For the 50+ Traveler

In meandering rivers and salty oceans, more than 10 species of otters can be found in the wild worldwide. Sea otters are particularly adorable otters that look like teddy bears with whiskers and powerful tails.

It’s easy to think that these marine mammals are related to seals, but sea otters are actually part of the mink family. And with up to a million hairs per square inch, their pelts were so highly sought after in the 1800s that they were nearly extinct. But thanks to the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911, recognized as the first international wildlife treaty, sea otters were spared from extinction.

Currently protected under both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, sea otters make their homes in the Pacific Ocean stretching from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Southern California. As populations have slowly risen in the wild, sea otters have been reclassified from endangered to threatened, which is a good thing. If you want to spot one of these cutie pies in person, here are six great places to see sea otters in the wild along the West Coast of Canada and the United States.

Wild sea otters in Alaska.
Jamie Italiene

1. Seward, Alaska

Seward is located at the northernmost point of Resurrection Bay in southern Alaska. Look for sea otters all along the bay as it juts into the rugged Alaska coastline from the Gulf of Alaska. One of the best places to spot sea otters is in Seward Small Boat Harbor. A local fish processing plant pumps fish scraps just outside the entrance to the harbor, attracting a variety of wildlife from sea otters to seabirds.

Two otters in Olympic National Park.

2. Olympic National Park In Washington State

About 100 miles west of Seattle, Olympic National Park occupies one of the northwestern-most corners of the contiguous United States. If you want to see sea otters, head to the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, where the Salish Sea separates the U.S. from Canada. You’ll have the best luck along the coast, especially at Shi Shi and Rialto beaches.

A sea otter in Monterey Bay, California.

3. Along The Coast Adjacent To Cannery Row In Monterey, California

After visiting the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, take a stroll along Cannery Row, keeping an eye on the water. It’s not uncommon to see a sea otter swimming on its back, using a rock as a tool to pry open mussels, clams, or abalone. In fact, sea otters are the only non-primate mammal to use tools. And these 5-foot-long, 70-pound sea-dwelling creatures eat about 25 to 30 percent of their body weight each day. Spotting one chomping on a meal is very memorable indeed.

A white faced California sea otter.

4. Point Lobos State Reserve In Carmel-By-The-Sea, California

On California Highway 1, less than five miles south of Pebble Beach, the top-rated public golf course in America, is Point Lobos State Reserve. Be sure to visit Whaler’s Cove, a large U-shaped indentation in the northern portion of this 3,200-acre peninsula park, as it is one of several great places to see sea otters in the wild in California.

A close-up of a wild sea otter.

5. Morro Bay Near Paso Robles, California

Continuing south along California’s coast, another great spot to see sea otters is in Morro Bay near Paso Robles. Because a long finger of land creates a barrier between the coastline and the Pacific Ocean, the water in the bay is calm and protected. Be sure to visit the Morro Bay T Pier that juts into the water like the letter T just south of the Great American Fish Company. This fishing pier is a well-known destination for sea otter spotting in Morro Bay.

A sea otter at the Marine Mammal Center.

6. Marine Mammal Center In Sausalito, California

While the delicate ecosystems of our beloved planet Earth are best when they coexist in a natural, symbiotic state, unfortunately that’s not always possible. Oil spills, overfishing, and other manmade and environmental hazards can negatively impact sea otter colonies. Fortunately, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito is committed to rescuing, treating, and releasing marine mammals like sea otters back into the wild.

It’s no fun seeing a sick or injured sea otter, and it’s chilling to understand the negative ways that humans are impacting the planet. But it is inspiring to see sick and injured sea otters getting back on their feet and out into the ocean thanks to the efforts of the professionals and volunteers at the Marine Mammal Center.

A momma sea otter and her pup.

Tips For Spotting Sea Otters In The Wild

While humans on average tend to take more from the earth than they give, sea otters are quite different. They are a keystone species for kelp forests, which means that they are critical to keeping this ecosystem in balance and thriving.

One of the best ways to spot sea otters in the wild is to look for kelp beds along the coast. Sea otters wrap themselves in kelp to keep from drifting out to sea while they sleep. And new mothers bundle their pups in the kelp while they hunt for food.

Sea otters are very social animals, so another way to spot them in the wild is to look for rafting groups of anywhere from a few dozen to nearly 100 hanging out together in the water.

In either case, a pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens will help enhance your wildlife-spotting opportunities when you visit these places in search of adorable sea otters.

Want to see other animals in their natural habitats? These are the best bird-watching spots in the United States, plus where to see sloths, koalas, and reindeer in the wild.