Otter Spotting Locations

Otter Spotting Location

Prime Otter Spotting Locations

The Monterey Bay is a prime viewing/otter spotting location.  Sea otters can be found all along the coast adjacent to Cannery Row in Monterey southward to Lover’s Point and beyond.  They can be viewed at Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel and, potentially, although difficult spots to get to, along the Big Sur coast.  The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and Moss Landing Harbor are prime, reliable spots to view sea otters.

In Moss Landing, you will find somewhat reliably a group, or raft of sea otters in Moss Landing Harbor.  You take the Moss Landing State Beach exit from Hwy 1 just north of Moss Landing.  When turning on to the road, follow the road to the left and keep staying to the left.  You will end up in a parking lot with signage describing the group of sea otters that sometimes resides in this part of the harbor.

In Big Sur, there are the following spots:

-  horse shoe-shaped cove just up coast of Kasler Pt. (~1/3 mile south of Garrapata Creek).  Not really in “Big Sur”, but there frequently are resting sea otters that are visible with the naked eye (binoculars are always recommended though).  There is room to pull off the road here.
- 100 yards south of Limekiln State Park entrance.  There is a good wide dirt pullout.  Frequently there is a raft of sea otters in the kelp that are pretty close to the highway.
In addition, various spots along the range of the southern, or California sea otter from Half Moon Bay in the north to Santa Barbara in the south can be potentially good places to view sea otters. Morro Bay is another hot spot.


In Alaska, some places are not as accessible for viewing sea otters as in California, but for all three stocks in Alaska, there are places to view sea otters.

In Washington, sea otter spotting is difficult at best.  Virtually the entire sea otter range is contained within the boundaries of Olympic National Park and, for the most part, can only be accessed by hiking from one to several miles.  Once you reach the coast, spotting them is difficult without decent optics.  If those wanting to see them want to make the necessary trek, then the following locations are recommended:  Sand Point, Cape Flattery (not many there, but worth the hike, also the shortest walk), Cape Johnson, Cedar Creek/Norwegian memorial, perhaps Yellow Banks, and south of LaPush, Giants Graveyard and north of the Hoh River mouth in the vicinity of Diamond Rock.

In Canada, we are researching locations and will update this when we have them.


We have listed the following Sanctuaries in California (4) and Washington (1) that are good wildlife viewing locations in general.  Reliably, for sea otters, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary will be the best.  It is probably a very rare occasion where you would view sea otters in the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones Sanctuaries.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, WA,

  • Designated July 1994
  • Key species: Tufted Puffin, Bald Eagle, Northern sea otter, California Grey Whale, Bull Kelp, salmon
  • Habitats: rocky headlands, sandy beaches, kelp forests, sea stacks and islands, pelagic or open ocean and submarine canyons

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, San Francisco Bay, CA:

  • Area protected: 526 square miles
  • Designated May 1989
  • Key species: krill, Pacific salmon, rockfish, Humback whale, Blue whale, Dall’s porpoise, albatross, shearwater
  • Habitats: rocky reef, pelagic or open water, soft sediment continental shelf and slope

Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, San Francisco Bay, CA:

  • Area protected: 1,255 square miles
  • Designated January 1981
  • Key species:  Dungeness crab, California gray whale, Stellar sea lion, Common Murre and Ashy Storm-petrel
  • Habitats: coastal beaches, rocky intertidal, mud and tidal flats, salt marsh, esteros, peagic (open ocean), deep benthos (continental shelf and slope)

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Monterey Bay, CA:

  • Area protected: 5,328 square miles
  • Designated: September 1992
  • Key species:  Southern sea otter, Gray whale, Market squid, Brown Pelican, rockfish and giant kelp
  • Habitats: sandy beaches, rocky shores, kelp forests, submarine canyon, pelagic (open ocean) and wetlands

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Santa Barbara, CA:

  • Area protected: 1,685 square miles
  • Designated: September 1980
  • Key Species: California sea lion, Elephant and harbor seals, blue, gray and humpback whales, dolphins, blue shark, Brown Pelican, Western gull and Ashy Storm petrel
  • Habitats: Kelp forests, rocky intertidal, sandy beaches, seagrass meadows, pelagic (open ocean) and deep rocky reefs


Google Earth

Explore the world of sea otters. With Google Earth you can view current and historic sea otter habitat, aquariums hosting sea otter exhibits, sea otter research laboratories, and more!

This file is maintained and was created by Friends of the Sea Otter. You must have Google Earth (click here to download for free) in order to view.

GoogleEarthImage Otter Spotting Locations

Sea Otter Habitats and Population Census

The sea otter’s historic range stretched along the Pacific Rim, from Japan, along the coast of Siberia and the Aleutian Chain to down the Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California coast to Baja California. Sea otters generally occupy the rocky nearshore environment in water that is 50-75 feet deep. Currently sea otters can be found in California, Washington, Alaska, Canada, Russia, and Japan.

World Range Otter Spotting Locations
Another great place to learn more about the current status of the sea otter is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Here you will find a full account of their historical and current geographical range, threats, habitat, ecology, and more. iucn Otter Spotting Locations


Surveys of the southern sea otter in California are normally conducted twice a year by the USGS. Population surveys of the translocated northern sea otters in Washington are completed on an annual basis. Surveys of the northern sea otter in Alaska are more sporadic and generally occur every 8-10 years.

California                                                        Alaska

2012 census

2011 census                                                    2008 Alaska Stock Assessment

2010 census

2009 census

2008 census

Washington                                                    British Columbia

2010 census                                                    2007 Assessment and Update Status Report

2009 census                                                    2000 Assessment and Update Status Report

2008 census

2007 census


Don’t live near natural sea otter habitat but still want to see a sea otter? Sea otter exhibits exist across the nation in zoos and aquariums. Many of these otters were found unfit for release back into the wild and have become “ambassadors” of their species for education, outreach and awareness purposes. Please find a list below of all the zoos and aquariums in the United States and Canada that have a sea otter exhibit or information on sea otters:

Audobon Aquarium of the Americas New Orleans LA
Aquarium of the Pacific Long Beach CA
Alaska Sea Life Center Seward AK
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium San Pedro CA
Georgia Aquarium Atlanta GA
Minnesota Zoo Apple Valley MN
Monterey Bay Aquarium Monterey CA
New York Aquarium Brooklyn NY
Oregon Coast Aquarium Newport OR
Oregon Zoo Portland OR
Pittsburg Zoo and PPG Aquarium Pittsburgh PA
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium Tacoma WA
Seattle Aquarium Seattle WA
Shedd Aquarium Chicago IL
Vancouver Aquarium Vancouver BC, Canada