When to Visit an Elephant Seal

When the air is cool and the days are short, the elephant seals come to their own special place along Northern California’s shore to mate, to calve, and to raise their young before venturing back out to sea. The place, Ano Nuevo State Park, is located about 55 miles south of San Francisco, about half way between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. 

After years of hearing about Ano Nuevo State Park, my family finally ventured there to see and to learn about the elephant seals one late December day. After meandering down the coast from the city, we arrived at the park in time for our 2 p.m. tour.

Ano Nuevo State Park

At a massive 8,800 pounds (that’s right, over 4 tons!), elephant seal bulls are wild animals and potentially dangerous. Visiting their habitat is allowed only on guided tours led by park naturalists between December 15 and March 31 during the mating season.

A Bull

As we walked along the trail, listening to the naturalist and taking photos, large rocks turned into sleeping giants. Twenty foot long gray masses slumbered while we tip toed by, leery of danger signs warning us to stay at least 25 feet away.

Sleeping Giant

During our 2 1/2 hour tour, we heard bellowing and watched young calves more quickly toward us, curious, just like us.

Talkative Seal

On the Go

If you’re curious, too, you can make reservations in advance online through Reserve America or by calling 1-800-444-4445.

Trip taken: December 2010.

Roller Coaster by the Sea

Arms up, we lurched and creaked, climbing to the top of the hill, bracing ourselves for the fall. We were on one of the oldest roller coasters still in operation, not just in the U.S., but in the world. We were on the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California.


Giant Dipper

Since May 1924 when the public paid 15 cents to ride the red and white roller coaster, the Giant Dipper has excited over 60 million roller coaster enthusiasts who now must spend $6 for its thrills.


Riding the Giant Dipper is only one of several things to do on the Boardwalk. With kids aged 8 to 14, my friend and I spent an afternoon exploring a few of the options. We were splashed on Logger’s Revenge, lost our stomach on the Giant Dipper as well as on the Hurricane, and enjoyed the view from the Sky Glider.



100_3967We tried our luck at one of the games, sampled ice cream but avoided the deep fried Twinkies and Oreos.

Fried Twinkies

Before our last ride, we left the Boardwalk and tested the Pacific’s temperature with our toes.

Sky Glider

Trip taken August 2012.