Wildlife is everywhere, we're here to show you where to look
Keep your eyes peeled while traversing SLO CAL's diverse terrain—someone (or something) might just be watching you. From pristine coastline and quiet forests to expansive blue skies, SLO CAL's wild critters are enjoying the scenery, too. Here are 8 creatures to keep an eye out for on your next SLO CAL escape.
Some say dolphins are nature's comedians—and we tend to agree. These intelligent and perky pranksters are fun to watch as they splash and play with each other while the sun sinks into the ocean. Pods of dolphins love to frolic in the waves at Pismo Beach & Shell Beach, so set your sights on a hotel, RV Park or vacation rental on the coast which offers up expansive ocean views and plush amenities, too. Hunker down for a sunset with a bottle of local wine. Now, watch the aquatic show begin!
2. Sea Otters
Furry, fuzzy and downright adorable, sea otters are a tourist and local favorite here in SLO CAL. Stop by the Embarcadero in Morro Bay and walk down to Morro Rock. On your way, you might just meet a new friend bobbing in the water around Morro Bay's scenic harbor. Otters are known to hang out on their backs, as if to say, “Hey, what's up?” Look closer, and you'll notice that these crafty critters are working hard on preparing their lunch. It's quite a sight to see these guys use a rock to open up a delicious clam. Kind of looks like a good way to spend a summer afternoon, no?
Winemakers will tell you: deer can be quite an issue in the vineyard (but they are cute, too). They love to eat the luscious wine grapes grown in Templeton and Paso Robles, but—can you really blame them? While wine tasting at Halter Ranch, one of hundreds of tasting rooms located in Paso Robles, be careful to drive slowly, as deer are known to pop out from behind oak trees and brush. Every now and then, you'll even see a whole family cross the road: A buck, doe, and babies in tow. Don't blink, because these graceful leapers are usually gone in a flash.
4. Wild Turkeys
Santa Margarita Lake in Santa Margarita and Lopez Lake in Arroyo Grande are perfect places to take the family for water-sports and a summer campout. But did you know that you might catch a glimpse of a wild turkey or two while on your early morning hike? Known for their distinctive call and impressive plumage, these interesting birds are protective of their flock (and rightfully so). If you stumble upon a few, enjoy from a distance. Once the flock has left the area, do a little walk-through of the area. We can bet you'll find a few brightly colored feathers to take home.
5. Elephant Seals
As if you needed another excuse to drive up stunning Highway 1! These entertaining beasts are a sight to behold during mating, birthing and molting seasons alike. Visitors to San Simeon can catch sight of wild elephant seals year-round, but the peak months are from October through March, when the elephant seal population can shoot to upwards of 17,000. Located near the Piedras Blancas Light Station, Hearst Castle, Ragged Point, and the artistic village of Cambria, there's no reason not to stop and take a look.
6. Monarch Butterflies
Ok, these are not really what comes to mind when someone says, “wild animal,”—but these orange-winged beauties are truly mesmerizing when fluttering in unison. The Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach is a great place to catch these ethereal insects in full flight. In fact, more than 10,000 butterflies migrate to this locale annually, escaping cold weather in favor of SLO CAL's temperate skies. From late October to February, you'll find the most to see during your visit: that's when the butterflies cluster in the limbs of towering, majestic Eucalyptus trees. These trees flank a riparian estuary that flows to the Pacific Ocean, which is not a bad view, either, if we do say so ourselves.
7. Rare Birds
The rippling tide pools of Montana de Oro in Los Osos are sure to spark your curiosity, but you'll want to look up to see the true stars of the region soar overhead. One of the largest state parks in California, Montana de Oro offers up an abundance of wild bird species, so don't forget those binoculars and your favorite bird watching guide book. Walk the Pecho Road Willows, a rustic trail home to a number of rare birds throughout the year, including the Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Yellow Warbler. Still haven't gotten your fill of feathered fowl? Make your way to the Oceano Dunes, where sea birds of all kinds gather along the sandy bluffs.
8. Tule Elk
Majestic California Tule Elk were once dwindling in population due to overhunting, but thanks to recovery efforts, including releases into the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the population is rising again. You'll have a better chance of seeing these stately animals during mating season, August through October. You might even catch the sight of two bulls locked in competition. Watching these animals thrive amidst the dramatic backdrop of The Carrizo Plain will give you a glimpse of an untouched California as it once was, with grasses blowing in the wind, wildflowers blooming and the occasional Kit Fox darting out from the corner of your eye.
Harder to find, but they're out there
In SLO CAL, there's always a chance you'll be surprised by the lesser-seen wildlife that thrive just out of sight! Keep a lookout, and you may see a Bald Eagle soaring over the plains of Pozo, a whale splashing its massive tale in Cayucos, a wild boar rooting through the chaparral in Creston, or a tarantula crawling through the brush in Shandon. Some native animals we rarely see, but do exist in SLO CAL? Mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, owls, sharks and bears. Of course, use caution when exploring the wilderness and observe all posted signs on trails and beaches. Always tell someone where you're going, bring a cell phone, and never feed or approach wild animals.
Want to see even more 'wild' animals?
Well, they aren't native to SLO CAL, but they are most certainly wild. The family of creatures residing at the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero are truly remarkable in their diversity. Pay this family-friendly zoo a visit and check out a rare Malayan tiger, spider monkeys, meerkats, a beautiful aviary and many more unique species.