Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

Though California earns worldwide recognition during spring thanks to its vibrant wildflowers, the Golden State is home to a truly massive array of natural attractions all throughout the year. Even during the coldest months, wildlife thrives from the shores of San Diego to the Oregon border, making California a top destination for any ecotourists looking for a scenic escape. As you plan your next wildlife-filled excursion to the west coast, don’t miss out on these incredible destinations.

San Simeon

San Luis Obispo County’s share of Highway 1 is packed with a wide range of fascinating attractions, but for those in search of both native and nonnative fauna, San Simeon is a tough destination to beat. For nature lovers, the iconic Piedras Blancas Rookery is one of the world’s top destinations for spotting elephant seals, with roughly 17,000 of the massive creatures calling the surrounding region home. After a morning of seal spotting, visitors can head a few minutes up the road to find Hearst Castle, an opulent estate that’s home to grandiose architecture, an on-property winery, and even free-roaming zebras.

Pinnacles National Park

Officially upgraded from a national monument in 2013, the iconic Pinnacles National Park is best known for its scenic landscapes formed tens of millions of years ago by volcanic activity—and these sprawling natural features are home to a whole lot of native California wildlife. There are roughly fifty different varieties of mammal found across the park, with coyotes, bobcats, and even mountain lions being some of its largest inhabitants, while the iconic California condor has found great success in the park over the past few decades. More than twenty of the massive birds now call the Pinnacles home, serving as a beacon of hope for the future of this critically endangered species.


Equipped with stunning beaches, a booming wine scene, and no shortage of adorable aquatic creatures just beyond the coastline, Monterey is a top-tier destination even during the depths of winter. If the weather is cooperating, an excursion with Sail Monterey is perfect for spotting native California mammals ranging from sea lions to harbor seals to sea otters, all while taking in picturesque views of the coastline from a massive catamaran. On a rainy day, visitors can take a cruise along 17-Mile Drive to search for seabirds, seals, and deer from the comfort of their car, or pay a visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium, a prestigious institution that’s home to more than 500 different aquatic species.

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Though Siskiyou County isn’t quite as popular a tourist destination as some of California’s more southern regions, this destination offers incredible opportunity for birding in the form of Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Stretching more than 50,000 acres across the California-Oregon border, this wetlands preserve made history in 1908 as the first waterfowl refuge in the nation—and in the modern era, this haven for migratory birds is working just as planned. For winter visitors, there’s a wide array of ducks to search for including northern shovelers and gadwalls, while bald eagles, rough-legged hawks, and great gray owls are just a few of the raptors that may make an appearance during a visit.

Point Reyes National Seashore

A gem of coastal Marin County, the iconic Point Reyes National Seashore is a popular summer getaway from San Francisco—and this stunning natural feature is a particularly underrated ecotourism destination during the colder months as well. Though newborn elephant seals and even migratory gray whales can be spotted from the shore during the winter, Point Reyes has earned abundant acclaim for its incredible birding, with close to 500 different avian species recorded over the years. From hooded mergansers to western snowy plovers to great-horned owls, there’s a truly massive array of birds to spot during a trip to this historic seashore.

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