Also known as: ALL THE OTTERS.
Between Monterey and Santa Cruz lies Moss Landing, which happens to be the location of Elkhorn Slough, a primo hangout for seals, sea lions, otters, pelicans, and all other manner of marine life. Several kayak and boat tour companies launch from Moss Landing, giving you instant access to the wildlife extravaganza.
For those wondering if there is a seasonal component to the types of wildlife that hang out in Elkhorn Slough, we were assured that otters are in the slough all year round, and my late December visit seems to confirm this. The weather was also quite mild, with a rain jacket sufficing as an outer layer with a t-shirt underneath (not that this guarantees mild winter weather all the time!).
For kayak rental we used Kayak Connection, which is located right off of Route 1. In December 2017 a tandem kayak cost $55 for up to four hours of kayaking around the slough (single kayaks are $35). We arrived before 10am and the parking lot was quite empty, but by the time we returned around noon the place was full of kayaking customers. While winter is certainly slower than the peak tourist summer season, I would still recommend arriving early if you want fewer people out on the water with you!
Almost as soon as you launch into the water the animals magically appear! You don’t even have to look for them! Seals lounged about on the sandbars created by low tide. Sea otters clumped together in adorable sea otter rafts to stay warm, or perhaps just socialize and have an otter party? I don’t know how otters work. Pelicans swooped overhead and dove into the water in front of us, which makes an impressive splash. We saw cormorants, gulls, and lots of other marine bird species I’m not super familiar with (bird people, help me out!).
The animals that you are fortunate enough to see are protected and you are supposed to stay 100 feet away from them at all times. This can sometimes be difficult, as we had several otters pop their heads above water a mere handful of feet away from our kayak, only to be startled by our presence and dive back under. Sorry, otters! We also saw many, many, people violating the 100 foot rule. Please don’t purposefully violate the 100 foot rule!
Along with the adorable otter party rafts, we were fortunate enough to see several mom and baby otter pairs, which is such an adorable sight to behold it might make your eyes burn out of your skull. In the first pair, mom carried baby on her stomach while she zoomed around in the water. In the second pair, mom stayed close by as baby practiced swimming and diving. SQUUEEEEEEEEEEE.
We saw otters cracking open shells on their tummies in order to have a tasty otter snack. We saw so many otters that soon enough single otters without babies or a large pack of friends became old news. I tried in vain to take adorable otter pictures with David’s mega-zoom camera, which mostly resulted in super blurry pictures of brown blobs in water. This is an activity that must be enjoyed in person, y’all (shock face emoticon).
In conclusion, if you are visiting Santa Cruz or Monterey and want to see lots of wild animals doing wild animal things (LIKE OTTERS), the $35 or $55 price of admission is more than worth it (unless you hate otters, in which case… WHAT KIND OF MONSTER ARE YOU?).