the water with peculiar moves.
They sing or vocalize.
And of course, they enjoy the beauty of their home.
You can spend as much time as you want observing the elephant seals. With time, the infrastructure around the rookery has improved. The viewing platform extends north and south of the parking lot.
In addition, members of Friends of the Elephant Seals, a non-profit, organization are on-site educating the public about the seals, other marine mammals, and the ocean ecosystem. You can direct any questions to them.
Keep in mind the main San Simeon elephant seals vista point is part of a larger rookery extending over 6 miles. Yes, there are larger concentrations of seals on the vista point south of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse but you still can see elephant seals from other points along the way.
Plus, the chances of spotting more wildlife are high. I have seen harbor seals, sea lions, sea otter, deer, rabbits and peregrine falcons in the area.
Other Elephant Seal Vista Points
Even though Piedras Blancas is the largest breeding colony for elephant seals, you can find other viewing points along the California Coast.
Año Nuevo State Park – This area located north of Santa Cruz is the second largest breeding colony in the world. You can join guided walks to get close to the seals.
Point Reyes – In this peninsula, you will find the Elephant Seal Overlook close to the Chimney Rock Trailhead. You will need binoculars to make the most of the experience.
Restaurants Near the Elephant Seal Vista Point
The eating options in San Simeon are limited.
You can either stop by Sebastian’s (high-quality burgers, chili fries, onion rings) in the Old San Simeon area or by the Chief’s Galley Café at the Hearst Castle Visitor’s Center.
If you are looking for more variety, you would need to drive to Cambria (10 miles south). I recommend checking out Robin’s, Madeline’s, The Sow’s Ear, Cafe on Bridge Street, The French Bakery and Linn’s as Easy as Pie.
More of San Simeon
If you are in the area, make sure to stop by San Simeon’s other attractions. I am referring to Hearst Castle and the W.R. Hearst Memorial Beach. I have written a detailed guide of Things to Do in San Simeon.
I recommend stopping by Cambria too. This town is notorious for its European style village, beach boardwalk, nature reserves, wine tasting rooms and a great variety of restaurants. Do not miss this place!
More of the SLO Coast
Wait! There is more!
San Luis Obispo County has 80 miles of coastline. In this article, we have discussed San Simeon, and a bit of Cambria, but there is more to discover.
Take these places into consideration:
Ragged Point (20 miles north) – Those short on time can have a taste of Big Sur by driving to Ragged Point, a spot with impressive cliff vistas, a waterfall, and some hikes.
Morro Bay (29 miles) – Nature lovers, listen to this, you have to visit Morro Bay! This town is known for its huge rock (a volcanic plug), bay and abundant wildlife.
Cayucos (23 miles) – This fun, small town offer relaxation, smoked tacos, and brown butter cookies. I cannot choose which of those is better so, I prefer to have them all.
Avila Beach (51 miles) – This is one of the hidden gems of the California Coast. Come here to enjoy wine tasting rooms, hot springs, an aquarium, fishing, kayaking, and hiking. This is one of my favorites places to visit!
Pismo Beach (54 miles) – This town is famous for its piers, gorgeous cliffs, clam chowder, monarch butterfly grove, and beach camping. You can drive your car over the sand in a nearby area.
After watching for a while, I forget about the stinky smell. Elephant seals make this picture perfect spot unique. Without them, it would be just another beautiful beach along the coast.
Learn some moves from them, if you can stand the smell.
More of Southern California
Find out how to spend one fun-filled day in Los Angeles
Get inspiration by reading my Los Angeles Ultimate Bucket List
Have you been to an elephant seal vista point? Let me know in the comments section below.