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Best Places to Photograph Wildlife in California

Best Places to Photograph Wildlife in California

With its diverse landscape, California wildlife is one of the most accessible in the states to see and capture up close.

Palig Dzadourian


5 min read

September 11, 2022

California is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in America. From the enchanting wonders of Yosemite Valley to the sun-kissed beaches of San Diego, you are always a few hour's drive away from them all. With all these different types of ecosystems comes a wide variety of wildlife, which is quite common throughout California. 

Grizzly bears, seals, avian predators, deer, and so many more can be seen roaming about any national park or protected land. California wildlife is simply magical. While some people head to zoos to be able to capture an easy picture of these diverse animals, it is always more rewarding to snap a perfect photograph of wildlife in their natural habitat. So, where can you find the best wildlife viewing spots in California?

Newport Coastal Adventure

Whale-watching is a unique experience, and Newport Beach is right around the corner.

Location: Newport Beach 
Hours: 7am - 7pm

Newport Beach is home to some of the best whale-watching spots in California. With so many companies providing easy ways to start your whale-watching adventure, you will be able to take amazing pictures of these graceful giants. Newport Coastal Adventure is a great example, as they will take you on various boat rides designed to give you the most magical experience ever. 

What’s pretty unique about New Coastal Adventure is that the boats are made in a way that allows visitors to be extremely close to both whales and playful dolphins swimming around. And as the main focus of this trip is the safety of the customers, you have got nothing to worry about!

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve 

Wildlife Viewing is one of the most entertaining things to do around California.

Location: Huntington Beach 
Hours: 6am - 8pm

This 1,300-acre coastal estuary is where you will be able to take some of the most impressive wildlife pictures. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is home to many
California creatures, which include over 200 avian species, coyotes, squirrels, and even alligators. With so many different types of habitats like coastal dunes, salt marshes, and mudflats, it is no surprise that this reserve has so many types of animals living in it. Hiking cool thing you can do in Bolsa Chica, with most trails open year-round for hiking and fishing.

Andrew Molera State Park

Get lost in this sea-side preserve of eucalyptus, cyprus, and pine trees that attract millions of monarch butterflies from October through March.

Location: Big Sur
Hours: 8am - 5pm

Butterflies are quite intriguing creatures that are often associated with fantasy and magic. These captivating insects may only live for a couple of days, but when spotted leave most people in absolute awe. Monarch butterflies are especially sought after, as they are incredibly beautiful. 

One of the best places to view these not-so-tiny butterflies is at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, California. This haven of eucalyptus trees and nectar plants provides a perfect overwintering location for the Western monarchs. Binoculars are recommended to be able to view the ones perched higher up.

Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area 

Dana Point is a one stop shop to see a number of fascinating marine mammals; anything can happen in this rich environment, even whale encounters!

Location: Dana Point
Hours: 8am - 4pm

Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area is home to over 150 plants and animals, some of them being
native California animals. There is a public trail system that links all the conservation parks and open spaces areas and takes you right into the natural habitat of these unique creatures. One interesting animal to look out for is the coastal California gnatcatcher, whose song can be heard from almost anywhere along the Conservation Area. 

Dana Point is also a world-class spot for whale watching. During your visit you will be able to view marine mammals such as humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, and many more. Don’t forget your cameras!

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park 

Although an arrid desert at first sight, Anza-Borrego will make you fall in love with all the wildlife that inhabit this beautiful landscape.

Location: Borrego Springs 
Hours: Open 24 hours

Welcome to the largest State Park in California, with 12 designated wilderness areas, 110 miles of trails, and 28 mountain summits. While
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park may seem empty and unappealing at first glance, once you venture into it, you will see that this is not entirely true. The unique Colorado Desert ecosystem is home to many CA wildlife and fauna that have adapted to live in this harsh environment. 

As an example, the impressive Kangaroo rat can survive without ever drinking water! Anza-Borrego is full of life, from seasonal wildflowers to animals like kit foxes, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and so many more. All you will need is a bit of patience for the slower pace of life in the desert. 

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park 

Prairie Creek Redwoods offers stunning views and is a sanctuary for more than the wildlife.

Location: Humboldt County 
Hours: Open 24 hours 

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is known for its old-growth coastal redwoods, but that is not the only thing that makes this park unique. Prairie Creek is home to California’s largest wild animal, the Roosevelt elk. This animal’s existence is a testament to the efforts of conservationists, as it was once nearly brought to extinction by settlers. Nestled in a place surrounded by ancient Redwoods, this magnificent animal will make your photo ops look wild. Visitor discretion is advised, as they can be quite aggressive. It is recommended to give the Roosevelt elks their space and view them from the trails and pullouts on the road. 

Yosemite National Park 

Yosemite National Park is full of wonders; it is somewhere everyone should see once in their lifetime.

Location: Sierra Nevada 
Hours: Open 24 hours 

Yosemite National Park is one of the most enchanting places in California. Sporting plummeting waterfalls, land rich with history, and giant Sequoia trees, Yosemite Valley’s beauty is unmatched. There are over 400 species living in these lands, and an infinite amount of places to spot them. It is recommended to explore the park with a tour guide to enhance your
California wildlife viewing experience. Mariposa and Tuolumne meadows are rich with wildlife habitats and are usually where you will be able to spot animals like coyotes, bears, and mule deer. 

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge

A lake getaway and a perfect wildlife viewing spot, Tule Lake is one of the best places to go to take awesome pictures.

Location: Tule Lake 
Hours: 5am - 6pm

Animal conservation has become an urgent issue during the past century, with the rapid decline of certain species. As such it is important to be mindful of how our actions affect the environment. Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge does an outstanding job at taking care of the wildlife while at the same time educating visitors. 

Get the genuine California wildlife experience at Tule Lake, one of the best places to photograph animals like coyotes, waterfowl, and hawks. There are also plenty of trails to enjoy at this California wildlife refuge, perfect for hikers and casual nature lovers alike.

Morro Bay Sea Otter Viewing 

Cute sea otters are everything but also not everything you can see at Morro Bay Park.

Location: Morro Rock, Morro Bay 

Sea otters are, unfortunately, among the California animals considered to be endangered. After major conservation efforts, however, these cute mammals are starting to make a comeback, and will most likely be taken off the list of endangered species. Morro Bay is one of the best places to see this amazing animal up close, and indulge in the many other nature-related activities that this estuary offers. 

Specifically, the best viewing spot is located near the Sout T Pier and the bay of Morro Rock. Some places will even have sea lions and blue herons swimming about. With plenty of parking available nearby, this wildlife spot is easily accessible. For those wanting to take a step further, the Natural History Museum and Morro Bay State Marine Reserve are quite close, giving you an amazing wildlife California experience.

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