Bird Watching Vacation

Plan a Bird Watching Vacation Along the California Coast

The California coast is a wonderful place for a bird watching vacation. You'll find an abundance of wildlife sanctuaries and bird habitats. But there's so much more. Throw in the scenic splendors of the California coast, plus a wide variety of recreational activities and attractions, and you've got a vacation to remember.

We'll go through the California coastal regions from north to south, so if there's a particular region you're interested in, just scroll down to find it.

Northern California Coast Bird Watching Vacations

California's rugged North Coast is cool and wet. Even in the summer months, you'll want to bring a sweater or a jacket. Winter is the rainy season, while summer and fall are dry. It doesn't get down to freezing in this area, but it can get a bit nippy.

Tolowa Dunes State Park &  Lake Earl Wildlife Area

This is a prime bird watching vacation spot. It's a major stopping point along the Pacific flyway for geese, ducks, swans and other migratory birds.

You'll find a sandy beach, grass-covered dunes, lakes, ponds and marshes. This area is very wet and chilly in the winter, lush and green in spring and early summer, and dry in the fall.

There are two primitive campgrounds, an environmental (walk-in, no water) campground and an equestrian campsite. Find accommodations in Crescent City if camping's not your thing.

For more information see: Tolowa Dunes State Park & Lake Earl Wildlife Area.

Humboldt Bay, Eureka

Humbolt Bay is the second largest enclosed bay in California. (San Francisco Bay is the largest, in case you hadn't guessed.) You'll find a variety of recreational activities here, in addition to bird-watching. Take a harbor cruise, rent a kayak, go fishing, hiking, or sight-seeing.

Accommodations include campgrounds and RV parks, charming Victorian bed & breakfast inns, resorts, motels and vacation rentals.

The Arcata Marsh is located in what used to be essentially a dump. Now cleaned up and beautified, the area includes three marshes, mudflats, a lake and a pond, with hiking trails throughout.

The city has even built all-weather blinds to make your bird watching vacation more pleasant. There's an Interpretive Center and free guided nature walks are held every Saturday.

At Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, you'll find dunes, two interpretive trails, grasslands, freshwater marsh, mudflats, and open water. You can even rent a kayak in Eureka, or take a guided kayak tour. There are also boat launches available on the Bay, if you bring your own boat.

Godwit Days is the area's annual spring bird migration festival. You can download two informative birding brochures at this web site.

Bodega Bay

You'll find Bodega Bay an excellent spot for a bird watching vacation. Fishing, golfing, horseback riding, kayaking, surfing and diving are all popular activities.

Which brings me to an important caveat. This area is very popular, so be sure to reserve your accommodations ahead of time during the peak summer months, and especially on weekends.

The Madrone Audubon Society has detailed information on birding in the area.

San Francisco Bay Area Bird Watching Vacations

Point Reyes

Point Reyes is a little piece of "civilized wilderness." Just 35 miles north of San Francisco, it can hardly be called "the boondocks." Yet, when you're there, you feel like you're in a wild, remote place.

You'll find wonderful bird watching vacation opportunities here. With some 470 bird species spotted in the area, you'll find good birding any time of year. Free maps of the park are available for download.

There's plenty to do in Point Reyes, including fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, beachcombing, and more. There are several campgrounds in the park, as well as a hostel. You'll also find accommodations in nearby Inverness and other cities outside the park.

See Point Reyes National Seashore for detailed information.

Point Reyes Bird Observatory is located in the southern portion of the park. Here you can watch mist-netting demonstrations, walk the nature trail, or enjoy one of their monthly trips to various locations around Marin county.

Farallon National Wildlife Refuge

The Farallon Islands are located 30 miles offshore of the San Francisco Bay. This is the largest seabird breeding colony south of Alaska. You won't be allowed to set foot on these islands, but you can get there by boat.

The Oceanic Society operates whale watching cruises to the area. (But no one will mind if you watch the birds as well as the whales.)

The whale watching cruises last a full day, so you can spend the rest of your bird watching vacation in San Francisco. The Presidio is a good place to start.

The Presidio of San Francisco

You'll find over 200 species of birds in this urban park. The Presidio occupies 1491 acres to the south of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are 11 miles of hiking trails and 14 miles of bicycle routes. The Coastal Trail will take you from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to the Cliff House.

You already know that there are numerous accommodations available in San Francisco. What you may not know, however, is that there are campsites available in the Presidio, as well as in other Bay Area parks. There are also hostels in several locations around the Bay Area.

See Presidio of San Francisco for details.

Central California Coast Bird Watching Vacations

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay is a popular bird watching vacation spot. There are many attractions, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row, all sorts of outdoor activities and, of course, outstanding bird watching and wildlife viewing.

You'll find a variety of accommodations: camping and RV parks, vacation rentals, charming bed and breakfast inns, luxury resorts and budget motels.

A particularly good spot for bird watching is Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing. This National Estuarine Sanctuary is located near the Moss Landing harbor. Over 340 species of birds have been identified here.

You can explore the area by kayak, canoe or tour boat, accompanied by naturalists or on your own. Or stay on land and enjoy the hiking trails.

The Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society provides an excellent interactive map showing the best bird watching locations on the Monterey Peninsula.

Morro Bay

Morro Rock is the defining landmark for this charming coastal city. The 576 foot volcanic peak is also a preserve for the endangered peregrine falcon. You'll find more than 250 species of birds in this sanctuary.

One of California's largest and most productive fishing fleets operates out of Morro Bay, so this is a great place to go for fresh seafood. There are many restaurants right on the harbor.

You'll also find an abundance of recreational activities to make your bird watching vacation complete. Choose from bicycling, kayaking, scuba diving, surfing, fishing, whale watching excursions, bay cruises, and golf.

Accommodations are plentiful, including camping and RV parks, hotels and motels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals.

You'll find good bird-watching opportunities at Morro Bay State Park and at the nearby Montana de Oro State Park.

The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival takes place every year in January. Something to consider for a winter bird watching vacation.

Santa Barbara

With over 430 birds recorded here, Santa Barbara is a bird watching vacation paradise. And it doesn't hurt a bit that the place is simply beautiful.

You'll find a variety of attractions and activities to keep you busy when you're not birding. Accommodations of all sorts are available, from camping and RVing to B&Bs and luxury hotels.

Check out the Central Coast Birding Trail for great birding locations in the Santa Barbara area.

Southern California Bird Watching Vacations

Newport Beach

Newport Beach is an upscale coastal city in Orange County, with one of the largest pleasure craft harbors in the U.S. It's close to many Orange County attractions, if you want to add a little variety to your bird watching vacation.

A prime spot for birdwatching is Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve & Nature Preserve. The Bay is one of the largest estuaries in Southern California and is a vital stopover spot for birds migrating along the Pacific flyway.

Close to 200 species of birds can be found here, including several endangered species. Guided tours are offered, and the Interpretive Center houses interactive exhibits.

A variety of recreational activities are available, including hiking, biking, kayaking, and fishing. You'll find ample accommodations in the area, ranging from camping and RV resorts to four star hotels.

San Diego

I can't imagine a more pleasant place to take a bird watching vacation than warm, sunny San Diego. You'll find an abundance of birds, and plenty of other activities as well. Camping sites and RV parks are plentiful, as are accommodations of all sorts.

A beautiful spot for birdwatching is Torrey Pines State Reserve and State Beach. This area is home to several rare and endangered birds, and is a vital stopping place for many migratory birds. There are about 200 bird species found in the reserve. There are nature trails, hiking trails and guided tours.

At the beach, you'll find swimming, surfing, fishing, and picnicking. A trail connects the beach to the reserve. Be sure to download the park brochure at the state parks web site.

South of San Diego, you'll find Border Field State Park & Tijuana Estuary. There are over 370 species of migratory and native birds here, including 6 endangered species. The Reserve offers 4 miles of walking trails, as well as guided nature and bird walks on the weekends.

Border Field Park is in the southwest corner of the Reserve, on the border of Mexico. The park offers hiking, biking, and horseback trails, as well as fishing and swimming.

You can find a San Diego bird checklist at San Diego Natural History Museum .