Top 10 Animal-Spotting Locations

Wild animals abound in Monterey, Marina, Pacific Grove, Big Sur, Carmel Valley, Salinas Valley, and elsewhere throughout the area. Wherever you go, you're likely to see nature's creatures. Want to make sure your animal sighting is a slam-dunk? For those who want to know where the can't-miss wildlife-spotting spots are, read on!

Moss Landing Public Dock

Moss Landing built a public dock in 2007 to be used by visitors, and it immediately got more use than expected from a surprise source: sea lions! Harbor officials say that over 400 sea lions use the public dock as their hang-out space. From the walkway above the dock, you can get a close-up view of their antics as they sun themselves, crawl over each other, and dip into the water. Look to your right, and you'll see otters playing in the water, seals sunning on the sand, pelicans congregating on the rocks, and both great and snowy egrets foraging for lunch in the water. You may even catch a red-tailed hawk soaring above.

To find the dock, head to Moss Landing on Route 1. On the west side of Route 1, next to a large parking lot, you'll see a building with a teal roof, by the side of the inlet into Elkhorn Slough. This building is perched right above the sea lion dock.

Old Fisherman's Wharf

Saunter down to Old Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey and listen for the sound of barking. No, those aren't very hoarse dogs you hear; they're seals and sea lions! The area around Old Fisherman's Wharf is primo territory for these water mammals, as well as pelicans and many terns and gulls. Just follow your ears, or follow the Recreation Trail north-northwest a short distance. You'll see plenty of sea lions sunning on the rocks. If you're lucky, you may even catch a pod of dolphins playing in Monterey Bay.

Jacks Peak

It's part of the Central Coast Birding Trail, and with good reason! Several area birders have joined the "400 Club" (spotting 400 species on their Monterey County bird list) at Jacks Peak, so if you're a birder, bring your binoculars! The Skyline Nature Trail is a great place to spot pygmy nuthatches (small birds the size of a champagne cork that sometimes hang upside-down from branches), hermit and Townsend's warblers, chestnut-backed chickadees, fox sparrows, brown creepers, steller's jays, golden-crowned kinglets and dark-eyed juncos. Pygmy nuthatches especially like to flit back and forth in the scrub between markers 12 and 13. It's also a great place to spot a different kind of wild animal - the fossilized kind. At Marker 4 on the Skyline Nature Trail is a display with fossilized fish, crabs and sea shells. Adjacent to the display is the Coffeeberry trail, which has fossils in situ in the shale alongside.

Point Sur Lighthouse

There's limited access to Point Sur Lighthouse, but it's worth the effort. It's perched on a hill that gives a breathtaking view of the ocean - and of the whales migrating past. Humpbacks can usually be spotted from April to December, gray whales in the winter and spring, blue whales in the spring and summer, and orcas and minkes year round. Look for the water spouting up from the surface of the ocean; you'll quickly identify the whale groups that are moving through. Binoculars, or a good zoom lens for your camera, are helpful. For those who like their wildlife a little less wet, you can also view a herd of cows grazing on a nearby bluff that overlooks Monterey Bay.

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary

Pacific Grove isn't called "Butterfly Town, USA" for nothing! From October to February, thousands of butterflies make the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove their home. Pick a day when the temperature is over 55 degrees to catch these flying jewels in full flutter. Bring binoculars and look closely at the clusters of leaves on the trees; many of them are actually clusters of living butterflies!

Next to Hopkins Marine Station

Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station is on Ocean Boulevard in Pacific Grove. Immediately to the northwest of the Hopkins Marine Station is a small beach where the harbor seals spend their time. There's a chain-link fence by the Recreation Trail to make sure no one invades their personal space, but you won't even need binoculars to get a good, close-up look.

Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links

The public golf course in Pacific Grove isn't just a frequent habitat of the duffer; it's also a favored grazing spot for deer. They're a perennial sight on this golf course, occasionally dodging the errant ball (no mulligans allowed for deer interference), but are most prevalent at sunrise and sunset. Take home a snapshot of a deer grazing next to the tee!

Wild Things and Vision Quest Ranch

Wild Things provides a sanctuary for trained wild birds and animals. Many of them are also animal actors, seen in films and on television. Lions, lynxes, bears, elephants, camels and more make their home at Wild Things. The ranch holds tours at 1pm every day, and at 3pm as well in June, July and August.

Elkhorn Slough

A rookery for Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons, this is a key birding spot for checking waterfowl off your list. Whenever you go, you're likely to see all kinds of water birds, including ducks, waders, and assorted shorebirds. There's 346 documented species of birds that spend time at Elkhorn Slough, so you won't go home unsatisfied.

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