Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Winter on the Central Coast: Elephant Seal Mating and Birthing

Head up the coast to a natural habitat for local elephant seals.  These gigantic creatures (males with faces only a mother could love) can weigh up to 2000 lbs and females log in around the 1500 lb range. Volunteer docents are available and eager to explain what is going on when you are visiting. Elephant seals can be seen here all year long but they are actively mating and giving birth during the winter months. It is totally FREE to visit and enjoy. Take a camera and binoculars.

This is a mother and her two day old pup I saw in December.

The Elephant Seal Rookery located on Hwy 1 (PCH) is approximately half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco which makes it an ideal weekend getaway from either city.

An older bull chats it up with a young uppity one.  Notice the sort of armor looking scar tissue that develops on the chest over the years and helps protect bulls when they fight over the girls.
Clean up committee keeps this habitat pristine
Big bull takes a rest
Coastal view looking north from the habitat
More information about the Elephant Seal Rookery

What's nearby?

Ragged Point - a great place to get some lunch and experience the "Big Sur" type of terrain without actually going all the way there.  Don't eat at the walk up snack bar, go to the restaurant instead. Hearst Ranch beef served here.  Great views, nice restrooms, walking paths, etc. Even if you don't have lunch this is a great rest stop.  Located a few miles north of the Elephant Seals.

San Simeon and Hearst Castle - the Hearst family still owns most of the property in this area, although the fabulous (in every sense of that word) Hearst Castle was given to the state of California to manage as a State Park and museum.  Even if you are not going to visit the castle on this trip, the state beach on the other side of Pacific Coast Highway is well worth the stop and also has a wine tasting room for Hearst Ranch wines which are pretty darn good (btw: Hearst Ranch beef and wine are now available in some Whole Foods markets).  There are no parking or admission fees to this beautiful beach and pier where you can lounge and catch a few rays on a sunny day or even rent a kayak and paddle around the sheltered waters.

Zebras grazing near Hearst Castle - no they are not on the menu at local eateries.
Cambria - artist colony, pricey and touristy.  Although the inns on Moonstone road look inviting (on the west side of PCH),

Harmony - tiny picturesque town (pop. 18 and growing) south of Cambria and north of Cayucos that offers both pottery and glass studios and galleries.  There is also a wine tasting room.  Well worth a brief stop.  On most weekends you'll be able to see some glass blowing.  If you're staying in the area longer you might want to take a glass blowing class.

Don't blink when you're heading north on PCH or you'll miss Cayucos.
Cayucos - I almost hate to mention this wonderfully hidden little pet friendly beach town 4 miles north of Morro Bay.  Have tacos or a sandwich with smoked salmon or albacore at Rudell's Smoke House or take some home.  This is the place to stay if you take your pooch.  I personally have stayed at three places there and like them all:  the Shoreline Inn (great place for fido), the Cayucos Motel (under new management and a great place for fido and friends), On the Beach Inn (great place if you need a deluxe experience - not for fido).  Most restaurants have pet friendly patios even the very gourmet Hoppes does and a particularly gorgeous one at that.  If you have a sweet tooth you must stop in at the Brown Butter Cookie Company - watch all the ladies baking and sample their wares and I defy you not to buy some.

Otters floating in Morro Bay.  They use their tummy as a dining table.
Morro Bay - fun place to people watch, kayak, and enjoy a popular beach town.  Last time I was there I saw otters floating on their backs while enjoying their catch of the day.  Accommodations in all price ranges.

San Luis Obispo - college town with all the citified amenities including a California mission and if you don't care whether you stay on a beach or not, is a central location to explore the entire area.

I shared some scrambled eggs
with my dog Oscar at Custom House in Avila
Avila Beach - just north of Pismo this beach often has sun when Pismo and other places are socked in with fog.  The port of San Luis Obispo is also here. Try the Custom House for some very decent eats and an outdoor patio with great views at sunset. Fido friendly, they even have a special menu for your pet.

Pismo Beach - what's not to love about this place.  This is a fine example of an old school CA beach town.  Stay here if you want a bit more action.  For dining I recommend Steamers which has fantastic sunset views - their steamers and chowders/soups are very good. If you're into off road wheeling there are the awesome dunes to the south where you can drive and ride on the beach.

On the pier in Pismo
More places Eye Spy has been recently locally or on short trips.

Older Weekend Getaway stories.

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