Natural Attractions to Visit off California's Coastline in the Month of January


On sunny days, January is one of the best months of the year to have access to California's plentiful landscape. One of the greatest perks about being a local anywhere is experiencing the subtle changes in nature that would go unnoticed by anyone else. Right now, many species are in migration or breeding season, most of them relishing in their natural habitats right off Cali's major highways. While this time of year is perfect for any ol' desert hike (with temperatures not yet deathly hot), the change of season is also calling animals out of the woodwork and into plain view. Take advantage of the pleasant climate and visit some of the most active natural parks along the coast, without the oppressive heat or crowds of spring and summer.

Whale Watching in San Diego 

The Southern California coast will be swimming with grey whales among many migrating creatures this month. Beaches like Torrey Pines State Park have a killer view but should be less crowded than more popular sites like San Fran's Point Reyes, which amasses some of the most foot traffic of the season. The Pines hiking trails are free and best for a day spent whale watching casually, though you may have to pay for parking. The shore is a straight shot heading west on Route 56, or merging off of I-5.

Other sites in the area like Mount Soledad, the Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach, or the Birch Aquarium are great for a day trip. Point Reyes is presently open, but do be sure to check with National Park in advance of your trip for updates on closures or marine life protective measures. Remember to bring a pair of binoculars, a camera, and some sunscreen!

Seals at Ano Nuevo Beach

Right now in NorCal, the elephant seals are bearing their pups on the shoreline of the bay. Their most beloved breeding ground is the rocky beach of Año Nuevo State Park, which sits on the coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Because this is their natural habitat, walks are scheduled with mandatory guides on the California Parks site and some regulations may be in place through the coming weeks. In January you can hope to bypass some of the tourist numbers, but even then, the chance to see so many animals outside a man-made habitat is well worth the trouble. Just riding past the coast this time of year will guarantee a breathtaking connection with the season, by the sheer number of seal families lining the coast. 

Pacific Grove & Natural Bridge Monarchs 

Western monarch butterfly migrations are in peak season this early January. After nearly vanishing this time last year, the butterflies are flying from the PNW and swarming sanctuary sites like those at Pacific Grove, dubbed "Butterfly Town," and Natural Bridges State Beach, in widely unexpected numbers. Conservationists have struggled to secure protection for the species, and with such a striking population decline, the opportunity to see them amassed in thousands is a particularly special event. 

Pacific Grove is on the coastal tip of Monterey County near Lovers Point Rock and just off Route 1. The town is spattered with Victorian-era houses befitting the charm of its flighty guests, who have used Eucalyptus groves as a sanctuary since the early 1900s. A massive park and hot spot for the monarchs, Natural Bridges Beach is off Route 1 near Santa Cruz, perfect for a short day trip and walk on the beach while still keeping the city close. Wherever you visit, you'll want to arrive in the early morning, which is when the monarchs begin their flight.