The Five Best Places to See Wildlife in California

Explore the diversity of California's ecosystem at the five spots.

Hopper Editors - Oct. 26, 2017

California is home to a diverse ecosystem that ranges from marine life in the Pacific Ocean to larger mammals located in Yosemite National Park and everything in between. With the abundance of wildlife comes conservation projects and refuges that are now home to endangered species of all kinds. Luckily, those populations are on the uptick and visitors can explore these plants and animals in their natural habitat. These five places provide education on the species, as well as several tours and nature trails that give visitors a glimpse into California’s wild side. Make sure to snap some photos along the way; you never know what you might find.

See the bald eagles circling the skies of Sacramento at the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge

Located about 90 miles north of Sacramento, the 10,783-acre Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge consists of managed wetlands, uplands, riparian habitat and vernal pools. More than 95 percent of the wetlands in the central valley have been lost in the last 100 years, so the maintenance, enhancement and restoration of the refuge habitat is extremely beneficial for migratory birds and endangered species. As such, visitors can spot several endangered plants and animals such as the wintering peregrine falcon and bald eagle.

Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary is a popular vacation spot for birds and birders

Believe it or not, the city of Arcata has found a way to turn wastewater into a natural resource by integrating conventional wastewater treatment with the natural processes of the constructed wetlands. At the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, 307 acres make up freshwater marshes, a salt marsh, tidal sloughs, grassy uplands, mudflats and a brackish marsh and the city’s pioneering wastewater treatment facility. The sanctuary is also a major stop along the Pacific Flyway migratory route, attracting thousands of birds from California, Mexico and Central and South America. More than 300 bird species have found a home in Arcata.

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is where marshes meet California's tech world

The 30,000-acre Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is ironically located in the heart of California’s tech industry at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. Several threatened and endangered species live in the refuge either part of the year or year-round because of the 15 habitat types that cater to an abundance of wildlife. For instance, 37 percent of the refuge consists of salt marsh, brackish marsh and freshwater marsh that support many food webs, which the California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse — both of which are endangered species — rely on for survival.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is looking out for sea creature friends

California’s rocky seashore hosts a variety of crabs, sponges, starfish, mollusks and plenty of other creatures that the Little Mermaid would have called friends. The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve located just 20 miles south of San Francisco was set aside to protect this community of wildlife. The 3-mile reserve shoreline serves as a haven for educational excursions with 10 distinct areas for visitors to check out. Guests can participate in tours led by reserve staff, self-led tours and workshops to learn more about the tidepools. The reserve is also a hiker’s dream, with several trails along the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean below.

Get an immersive look into central California's wildlife at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

Visitors to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in the San Joaquin Valley can explore the refuge using one of its three auto tour routes or eight nature trails. The Tule Elk Auto Tour Route, for instance, spans five miles and features a variety of elk observation spots as well as interpretive panels that tell the story of a variety of subspecies that almost went extinct in the late 1800s. The nature trails entrench visitors into nature, offering an on-foot perspective that allows wildlife photographers to snap shots of birds sitting on trees or diving into tall grasses.

Get the Hopper app to find the best deals.
You could save up to 40% on your next flight!