Fifteen miles south of the Monterey/San Luis Obispo County line, five miles north of San Simeon, and just south of Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, is the Elephant Seal Viewing Area. Watch for a large, paved parking area on the beach side of Highway One. Park at the edge of a sidewalk where you can set up your tripod and shoot over a low railing. The nearest elephant seals are only a few feet below the sidewalk. You can easily get tightly framed full-face portraits of these creatures with a 300 mm telephoto from the railing. Almost wiped out for their oil-rich blubber in the 1800s, a few dozen elephant seals survived on a remote island off the coast of Mexico. Today, the elephant seal population is estimated at 100,000. Populations of elephant seal rookery sites in California have steadily increased during the past century.
At Año Nuevo State Park, north of Santa Cruz, California, no elephant seals were seen until the 1950s. The first pup was born there in the early 1960s. Currently, thousands of pups are born every year at Año Nuevo, on both the island and mainland. The growth of the site near San Simeon has been more spectacular. No seals were there prior to 1990. Currently, the San Simeon site hosts more breeding animals than Año Nuevo State Park during winter season. Every year more elephant seals, born here on this beach, return to mate and raise more pups. They are making a great comeback. When I arrived at this mile-long beach, it was covered with thousands of elephant seals.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.