Where do seals and sea lions go when they’re not feeling well? They head to rehab in the Marin Headlands at the world-renowned nonprofit Marine Mammal Center. The amazing experts and volunteers here have been helping sea lions and harbor seals since 1975. The center is conveniently located just above Rodeo Beach (and right by one of the North Bay’s best coastal hiking trails; see Bonus below). There’s no cost to visit the center for a DIY or docent-led tour.
Those looking for a more hands-on experience should sign up for the center’s exclusive “Behind the Scenes” tour—a 30-minute exploration of what makes the Marine Mammal Center one of the finest veterinary research hospitals in the world. The $9 fee for this special tour goes to buying food and medicine for the animals. You’ll pull on gloves and booties, and volunteers will show you how they go from rescuing the animals to returning them to the sea.
Learn to distinguish harbor seals from fur seals, and elephant seal pups from Steller’s sea lions. You’ll even venture into the hospital to see the state-of-the-art equipment used to diagnose and treat patients. And you may even get to see the intensive care unit. From there it’s into the fish freezer and kitchen for a mighty whiff of animal food and feeding procedures, including feast favorites like fish milkshakes! Post-tour, visit the center’s viewing deck, where you can see the different species of marine mammals playing, sunbathing, and swimming. Seal of approval.
BONUS HIKE: The Marine Mammal Center is idyllically located at Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands surrounded by trails galore, including this classic coastal hike that brings together the best of the headlands.
The Marine Mammal Center is free to visit and includes (optional) docent tours at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. The special “Behind the Scenes” tours are weekends at noon and 2pm; there’s a $9 fee that goes towards food and medicine for this nonprofit veterinary hospital. Book in advance at marinemammalcenter.org.