You can reserve a spot on a guided walk at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, north of Santa Cruz, during Elephant Seal breeding season to get up close and personal with the action. Without a guide you're not allowed in. The only opening we could find was early this Saturday so we went! It's near the end of the season, so there wasn't too much "action" happening, which was just fine with me :)
The abandoned lighthouse keeper's house in the background is on an island that has broken away from the coast only in the past few hundred years. Now it's infested with seals and sea lions.
This "weaner" was checking us out between yawns and belches. These babies are left behind by the adults to grow big enough to head out to sea on their own.
Some others were testing out their swimming skills in a pond in the dunes, and we even saw one little guy push another little guy into a ditch where they both floundered for a while before climbing out. That was really funny.
Here's a harem with a big male (check out his snout!) in the middle and some females feeding their babies. The lucky lady on the left has a GPS device glued to the top of her head and a number died into her fur (they say it's Clairol). You can see both if you zoom in on the photo.
We also caught a quick glimpse of two big males facing off. Scary! We had seen a similar scene further south, closer to San Simeon another year at some random beach beside Route 1. Ano Nuevo is much better protected from people and has facilities and information.
The walk was fun and interesting - I'd definitely recommend it if you can get a reservation. Our docent knew quite a lot and clearly cared a lot about these cool creatures.