I spent a couple of hours this morning at Moss Landing State Beach located along Hwy 1 half way between Santa Cruz and Monterey. This is the most reliable spot for fairly close viewing of otters at the mouth of Elkhorn Slough. Toward the end of Jetty Rd is a small parking area on the left with a sign with information about the otters. Below the roped off parking area is where you'll usually find rafts of otters in the slough as well as some otters resting on the sand if the tide isn't too high. At high tide there's little to no sand for the otters to haul out on but no matter the timing, there are always otters present in the water. Today there were about two dozen of them easily visible. I also like timing my visits when the tide is a little lower to watch the shorebirds feed. Terns have arrived and will be in the area until about the middle of October. Right now there are elegant terns in the thousands and I saw a few caspian terns. There's new signage and more roped off this year to prevent people from walking along the sand over to the otter haul out area which is a good as I've seen people try to walk right up to them.
You can see harbor seals here as well. They like to hang out near the sand bar by the boats and kayak launching areas. Kayak Connection and Monterey Bay Kayaks offer tours and rentals and the Elkhorn Slough Safari boat brings their guests here but if you don't have enough time for any of these activities, you can always make a quick stop to see the wildlife.
After you're done on the slough side, you can walk over to the ocean side to look for whales. I didn't see any from shore today but have in the past usually at quite a distance so binoculars are helpful. Sanctuary, Blue Ocean, Sea Goddess and Fast Raft operate whale watch tours from Moss Landing Harbor. There have been a few dozen humpbacks feeding offshore of Moss Landing recently. There have also been about a dozen humpbacks in Carmel Bay visible from shore from Point Lobos, Carmel River State Beach and Carmel Point in the past few days.
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Photos of otters and other wildlife at Moss Landing