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Top 6 Places to See Sea Otters in Monterey, CA

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Jess Grigsby

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where to see sea otters in monterey, ca

Sea otters are beloved creatures. These adorable, furry mammals live in kelp forests and estuary habitats and are known for their playful antics and natural curiosity.

Listed as a threatened species since 1977, California’s southern sea otters play a vital role in the health and stability of the marine ecosystem.

In fact, the sea otters in the Elkhorn Slough are credited with helping restore the area’s eelgrass beds.

Luckily for anyone who lives in or is visiting the Monterey Bay area, this is one of the top places in the country to see sea otters.

In this blog, we’ll share the best places to view sea otters in the Monterey Bay area.

Where Can I See Sea Otters in Monterey, CA?

There are many great places to observe sea otters in Monterey, CA.

Here are a few of our favorites spots:

1. Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing

sea otters in elkhorn slough at moss landing, ca

Moss Landing State Beach and the Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, which is a National Estuarine Research Reserve, are both well-known for their frequent otter sightings. There are so many fun things to do in this area.

The otters that live here are a resident population that rarely leave the area’s protected waters. This makes for guaranteed sightings.

In this area, it’s common to see a group (known as a “raft”) of sea otters sleeping, playing, or grooming one another.

The area is also home to more than 700 other species of aquatic animals, including birds, fish, and mammals like seals. 

Near the dunes on Moss Landing State Beach, there’s a cove where sea otters love to hang out, diving for clams and mussels and coming back to the surface to enjoy their meal. 

The otters also frequent the Moss Landing Harbor, thanks to its quiet, protected water and ample food sources. Luckily for sea otter enthusiasts, sightings in the harbor are usually up close and personal, with the otters just 10-15 feet offshore.

Yet another popular sea otter viewing area in Moss Landing is Jetty Beach–a sheltered area on the west side of Moss Landing’s north harbor. This long strip of sunny, protected beach is a favorite spot for sea otters to nap, rest, and hunt.

Do you want to view sea otters and other wildlife at Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing? The best option is to take a kayak tour with us.

Being on the water allows you to see the otters in their natural habitat–without bothering them. 

Our experienced guides are experts in the local marine ecosystem and will provide a tailored tour to help you learn about the otters and the other wildlife in the area.

It’s a fun, unique experience for individuals, groups, and families! Book your tour today.

2. Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Image: Ken Lund via Flickr / CC by SA 2.0

Fisherman’s Wharf is famous for its sea otter populations. Otters frequent this area since the bay is full of food sources they love, including clams, mussels, crab, urchins, and squid. 

Sit down for a tasty dinner at one of the famous seafood restaurants on the Wharf, and you’ll likely see sea otters playing in the water while you dine.

3. Cannery Row

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail area–from Fisherman’s Wharf to Cannery Row–is a great place to see sea otters. Keep your eyes open, and you might spot a few playing in the shallow waters near the shoreline.

We also recommend checking out San Carlos Beach, which is known for its frequent sea otter sightings.

4. The Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you strike out at Cannery Row, you can always head toward the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you’re guaranteed to see the playful critters.

The aquarium offers a stunning, two-story exhibit that allows visitors to see otters above and below the water.

Check the schedule before you go to learn about sea otter feeding times, or click here to view the aquarium’s Sea Otter Cam. 

5. Lovers Point Park and Beach

Just beyond the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in Pacific Grove, you’ll find Lovers Point Park.

This beautiful, protected area offers a thriving kelp forest, which otters love. If you want to take your otter-spotting efforts out on the water, this is also a great place to kayak, surf, or scuba dive. 

6. Point Lobos State Reserve

Photo: NOOA via Flickr / CC by SA 2.0

Keep heading south from Lovers Point, and you’ll wind up at Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel.

Known locally as a thriving animal sanctuary, this is a great place to spot sea otters, migratory seabirds, and other wildlife.

The otters love the mussels and clams that live along the rocky shores and can often be seen playing in the area’s many protected coves. 

What is the Best Time of Year to See Sea Otters in Monterey?

Sea otters live in the Monterey Bay area year-round and can be seen offshore at virtually any time. 

That said, the otters tend to be closer to shore during the winter and spring–when they raft up together in protected coves and estuaries to avoid harsh winds and rough weather further out at sea.

10 Fun Facts About Sea Otters

fun facts about sea otters in monterey, ca

Sea otters are one of the most lovable species along the California coast, but they’re also one of the most interesting.

Here are a few fun facts to consider:

  1. Otters in groups (known as rafts) sleep side-by-side, often wrapping themselves in strands of kelp so that they don’t drift away from one another. 
  2. Sea otters have the densest fur of any mammal, with about 1 million hairs per square inch. For comparison, humans have about 100,000 hairs on our entire heads. 
  3. There are currently an estimated 3,000 southern sea otters living in the wild. 
  4. When baby sea otters are first born, they’re so buoyant that they can’t go underwater – even if they want to. Pups begin to dive for food when they’re about two months old.
  5. Sea otters must consume 25% of their body weight each day to stay alive. 
  6. The deepest recorded dive of a sea otter is 264 feet
  7. Unlike northern sea otters, which are found in Alaska, California’s southern sea otters don’t eat fish
  8. An average adult male sea otter can be 5 feet in length and up to 70 lbs. in weight. 
  9. Otters mate year-round and give birth to litters of one pup, although twins are possible.
  10. Sea otters are the largest member of the Mustelidae (Weasel) family and are the only ones that live almost entirely in water.

Helpful Tips for Viewing Sea Otters in Monterey, CA

Sea otter viewing in the Monterey area is exciting, but it’s essential to keep the experience respectful and to honor the animals and their natural environment.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Keep your distance. Getting too close to sea otters can be stressful to them and may even be harmful to the young sea otters in a raft. In some areas, it’s also considered animal harassment, which is against the law. With that in mind, always stay at least 50 feet from the otters. If you must pass the animals, avoid approaching them directly. Instead, pass them on a parallel line. 
  2. Stay quiet. Sea otters are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and there are steep fines for disturbing them or changing their behavior. With this in mind, keep your voices low and avoid shouting or yelling. This is especially important if you have kids with you, who are likely to be excited by the sight of the otters. Moms and pups need rest and plenty of quiet time. Plus, staying quiet allows you to observe the otters and their natural behaviors.
  3. Don’t feed the otters. Never attempt to attract the otters with food. Human food can make otters sick or habituate them to people, which can be hazardous for their health and safety. 
  4. Leash pets. Keep your pets on a leash if you’re viewing sea otters from a beach. Dogs who chase sea otters can disturb or harm the animals, even causing mothers to become separated from their pups. 
  5. Avoid protected habitats. Obey all signs directing you away from protected or sensitive habitats. Dispose of trash properly and pick up any garbage you notice along the beach. 
  6. Get on the water if you can. If you want to see sea otters, you’ve got to act like a sea otter! The best way to view these beloved mammals is to get out on the water and observe them in their natural habitat. At Kayak Connection, our team offers group kayak tours and rental kayaks and equipment to help you get out there and observe the otters.

Let Us Take You on a Kayaking Adventure to See Sea Otters in Monterey, CA! 

If you want to see California’s famous sea otters, a wildlife kayak tour in Elkhorn Slough is the best option.

Our expert guides know the federal guidelines that pertain to sea otters and will apply them to the local environment. Our team can provide a tailored tour experience or equip you with the kayaks and gear you need to enjoy a self-guided tour.

Either way, getting out on the water is the best way to enjoy the sea otters in their natural habitat and make special memories.

Ready to learn more? Contact our team today or stop by the shop to inquire about tours and rentals.

Author: Jess Grigsby

Since 2012, Jess has co-owned and operated Kayak Connection together with her husband Dave. She is a lawyer, coach, avid kayak enthusiast and mother of two teenage girls. At Kayak Connection, Jess oversees a team of experienced kayak guides who are all CPR certified, with many holding advanced Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications. Our team is composed of environmental educators, naturalists and classroom teachers with experience working with all kinds of visitors, from school groups to large corporate teams.