San Luis Obispo County is a popular destination for wildlife, especially in winter. Spot gray whales during their annual migration along the coast, watch elephant seals as they gather and mate along the northern coastline of Piedras Blancas, or visit Pismo State Beach, the wintering grounds for thousands of migrating Monarch Butterflies. Further inland, huge flocks of sandhill cranes join resident wildlife species in the winter at Carrizo Plain National Monument. The Morro Bay area is known as one of the top 10 bird watching areas in the country. During the Audubon Society's December 2005 bird count in San Luis Obispo County, nearly 200 species of birds were counted. Catch a glimpse of bald eagles soaring above Santa Margarita or Lopez Lake, and while you're at it, view peregrine falcons around Morro Rock, brown pelicans, sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters, too. A couple of critters of special interest . . . . . .

Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas. Along Highway 1, approximately four miles north of the Hearst Castle Visitor Center, is Piedras Blancas, a favorite gathering spot for Northern Elephant Seals. Winter is the peak viewing season as the elephant seals gather to give birth and mate. The elephant seal viewing vista point has a number of excellent educational and interpretive signs. In addition, Friends of the Elephant Seal docents, easily spotted in their blue jackets, are eager to answer your questions. Friends of the Elephant Seals,

Monarch Butterflies at Pismo State Beach. One of the largest Monarch Butterfly winter gathering spots of the West Coast is Pismo State Beach's North Beach Campground. From November through February, a grove of eucalyptus trees at Pismo SB are the home of some 50,000 Monarch Butterflies. The butterflies can be found on the ground, in the air fluttering and soaring or hanging from the trees in massive clusters. California State Park docents and volunteers are available to answer questions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. In addition, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day, there is a docent interpretive talk about these amazing creatures. Museum of Natural History, Morro Bay State Park,

San Luis Obispo County truly is California's Natural Escape! Don't forget your binoculars!