California’s Central Coast

We are fortunate to live close to some wonderful coastal environments, and we spent the first few days of 2020 enjoying the sights along the southern portion of California’s Central Coast.

From North to South, here were our highlights:

San Simeon / Piedras BlancasElephant seals. This free, right-off-the-road site is magical all year round, but particularly in early winter. In early January, we saw males posturing and beginning to fight each other to claim or protect their harems. Males can reach 16 feet in length and weigh up to 5000 pounds!

A face only a mother could love!
My bark is definitely bigger than yours!
The beach is literally covered with elephant seals--males, females, and pups--be careful when you roll over!

We also saw several newborn pups, including one that was born while we watched! We then agonized as we watched mom and baby move around each other, holding our breath to see if the pup would start nursing. What a relief to finally see that connection! Somehow we felt personally responsible for the survival of this “little” pup—at birth elephant seal pups weigh about 60 pounds!

Mom begins to clean her newborn just minutes after birth while gulls vie for tasty treats.
Mom flips sand to cool her body and keep the gulls away.

The San Simeon Pier is another free spot where you can often spy sea otters, elephant seals, and surf scoters, but we didn’t see much this year—sometimes that happens.

Morro Bay is beautiful all year round, and it’s a great place to kayak. This year we spent just a few minutes at the Morro Bay T Pier watching a tiny sea otter pup and its mom hang out near the dock. I don’t think there is anything cuter than a sea otter mom and pup!

Mom and baby otter hang out in Morro Bay
When baby gets tired, it climbs aboard Mom.
Mama otter is the perfect raft!

Kevin and Caryn (son and daughter-in-law) joined us for these explorations, bringing back fond memories of Kevin’s time here when he was a little boy, and introducing Caryn to some of the critters we love to see.

Montaña de Oro State Park contains one of our favorite bluff hikes/bike rides. It’s relatively flat and hugs the coastline with gorgeous views in all directions. Though we were too early for wildflowers, we nevertheless had stunning coastal views and numerous wildlife sightings: a sea lion, a huge raft of otters, a potato bug, ground squirrels, turkey vultures, California quails, and a few early California poppies.

Montaña de Oro State Park
Sea lion enjoys the sun.
Potato bug avoids being stepped on!
Ground squirrels were all over the place!
Turkey vultures are nature's sanitation engineers.
California quails enjoy the hike.
California poppies are just starting to appear.

Heading south, we visited the Port San Luis Pier near Avila Beach, where we were treated to a sea otter having lunch by cracking open mussel and crab shells. This is also a great place to spot sea lions up close.

Sea otter enjoying some mussels.
And crab!

Pismo Beach State Park was right next to our campground (Pismo Coast Village RV Resort) and it’s an easy location for accessing the beach—the pier is close, the tide goes out a long way, and if you walk far enough south, you can see the ATVs and other vehicles that drive onto the beach itself (we skipped that part this time around).

Under the Pismo Beach pier

Pismo Beach State Park also contains the Monarch Butterfly Grove (late October-February), where the monarch butterflies mate and seek shelter from cold winter weather. It was encouraging to see more monarchs than last year, and when the sun comes out, the butterflies open up with their glorious orange wings.

Monarch butterfly in Pismo Beach State Park
When the sun comes out, the butterflies shine!

Our favorite new critter sighting at Pismo this year was a Peregrine Falcon, just sitting on a branch near the sand dunes, looking for prey while we snapped a ton of pictures.

We didn't know this was a peregrine falcon until we looked it up in our book!

Next, we moved the motorhome two hours south of Pismo Beach to camp right on the ocean! Rincon Parkway (Ventura County) campsites are literally on old Pacific Coast Highway, south of Santa Barbara and north of Ventura. (You can see some of these campsites from the 101 freeway.)

You camp right between the road and the beach.
You can see the 101 above, then Old Pacific Coast Highway, then the beach.

Though there are no hookups or facilities, the view is spectacular, and that’s why these campsites are in high demand. It used to be first-come, first-served, and Rincon was notorious for being hard to get into. Now you can make reservations online, so we enjoyed this lovely location for three nights.

Our view was of Santa Cruz Island and Anacapa Island (part of Channel Islands National Park), plus the deepest, reddest sunsets imaginable.

Sunset over Santa Cruz Island
The three parts of Anacapa Island

We also were treated to dolphins passing by each morning and evening (though we didn’t see any whales).

Dolphins in the morning...
and dolphins in the evening.

While we stayed at Rincon, we got to enjoy lunch at Padaro Beach Grill (great coastal views from their Carpinteria location) with dive buddies Jill and Scott. Jill also did Hank’s cataract surgery before her retirement last year, and it was fun to catch up on all their worldwide travels (we forgot to take their picture—sorry!).

Our last adventure was biking from Rincon down to Seaward Avenue in Ventura, enjoying another sunny January day on California’s Central Coast.

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