When you want to create an unforgettable memory - without having to sign a mortgage to cover admission tickets - consider a trip to Ano Nuevo State Park. Unlike a drive to your local mall, getting there along Highway 1 from San Francisco is truly half the fun. Highway 1, with its stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean, is reason alone to drive to Ano Nuevo State Park. Some of the highlights of your hour-long drive will include Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Half-Moon Bay, Montara Lighthouse and Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Hostel. Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Hostel along scenic Highway 1. — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
If your trip is during the winter months, you're in for a real treat: the awesome elephant seals of Ano Nuevo State Park have pulled their immense bodies on shore for mating. The elephant seals have been breeding on Ano Nuevo Island since 1955, and the first pup was born there in 1961. In late December, the mothers haul themselves onto the shore and give birth to the pups that were conceived the year before.
Mothers usually give birth to only one pup, which they tend to nurse up to a month. Feeding on mother's milk that's almost pure fat, the pups will grow to over 300 pounds in less than a month. But just like any society, elephant seals have their cheaters, too: some pups steal milk from more than one mother, getting up to 600 hundred pounds in weight and earning the name "super weeners." Mother elephant seal and her pup. — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Mothers nursing their babies is the more peaceful side of this species. Also lurking on the beaches are the much larger males, who work tirelessly to control their "harems" of females by savagely attacking any challengers. Elephant seal males will roar and smack each other with their impressive trunk-like proboscis, while also absorbing blows with thickened and scarred skin called a ‘chest shield.' A fight can last over an hour.
Because these animals are protected, the only way to get close to them during these months is on a docent-led tour. Be sure your kids are ready to walk: the moderately strenuous three-to-four mile walk over rolling sand dunes lasts over two hours. Hikes are scheduled every day, rain or shine, and reservations are highly recommended. Tickets cost $7.00, but children age 3 and under are free. Most importantly, these docents are well-trained and able to convey fascinating information about these amazing marine animals.Docent and Ranger giving a thorough orientation at the beginning of the Elephant Seal tour. — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
If you're in the Bay Area and want to add a little trip to your trip, consider Ano Nuevo State Park. It's a remarkable place for the whole family.