A Short Trip to See the Elephant Seals Near San Simeon

Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas Beach, February 13, 2011

Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas Beach, February 13, 2011

One of the best things about living in Templeton is that it’s only 18 miles for us to get to Highway 1 and just a few more minutes driving to get to the beaches. Normally we go to Moonstone Beach, but today we had more time and decided to drive farther north to Piedras Blancas Beach to see the elephant seals. I enjoy watching seals of any kind, but I’d never really seen the elephant seals up close before. This is the season when the males are around after breeding, so whole elephant seal families are on the beach.

On the way up the coast we stopped at San Simeon State Beach, which was not charging any fees yet, to my ┬ásurprise. We decided to walk down to the end of the pier, where we saw a few people fishing. Some people were even in the 56┬░ water. There was also a male elephant seal who had, according to the ranger we spoke to, come to get a rest from the thousands of his buddies a few miles north. It’s been a while since I’ve stood on the beach just watching the waves crash, and I’d forgotten how relaxing it can be. You can see all of this in the video below.

After I lured Kosta off the pier, we continued north as instructed by the ranger, past the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse to the parking lot of a closed motel. This was supposed to let me get close enough to the lighthouse to take a picture. The trail I got access to was more like the driveway of a private residence, but there were state beach signs along the fence that indicated I was on public property, so I kept going, while Kosta waited in the car. Of course, I had my Flip camera recording the scenery on and off as I walked, and you can see that I was not able to get close enough to get a very large picture of the lighthouse. It was still a lovely walk along the coast. This is what I saw:

After my futile attempt to get a decent lighthouse picture, I returned to the car, and we headed south to see the elephant seals. I thought we’d have to fight the crowd by the fenced official viewing area, but on the way I wanted to get a sky picture and we stopped on the side of Highway 1 near a couple of other cars. I noticed beach access there and followed some others down to the beach, where I was able to get quite close to the elephant seals who were lying all over the sand. As soon as I got the to bottom of the path the smell of dead fish overwhelmed me — at least I think that’s what it was. But it grew fainter as I walked toward the water, surrounded by these interesting creatures. Some of the females were throwing sand on themselves. Some were touching heads. Pups were approaching their mothers. Every so often the bulls would extend their upper bodies and start making a noise like a motorcycle trying to start. Some seals just wanted to roll over and find a more comfortable position. I was surprised that the females and pups sounded more like chickens clucking than the barking harbor seals I have heard in Monterey. The video below records it all, as well as the waves and the rest of the scenery. It’s the next best thing to being there.

I could have watched the seals for quite a bit longer, but the sun was beginning to set. I’ve wanted to be on the beach to see a sunset for a long time. That sunset was worth waiting for. The seals are still there, but I was more interested in the sky for this picture.

Sunset on Piedras Blancas Beach in February, 2011

Sunset on Piedras Blancas Beach in February, 2011