Northern California's Best Places to Spot Sea Life

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
Ron LeValley Photography

With Mendocino Coast Whale Festivals running this weekend and next (March 9-10, 16-17, 2013), it's a good time to remind yourself how truly awesome the wildlife watching opportunities on the Northern California coast are.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
Little River Inn
Ole's Whale Watch Bar, Little River Inn, Little River, Calif.

Not only can you spot whales from the Mendocino shore during migration season, you can even--with luck--see whales from a cozy seat at Ole's Whale Watch Bar in the Little River Inn. Not surprisingly, this oceanfront bar and the entire inn gets packed to the rafters during Whale Festival and stays busy throughout spring and summer.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
All Aboard Adventures/Captain Tim
Gray Whale Watching with All Aboard Adventures, Mendocino, Calif.

If you want a closer encounter with a whale, head out to sea with All Aboard Adventures, Anchors Charter or another trusted charter boat operator. Mendocino hotels including Little River Inn partner with boat operators to offer whale watching packages in season.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
Ron LeValley Photography
Orca off Little River Headlands

If you're really lucky, you might even spot an orca--or a pod--breaching along the Mendocino coastline. This graceful powerhouse was spotted just two miles south of the town of Mendocino.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
San Francisco Travel Association/Jack Hollingsworth
San Francisco Sea Lions

San Francisco's famous sea lions congregate at Pier 39 to snooze on each other and bark incessantly, seemingly oblivious to their international reputation and photo appeal.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
Tide pools, Half Moon Bay, Calif.

Tide pooling in Half Moon Bay is a popular activity. Easy to access and full of sea life, the pools in Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach, might be the most popular tide pooling spot in the area.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder
Moray Eels, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, Calif.

Moray eels are a never-fail crowd pleaser in any aquarium, even Monterey Bay where the competition numbers in thousands of species. These are California moray eels, which can be spotted peeping from their rock hiding spots in nearshore habitats.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder
Sea Otter, Monterey Bay, Calif.

Monterey Bay's adorable mascot is beloved by all --well, make that, all humans. Most people yearn for a sighting of wild otters frolicking off the Monterey coast, but local fish, crustaceans and other small sea life stay well away from this cute but carnivorous little critter.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder
Western Snowy Plovers, Monterey Bay, Calif.

Why are these cute little wader birds sporting colorful ankle bands? Because they're an endangered species. The Monterey Bay region is a key recovery area for Snowy Plover conservation.

PHOTO: Nature Adventures
C. Coimbra /Friends of the Elephant Seal
Elephant Seal Preserve, San Simeon, Calif.

The posturing and fighting between adult male elephant seals during mating season makes for classic California sea life shots. At Ano Nuevo State Park in San Simeon, the mating and gestation season lasts from December through March. After that, visitors can see weaning pups learning to swim in April and adults returning to molt through August.

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