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The Elephant Seal Rookery: A Must-Stop for Kids When Driving Up The California Coast

A stop that doesn't involve cheeseburgers, Mickey or princesses.


These guys.

CreditTrips + Giggles

Driving up the California coast is one of the most epic road trips you can make in the world. The scenery--a winding two-lane highway with stunning ocean views and precarious cliffs just beyond it--is unbeliveable and unforgettable. 

Driving up the California coast with kids in the backseat is not so epic. It's a long drive, and some streches can seem monotonous, not to mention there's no cell service for a majority of the trip. So if you were hoping to stream the Frozen soundtrack on Spotify, you're gonna be SOL.

However, when you reach the Central Coast in San Simeon (near Hearst Castle, another good stop), be sure to pull over on Highway 1 at the Elephant Seal Rookery. This is a six-mile stretch of beach where thousands of wild giant elephant seals--some weighing as much as 5,000 pounds!--hang out in the sand, snoozing, snoring, waddling and occasionally, fighting. 

Even though the rookery is protected by federal law, this is not a theme park. Visitors are kept to walkways that stretch along a portion of the rookery. There are no guides, although there are volunteers who are happy to answer your questions about the animals. There are also signs and boards filled with information about the seals and the rookery. 

Aside from watching the seals interact with each other, there's not much else to do. But you'll be out of the car for a while, taking in the gorgeous scenery up close and breathing in that fresh (sometimes stinky) salt air. 

The best time to visit is in late December as that's when the females on the beach begin to give birth to their pups. When we stopped at the rookery a few days before Christmas, there were a few babies on the beach, including one that had been born that morning. Awwww...

Another good time to visit is late March (coming up!) when moms return to the beach to begin the molting process of their old skin and hair.. Um...ok, maybe not. 

The rookery is free to visit, although donations are gladly accepted. You can learn more about the Elephant Seal Rookery on their website here.


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