Elephant Seal Overview
The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery lets visitors see elephant seals up close and in their element. Find these magnificent marine mammals on the beach, just off Highway 1, along a beautiful stretch of coastline. The rookery is easily accessible, free, and open to the public, year-round.
What: Elephant Seal Viewing
When: Year-round, best times are late January, late April and late October
Reservation Needed: No
Facts and History About the Elephant Seal
The largest seal in the northern hemisphere, the Northern Elephant Seal migrates to the rookery, twice each year. While offshore, the elephant seal spends eight to ten months diving up to 5,800 feet deep for up to two hours. The remaining months of the year, they mate, birth, molt, and rest onshore between trips.
The Piedras Blancas Rookery hosts up to 24,000 elephant seals each year, from the baby elephant seal to the 5,000-pound adult male. Females weigh in at up to 1,800 pounds, and pups are about 70 pounds at birth.
The name elephant seal comes from the size of the male nose, which resembles an elephant’s trunk. This bulbous nose, called a proboscis, impresses other males who compete for female attention during mating season. It also sounds a loud call before an elephant seal fight or challenge. A male’s proboscis starts growing at about five years, and develops fully by nine years of age.
Like whalers, people hunted elephant seals on the Central Coast from the 18th to the 20th century. Using their blubber for oil nearly drove the Northern Elephant Seal to extinction. At one point, just one colony of 50 seals remained on Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Baja. With the invention of kerosene in 1846, and with Mexico’s protection of the species in 1922, Northern Elephant Seal numbers climbed. Today, scientists estimate their population to be 225,000 or more.
On land, the Northern Elephant Seal can be found between the Gulf of Alaska and Baja California. Interestingly, aside from newborns, elephant seals don’t eat or drink while ashore, and rarely breathe, to protect their energy. When they leave the rookery, these elephant seals often swim as far away as 3,000 miles, twice per year.
Elephant Seal Viewing Area
You’ll be amazed to see the elephant seals in their habitat, from a close but safe distance. The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery sits just off Highway 1, seven miles north of San Simeon. Follow a flat, wheelchair-accessible path with a railing to witness their remarkable life cycle on the beach. See males challenge each other to an elephant seal fight, or witness the birth of an elephant seal baby. For information, check out one of many interpretive displays, or talk to a knowledgeable docent. Best of all? This attraction is completely free and open to the public, every day of the year.
Please note: Depending on the season, Piedras Blancas weather can be unpredictable. Bring sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and a jacket. Also note that the Elephant Seal Rookery does not offer restrooms. Lastly, please leave drones and model aircraft at home as they are illegal at the rookery.
Parking on Highway 1
Find plenty of easy parking in two spacious lots at the Elephant Seal Rookery, seven miles north of San Simeon. A map to the rookery can be found here.
Elephant Seal Viewing Seasons
January: Females arrive, ready to give birth. Pupping season peaks at the end of the month.
February: Birthing winds down and weaning continues. Mating (and fighting/challenging) peaks around Valentine’s Day. Seals start to leave the beach at the end of the month.
March: The last of the adult elephant seals leave the beach. Pups who are weaned stay ashore, trying out their fins in shallow waters and fasting for 8-10 weeks.
April: Seals, mostly juveniles and females, start to arrive for the molt, when they grow new skin and hair. The newest generation of young finally leave the beach around this time.
May: Molting peaks at the beginning of this month, and finishes for females and juvenile elephant seals by its end. At the end of the molt, the seals return to the ocean.
June: Younger males start to arrive at the rookery to molt.
July: Molting continues for young and adult males.
August: All molting for males is complete. This is the month the rookery sees the fewest seals, but they are often the largest that remain.
September-October: The newest generation and juvenile seals arrive at the rookery. In October, the population on the beach hits another peak.
November: Juvenile and young seals beach at the rookery, primarily males. More mature bulls arrive closer to the end of the month.
December: As more and more bulls arrive, competition over birthing areas heats up. Breeding and birthing increase, with the first pup born around the middle of the month.
Piedras Blancas Friends of the Elephant Seal
Docents at the rookery come from the Friends of the Elephant Seal non-profit organization, in cooperation with California State Parks. Friends of the Elephant Seal educates visitors about elephant seals and encourages stewardship of California’s Central Coast and Pacific Ocean.
The Friends of the Elephant Seal Gift Shop and Visitor Center provides information about elephant seals, as well as souvenirs and books. Find it at Plaza del Cavalier, 250 San Simeon Ave, Suite 3B, in San Simeon.
Elephant Seals & Stewardship Travel
Go beyond sightseeing. With Stewardship Travel, visitors can connect with and care for destinations and attractions along the Highway 1 Discovery Route.
Get the most out of your elephant seal experience in San Simeon with tips on our Stewardship Travel page. Or make a donation to Friends of the Elephant Seal to ensure conservation of this precious natural attraction.
Thank you for being a Stewardship Traveler along the Highway 1 Discovery Route.
Elephant Seal Hotels
Nearby San Simeon and Cambria offer an array of comfortable lodging options for those visiting the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Options range from B&Bs and budget hotels with complimentary breakfast to resorts with waterfront views. No matter where you stay, your spirit is sure to be rested, rejuvenated, and restored.