California has experienced some unprecedented marine mammal activity recently, from what might be the largest pod of gray whales ever spotted off the coast of Palos Verdes in southern California, to the clusters of whales and dolphins surprising boaters and kayakers while feeding off the Central Coast last year, to the appearance of a super mega-pod of dolphins off the coast of San Diego last week.
Yet even without these rare sightings, California provides some amazing marine mammal watching opportunities on a regular basis. And the sleepy charm of the state's central coast is a great place to take a quiet mini-vacation in pursuit of encounters with the charismatic mega-fauna.
Elephant seals: The peak season to view these magnificent animals runs from mid-December to mid-March. Año Nuevo State Park offers excellent guided tours during the season and you can walk among these giants of the sea with a park docent. You can also see elephant seals from a small viewing area about 4 miles north of San Simeon, near Piedras Blancas.
Whales: The charming coastal town of Morro Bay has the potential to see whales most of the year, except for November and December. Both California Gray Whales and Central Coast Humpback whales migrate in the area, and you'll also have a chance of seeing sea lions, minke whales, harbor porpoises, sea otters and a variety of other marine mammals. Sub Sea Tour and Kayaks does a three hour whale watching tour in an open boat and their staff is fun and knowledgeable. Be sure to visit the Museum of Natural History in Morro Bay as well.
Sea lions: Check out what landscape artist Francis McComas called "The greatest meeting of land and water in the world" at Point Lobos State Reserve. You'll see a variety of marine mammals, but you can't miss the boisterous and playful California sea lions, who hang out from about August to June.