North America Wildlife & Nature

The California Coast: Wildlife Watching

Seagull overlooking the sea in California

The Golden State boasts a stunning coastline covering a stretch of 1100 miles. California has a strong focus on conservation, with many protected bays and beaches so it can hardly be a surprise that these waters are home to some of the world’s most incredible marine wildlife. Whether you love to do a David Attenborough and get in the middle of the action, or if you prefer to observe from a safe distance (Ross, I’m looking at you), we’ve got some great ideas about how to get to know some of these extraordinary Cali creatures.


If you have children with curious minds, start off their love affair with the ocean by exploring rock pools at low tide. These little ecosystems can be found all along the California coast, and the creatures hidden in the cracks and crevasses change with every passing day. You can expect to see sea stars, urchins, anemones, crabs and juvenile fish that use the rock pools as a nursery. One of the best educational aquariums in California is the Monteray Bay Aquarium, which features its very own rock pool.

Otter in the water

Catching some rays in Morro Bay (Image: Andrew Reding)

Star fish in a rock pool

The star attraction of this rock pool (Image: Amy Rachel)


In the 1930s, the Californian Sea Otter was on the brink of extinction. Luckily, due to extensive wildlife conservation efforts and a change in the law, they became a protected species and today there is a population of over 2000 sea otters scattered along the Cali coast. They are normally found in kelp forests and can be seen up close at many piers, including those at Santa Cruz and Morro Bay. For an even closer encounter, you can rent a kayak and paddle out to them.


The mighty Blue Whale holds the record as being the largest animal on earth, measuring up to 30m in length and weighing up to 190 tons. If you are in California during summer or autumn, you may be lucky enough to see one of these incredible mammals. Whale watching cruises run from most of California’s cities, although the most popular launch platform is in Monteray. Scientists and naturalists flock to this area every year hoping to learn more about these gentle giants.

Humpback whales are also present in the waters off California during summer and autumn, while the cold winter water sees the arrival of the enormous grey whales on their migratory route from Alaska. One of the best landside vantage points for observing the whales as they pass is north of San Francisco at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

A grey whale breaching of the California Coast

A grey whale breaching off the California Coast (Image: Eric Neitzel)


For those who are not afraid of the cold water, there is a whole other world to be explored. With incredible reef systems, as well as underwater canyons that rival the Grand Canyon in size, diving in the Pacific is a humbling experience. It’s also your chance to get up close and personal with the great white shark. Cage diving expeditions can be booked in the Farallon Islands, west of San Francisco Bay.

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