Año Nuevo State Park was established as a Natural Reserve and Wildlife Protection Area in 1958. It protects a section of truly ... more »beautiful Central California coastline and the surrounding lands into the hills of the coastal mountain range. The park is renowned as one of the largest breeding grounds in the world for several seal species, a significant local bird rookery, local sand dunes, cultural history, and a small offshore island, formerly the site of one of California’s coastal lighthouses. This park has an underlying feel to it that tells you it’s a special place.
As a prime resource and significant wildlife habitat, the park contains sensitive native dunes and coastal terrace prairie habitats. The park serves to protect several inland plant communities that include old growth forest, freshwater marsh, red alder riparian forest and knobcone pine forest. Its streams support steelhead trout and coho salmon, and its wetlands are home to the rare San Francisco garter snake and red-legged frog. The park’s archeological heritage includes remnants of the Native Indian Ohlone’s occupation and several structures from the nineteenth century, the Cascade and historic Steele Ranches. With the its geographic connections to adjacent public lands, the park provides intact ecological wildlife corridors.
For experiencing the Elephant Seals, mid-December through mid-March includes the breeding season with the molting season extending through July. The park does have guided tours - with reservations required - during the breeding season.
The bulk of the accessible park is on the seaward side of Coastal Hwy 1 and much of that is currently off limits to protect the dunes, plant life, cultural archeology, and rookery. Regardless, the established trails are very well maintained. The park’s staff was found to be extraordinarily friendly, informed, and eager to share this amazing place. We were lucky also to run into one of the park’s Naturalists on his way out to North Point and received an amazing talk on the botany, zoology, and park archeology on the way…essentially one of the amazing state park’s “Insider Tours”.
To the east of HWY 1 the lands leading into the hills to the east were acquired in 1985 and include 2900 acres of undeveloped and generally closed to the public redwood forest, meadows, agricultural lands, a historic dairy ranch, and a couple of small lakes. It’s attached at points to Big Basin SP to the east and adjoins Butano SP to the north. The ocean waters are part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Access is not allowed to the offshore island.
Año Nuevo State Park is located on State Route 1, approximately 20 miles north of Santa Cruz and 35 miles south of Half Moon Bay. Año Nuevo is about a 1.5 hour drive south of San Francisco.
Elephant Seals visit the park year-round but the breeding season is December 15 through March 31. The seal population does remain through June. The prime December through June period requires Ranger guided walks for the safety of both the seals and humans as the seals utilize both the beaches and the dunes. During the breeding season daily access to the park is available only via guided walks. Advance reservations are recommended for walks.
Facilities and Opportunities
The Visitor Center features natural history exhibits and a bookstore.
Restrooms, drinking water and picnic tables are available near the Visitor Center only. Food and beverages are not sold at the park.
There are no camping facilities in the park.
Adjacent Visitor Attractions
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, Butano State Park, and a coastal portion of Big Basin are within 5 miles of Año Nuevo. less «