We love aquariums, but there’s something special about viewing adorable, blubbery harbor seals in their natural habitat—namely Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Seal Sanctuary. An easy 1-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike on the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail gets you to an overlook from which you can watch this wild pinniped show. Will they be there? You bet. The seals spend their entire life along the same stretch of coastline and can be found year-round at the preserve.
The short but sweet trail has it all: ocean views, beach access, wildflowers, and a hundred or so adult seals and their cubs. From the parking area at the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, start on the trail in the center of the parking lot and head northwest. After crossing through meadows full of wild grass, blue dicks, and common yarrow, you’ll run into the railroad tracks. Head right, and hike parallel to the tracks under the shade of towering eucalyptus trees. After a short distance, the trail crosses over the railroad tracks and leads into a small clearing. From there, go straight to the Seal Sanctuary Overlook for a great aerial view. You’ll want your binoculars!
Or take a short, steep trail to your left to get down to the beach. The views from this coastal access trail can’t be beat, and the isolated beach at the bottom provides a great location to relax, or maybe explore the tide pools. Be sure to mind posted signage about possible beach closures. Closed or not, don’t approach the seals from the beach. Don’t worry; they’re happy to pose for telephoto pictures.
Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Seal Sanctuary Overlook are located right off US-101 in Carpinteria. Take Exit 85 onto Bailard Ave., and head south (toward the coast) straight to the preserve. Parking and admission are free. The preserve and hiking trails are dog-friendly, but no dogs at the Seal Sanctuary Overlook.