The silly seals of San Simeon

The Piedras Blancas Rookery is the only elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible, free and open to the public every single day of the year.

During my Big Sur travel trip up historic Route 1, I popped into this touristy spot for an incredible view and a chance to see these silly characters up close.

These seals do not disappoint! I saw a tiff break out between two playful pups, tons of sunbathing and vocalization + the flip of the sand was a new thing for me. According to the information signs by Friends of the Elephant Seal, these flippers use the sand to cool them off, show signs of distress or even playfulness. Either way, it was an interesting sight to see them slinging sand.

Some fast facts on these ocean dwellers:

  • There are two species of elephant seals: northern and southern. Southern elephants are the largest of all seals, period. Northern - the ones I saw in San Simeon - are the second largest seal of all seals.

  • Northern elephant seals can be found along the California and Baja California coast.

  • Elephant seals have incredible diving abilities! Most dives last for around 30 minute but the longest recorded - so far - is 2 hours fully underwater.

  • Northern elephant seals travel thousands of miles twice a year to land-based rookeries for birthing, breeding, molting and a little rest + relaxation.

  • These mammals are carnivores and the average lifespan for a northern elephant seal is 9 years and southern is 20 - 22 years. They can clock in at up to 4.5 tons and grow up to 20 feet.

  • They were aggressively hunted for their oil, almost to the brink of extinction.


Elephant seals were heavily hunted - just like the whales - from the 18th through the 20th century. Used in lamps and lubrication throughout North America, their blubber was processed into a highly useful oil. At one point, the elephant seals only had one surviving colony on Guadalupe Island that dropped as low as 50 seals.

Once kerosene was developed and Mexico granted protection to these ocean pups, their numbers began to sore - now there are an estimated 225,000 northern elephant seals.

All marine animals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act so please be kind, courteous, keep yo hands and selfies to your well...self.

Best time to visit according to the fine folks at California State Parks are:

  • November: Sub adult males haul out on the beach. Mature males begin arriving at the end of the month.

  • December: Bulls continue to return. Females arrive. The first birth is usually mid-month.

  • January: Females continue to arrive. Peak of births is usually the last half of the month.

  • February: Births continue. The peak of the mating is around Valentine’s Day.  More females begin leaving.

  • March:  Last adults leave. Weaned pups teach themselves how to swim.

No reservations are ever needed, no tickets need purchasing but if you feel so inclined, you can donate to Friends of the Elephant Seals.

Charlie has over 10 years experience in social media, creative copy and multimedia, including a 4-year stint in the government, making science cool and accessible to the general public. She is now the main lady behind Checkmark Creative, a marketing boutique for the small biz and freelancer, based in Long Beach, CA.