Beach and bay watch: Spotting seals in San Diego
Interested in catching a glimpse of arguably the cutest creatures on earth? If you are in San Diego, then you're in luck. Here are a few tips to help you get started on spotting seals.
First things first: Seals or sea lions?
You can spot both seals and sea lions in San Diego; armed with a little information, it’s easy to distinguish between the two. The most obvious difference is that sea lions have external ears, and seals do not. Secondly, sea lions are brown, whereas seals are dark grey, brown or almost black with speckled skin. Sea lions also have larger and stronger front flippers that allow them to shimmy up cliffs. Seals, on the other hand, move around on land by slithering on their stomachs.
Where to see them
La Jolla Cove is a small beach tucked between sandstone cliffs. It has two rocky areas at each end, and seals and sea lions are always
lounging on the rocks. The cove is protected and part of the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, making it rich in marine life. It's popular with snorkelers, swimmers and scuba divers.
Children’s Pool is actually a beach in La Jolla. A seawall was built in 1932 to protect the shore from oncoming waves, making it the ideal spot for children to swim. The conditions also proved ideal for harbor seals and sea lions. Seal Rock, which is just north of the beach, is home to hundreds of seals who often come to play by the shore. The result is a de facto seal sanctuary. While La Jolla Cove is open year-round, Children’s Pool Beach is closed from December 15 to May 15 because of pupping season. During this time, you can still watch from a distance, and – if you are lucky – you may even witness a birth.
An organized tour with San Diego SEAL Tours first takes you on a tour of the city before the bus transforms into a boat and enters the Bay of San Diego, gliding past seals and sea lions swimming in the water. Finally it goes to Shelter Island, where you can get a close-up look at more pinnipeds before disembarking.
How to see them
- Kayak and SUP Paddleboards: On Avenida De La Playa, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. From the beach, paddle south until you reach La Jolla Cove and the sea caves. You can jump into the sea for a swim whenever you feel like it to explore La Jolla caves.
- Snorkel at the La Jolla Caves: Bring your own snorkel gear and swim to the sea caves from the beach off Coast Boulevard. This is a unique way to catch the seals in their element showing off their fluid, graceful style underwater. If you are lucky, they may even swim alongside you.
- Walk the Seawall at Children's Pool Beach: Children’s Pool Beach has been the subject of controversy for San Diegans over the past few years, with seals and sea lions competing with humans for prime seaside real estate. Locals are divided on the subject. Some think that the beach should be made into a protected area for marine wildlife, and others believe that it should be shared between species. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, you can walk along the sea wall and get an aerial view of the pinnipeds lounging on the sand.
Best time for seal spotting
Seeing seals at La Jolla Cove and Children's Pool is almost always guaranteed; however, there can be fewer seals at Children's Pool in the summertime because of the increased presence of people.
Wherever you go to see seals in San Diego, always keep a reasonable distance from them and never touch, taunt or feed them.