About 20 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1 is Año Nuevo State Park, one of the world’s largest elephant seal breeding colonies in the world.
The 4,000-acre park includes the 25-acre Año Nuevo Island and Año Nuevo Point, both vital rookeries for seals. The island is not open to the public but visitors can still experience the 10,000 elephant seals that frequent Año Nuevo year-round.
The park is home to an impressive variety of plants and animals. In addition to scenic dune fields and beaches, Año Nuevo’s flora encompasses old growth forest, coastal prairies, marshland and coastal scrub. The park also has four streams, in which coho salmon and steelhead flourish while its wetlands are inhabited by the California Redlegged Frog and the endangered San Francisco garter snake. Año Nuevo is also home to a plethora of wildlife including pinnipeds the likes of seals, otters, and sea lions in addition to a multitude of birds. The point itself is a rest-stop along the annual route for migratory birds.
But the primary reason hundreds of thousands of people visit Año Nuevo each year is the elephant seals and other pinnipeds and marine mammals that come to its shores to rest, breed and birth their young. Winter is their primary mating season and during that time, visitors will require reservations to witness the animals as they court, brawl and give birth. From mid-December through March, access to the reserve is provided via guided walks. After March, only the pups remain for about a month until they, too, slip away into the ocean. Female elephant seals return to molt in spring followed by the males in summer.
To ensure the safety of both the wildlife and visitors, viewing of the pinniped rookeries is provided by a docent-lead hike. The guided walks cost $7/person plus a $3.99 fee. The tour is about 4 miles round-trip, take approximately two and a half hours and operate daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and dress warmly as it can be windy and cold on the point. For a sneak peek of the elephant seals on the shores of Año Nuevo, watch this video.
The Marine Educational Center at Año Nuevo is housed in what was once the Dickerman/Steele family dairy. The 19th century building has been restored and includes a natural history exhibit, bookstore and theater. Picnic areas and hiking trails are prevalent at Año Nuevo, making this California wildlife and cultural sanctuary an ideal way to explore nature.
Año Nuevo State Park
1 New Years Creek Rd
Pescadero, CA 94060
(650) 879-2025 Information only
For guided walk reservations, contact ReserveCalifornia at 1-800-444-4445.
8:30 AM – 4:30 PM PST
Parking fees: $10 per automobile
Pets, bikes, bonfires, collecting of shells, rocks, plants or animals and drone use are all prohibited to ensure the preservation of its inhabitants. Camping is also prohibited.