The Best Winter Wildlife Watching in Marin
Posted in Blogging Marin on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 by MCVB Staff
By Joe Kukura
Northern California’s Marin County is an especially wild weekend destination for wildlife lovers during the winter months. While animals go into hibernation across most of the U.S., Marin County becomes a hotbed for migrating wildlife. Winter is when you’ll want to visit Marin County too, as whales, rare birds, seals and even butterflies make their home on “the sunny side of the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Let’s take a look at some of the best places to watch winter wildlife in Marin County.
The Marin County coast is right on the path of 15,000 California gray whales migrating and putting on a show in the Pacific Ocean waters with their leaps and spouts. These majestic marine mammals make Marin County whale watching an annual appointment for wildlife watchers, and some of Marin’s best spots for watching whales include the Marin Headlands hiking trails, the beaches of Point Reyes and especially the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Be aware that Point Reyes is quite a popular spot for whale watching, and some roads are closed to private vehicles on weekends and federal holidays. The Winter Shuttle Bus System was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and cancelled for Winter 2020–2021 and Winter 2021–2022. As of early 2022, Point Reyes National Seashore has no plans to resume the Winter Shuttle Bus System.
Herons, Egrets and More
The holidays continue all winter long for Marin County bird watching, as the forests shed their foliage for maximum visibility and the seashores host flocks of migrating birds. A few bald eagles have been spotted during recent Marin County winters. The Audubon Canyon Ranch maintains a paradise for bird watching, Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais offer renowned birding trails, and hungry birds swoop in to Tomales Bay State Park all winter long to feast on fish.
Elephant Seals and Sea Lions
Wildlife lovers always seal the deal on a winter trip to Marin County by enjoying a day with those magical colonies of elephant seals, harbor seals and sea lions. A great many Marin County beaches see seals and sea lions visit, but Elephant Seal Overlook at the Point Reyes National Seashore really lives up to its name with docent staff and binoculars on hand during winter weekends. The parking lot at the Chimney Rock Trailhead can only accommodate twenty vehicles. As a result, parking space availability is very limited, particularly in the afternoon. Please refer to the National Park's website for viewing options and beach closures.
Believe it or not, you might even catch some butterflies in Marin County on a winter trip. Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains spend their winters in Marin County, with Muir Beach and Stinson Beach both home to beautiful butterfly groves that will make your heart flutter.
Guided Wildlife Tours
The wildlife watching pros of Marin County can help you get the most out of your wildlife watching experience, whether on land or in water. Point Reyes Safaris offers full-day and half-day wildlife walking tours of the Point Reyes National Seashore, while Blue Waters Kayaking in Inverness features kayak rentals, plus specialized bird watching and marine life kayak tours in Tomales Point and Drakes Estero.
Those wintertime migrating animals keep coming back because Marin County is a premier winter destination, with its famously mild weather, fabulous forests and miles of spectacular seashores. Your Marin County getaway will also feature great restaurants, world-class shopping and scenic places to stay that will keep you cozy and warm all winter long.