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I love California, and this guest post is part of a California Extravaganza where we’re featuring writers from around California and the United States and even across the world who are all sharing their unique perspectives of California.  Today, we welcome Shannon Watt.  Shannon is a California native, and although she moved away in her mid-30′s to pursue full-time travel with her family, it remains one of her favorite places to visit.  Today, she shares her Top 5 places to see native wildlife in California.

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California is known for many things; the glamour of Hollywood, the beautiful coastline, the Mediterranean weather, and the list goes on. There’s something for everyone here, and Clark has dedicated several blog posts to exploring the great things to see and do in the Golden State.

Being a California native, I’ve had the chance to experience many of these places and I find that my number one favorite thing about being there is the ability to go for a stroll and see marine wildlife living in their natural environment, not in a zoo or aquarium.

I’ll never forget our family vacations back in the ’80’s when we’d camp on the bluffs of San Louis Obispo and nature was our only entertainment. We’d wake up at dawn and watch a pod of Orcas hunt sea lions all the way into the breaker waves on the beach. It was as if an episode of National Geographic was unfolding before our eyes. From that moment on, I’ve sought out opportunities to view animals in their natural habitat whenever possible.

Most visitors to California don’t realize that amid the city lights and dazzling tourist attractions, there’s an abundance of marine animals dwelling so close to civilization you can literally walk out your backyard and find them.

My top 5 places to watch California wildlife along the coast.  

1. San Simeon

Nestled at the foot of the famous Hearst Castle is San Simeon beach, the largest breeding grounds in North America for the Northern elephant seals. Every December the migration to this beach begins, and tens of thousands of elephant seals will come to this rookery to give birth, wean their babies, and breed again before head out to sea in the spring. All this occurs on a small strip of beach just feet away from a fenced pathway where you can hang out and blissfully observe them.You can easily spend hours watching the seals awkwardly scuttle across the sand, looking for somewhere to wedge themselves between fellow napping females. The babies are constantly squealing and trying to nurse, while the bull elephant seal is sending constant warning calls to his challengers to stay away. There’s nothing quite like watching the younger males fight the alpha for the right to rule the harem and breed. If you’re lucky, you might see a baby being born right before your eyes.  There’s much to see and learn here, and volunteer from Friends of the Elephant Seal are available to answer questions. This is definitely a place you won’t want to miss when you’re in Central California.

2. Morro Bay

A little further south is Morro Bay, easily distinguished by Morro Rock. The bay is home to clusters of California sea otters.  The otters play, eat and nap in the shallow, quiet waters near the shore line, and are easily visible  to anyone sitting on the water’s edge. My kids got a kick out of watching the otters swim on their backs and cracking open shells on their tummies.  We also noticed they’d grab onto the seaweed as an anchor so they could doze off to sleep without drifting into the open water. . The otters are clever animals, and I highly recommend taking a picnic lunch out to Morro Rock to be entertained by them.

3. Laguna Beach

Orange County is home to some of the best beaches on the Pacific coast. We’ve spotted sea lions playing in the waves at several beaches, but one of our favorites is Crystal Cove in Laguna Beach. It’s in a residential area, and is known mostly by locals, so let’s keep this on the down low ;-) The reason I prefer this beach is because it’s a small alcove with some rocks jutting out of the water about ten feet from the sand. This is the perfect spot for sea lions to sunbathe, and for us two-legged creatures to watch them do it.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity it provides for kids to see the animated sea lions in the wild, playing for fun, not in a captive environment.

4. Dana Point

I’ve read that Southern California has more blue whales and dolphins than anywhere else in the world. Plus, places like Dana Point have the best weather for whale and dolphin watching. Several companies hold boat tours that will take you out to see the majestic creatures swimming through the migration channel from Alaska to Mexico. If you’re lucky, you might get to see the awe-inspiring sight of a Humpback whale gliding through the water. It’s a sacred experience every time I’ve seen one. I don’t know how to explain it, so I just encourage you to get out on the water as soon as you can- you’ll be glad you did.

5. Catalina Island

Catalina Island is just a short boat ride off the coast, perfect for a day of adventure. While a tour of the island would show you herds of buffalo and other wildlife, the reefs in the water are the main attraction here. Among the kelp beds lie a potpourri of fish and marine life that you can view from a glass bottom boat, or if you want to get really close, by scuba diving. Spend a weekend on the island and you’ll see why it’s so popular with nature lovers.

There are many gorgeous places in California, you could spend a lifetime exploring the whole of it, and still not find all of her secrets. But when you visit California next, I hope you’ll visit my 5 favorite places to observe wildlife, and find a few hidden gems yourself.

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