Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve – Carpinteria, California - Atlas Obscura

Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve

Happy harbor seals frolic and snooze on this warm, sandy stretch of coast. 


Scan this beach, and you’ll be delighted to spot dozens upon dozens of seals soaking up the sun or bobbing in the waves like playful blobs of blubber.

Located a short bike or hike south of Carpinteria State Beach in Carpinteria, California, is a stretch of bluffs and sand home to nearly 100 harbor seals, all viewable in their natural habitat. It’s one of only four harbor seal rookeries along this southern part of the coast. 

The protected and off-limits beach allows the blubbery beasts to frolic, thrive, and give birth to their pups along the California coast. They’re free to splash around and swim in the water or snooze on the warm sand without having to worry about some pesky human coming along and spoiling the fun.

The Carpinteria Bluffs Trail, which itself boasts miles and miles of breathtaking views, offers an easy to moderate hike past the Tar Pits Beach and to an observation point above the seal preserve. There, you can take a seat on the benches to relax and watch the animals as they bask in the sun some 75 feet below.

The best time to spot seal pups is during the birthing season, which ranges from early December to late May. Throughout the year, the private Chevron Oil Pier creates a one-of-a-kind photo opportunity with the seals in the foreground and the sunset in the back. 

Know Before You Go

Access is easy along well-marked trails south of Carpinteria State Beach.

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