Best Places to See Seals and Sea Lions on the Oregon Coast
By Gary Hayes
Published: 08/02/2019  Updated: 08/08/2019
Photos by Gary Hayes & Beth Wise

Seals and sea lions can be spotted nearly year-round on the Oregon Coast. Here's our guide to where to find them.

There are many places along Oregon's 363-mile coastline where you can see seals or sea lions in their natural setting and some can be seen in developed harbor areas as well. Seals and sea lions are members of the pinniped family and the Oregon Coast is home to Harbor Seals, Steller Sea Lions, California Sea Lions and Northern Elephant Seals, some of which can be seen year-round. Here's our guide to spotting seals and sea lions:


Harbor Seals are year-round residents on the Oregon Coast and are perfectly adapted to life in the frigid Northwest Pacific Ocean. Multiple layers of blubber and a fine coat of waterproof fur keep seals comfortable in virtually any water temperature. Harbor Seals grow to five or six feet in length and can weigh up to 375 pounds. Their coloring can vary from black to white; but they are most commonly buff colored with dark spots.

Harbor seals spend much of their lives in the water, but haul ashore to give birth, rest, nurse their young, molt and escape predation. On the beach or rocky haul outs, seals move by awkwardly flopping on their bellies. In the water, they are gracefully agile and are experts at diving, able to plunge to 900 feet and remain submerged for more than 20 minutes.

Where to see them: Harbor Seals are commonly seen on rocky haul outs, laying on the shore at the sandy mouth of bays and are also regular visitors to coastal marinas with possible sightings anywhere from Astoria to Brookings. Some of the best locations for seeing Harbor Seals in a natural environment include Simpson Reef and Shore Acres State Park near Charleston, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area near Newport, Coquille Point in Bandon, Seal Rock beach in Seal Rock, Otter Crest Beach near Otter Rock and at Strawberry Hill State Park near Yachats. Harbor seals will often be found on the sandy shore at the mouth of bays. Salishan Spit in Lincoln City (mouth of Siletz Bay), Alsea Bay in Waldport and the mouth of Nehalem Bay between Manzanita and Rockaway Beach are all dependable locations.

Leave baby seals alone! It is not uncommon to encounter a seal pup that has been left on shore to rest while its mother feeds at sea. Though it may look like the youngster has been abandoned, it is certainly just waiting for its mother's return and should be given plenty of space and never be touched.


Steller Sea Lions can also be seen year-round though they tend to prefer haul out areas in more isolated locations. Male Steller Sea Lions can weigh over a ton and grow up to 11 feet in length while the "dainty" females weigh in at only 600 to 800 pounds. Steller Sea Lions roar rather than bark and are lighter in color and larger than California Sea Lion. They are a federally threatened species.

Where to see them: Their most visible haul out areas are Shell Island off Cape Arago, the area near Sea Lion Caves north of Florence and offshore at Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge near Oceanside.


California Sea Lions are seasonal visitors who spend much of the year on the Oregon Coast. Only males migrate north to Oregon in late summer, while females and pups remain in California all year. The males will remain in Oregon through fall, winter and early spring, then return to California for the breeding season. California Sea Lions are darker and smaller than Stellers. Males grow to lengths of 8 feet and can weigh up to 750 pounds. They are social animals and congregate in tightly packed groups at haul outs. Their barking often echoes throughout the area.

Where to see them: The best place to see California Sea Lions in a natural habitat along the Oregon Coast is Shell Island at Simpson Reef and nearby rocks at Cape Arago. They can also frequently be seen along Port Orford Heads, Yaquina Head, Three Arch Rocks off Oceanside and the Heceta Head area near Sea Lion Caves. California Sea Lions also frequent developed harbor areas where they will lounge on docks including in Astoria at the East Mooring Basin on the Columbia River and on Newport's bayfront.


Northern Elephant Seals are the largest pinniped carnivore that might be seen along the Oregon Coast. Adult males grow to 13 feet in length and can weigh up to 5,000 pounds. Besides their size, they are recognized by an elongated proboscis, most notable on the males, that can be used for grunting and croaking vocalizations. Sightings can be rare since they truly are pelagic creatures that only come ashore for breeding season.

Where to see them: Northern Elephant Seals are most commonly sighted at Simpson Reef and the north cove area of Cape Arago during the winter breeding season. They have also been reported at Seal Rock, Depoe Bay and Newport.


Popular Oregon Coast attractions including the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Seaside Aquarium and Sea Lion Caves offer can't miss encounters with pinnipeds. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has a 90,000 gallon exhibit featuring Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions with viewing areas above and below the surface of the water. They offer twice daily feeding presentations.

The Seaside Aquarium is a small, but historical attraction, now over 80 years old that features a pool with Harbor Seals. Visitors have come to the Seaside Aquarium since 1937 to feed the seals who perform attention-getting antics to entice you to toss them a piece of fish.

For more than 80 years, Sea Lion Caves, north of Florence, has been an Oregon Coast attraction. An elevator whisks visitors down to a viewing area of America's largest sea cave, the height of a 12-story building, that provides shelter to Steller Sea Lions. The sea lions frequent the cave mostly in fall and winter and during storms. The rest of the year, the sea lions lounge on rocky haul outs outside the cave and can be seen from viewing areas above.
Best Places to See Seals and Sea Lions on the Oregon Coast