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Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough

Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough

Take a trip to Moss Landing: one of the best places to spot sea otters! There’s also an abundance of sea birds, jelly fish, seals, and sea lions.

In a naturally, socially distanced experience, paddle up the Elkhorn Slough with a kayak at your own pace. For land lovers, surrounding trails provide access to the beach and the slough entrance. For a more laid back experience, boat tours provide the most relaxed journey.

Elkhorn Slough Background

Powerplant at Moss Landing
The power plant (on left hand side) is a prominent landmark of Moss Landing

Located 20 miles north of Monterey, the Elkhorn Slough is the 2nd largest Californian estuary and sits at the center edge of Monterey Bay. Located at the site of a primordial river drainage basin, the current slough was only recently reconnected to the ocean in 1946.

Getting to Moss Landing

Moss Landing

Take 880S to San Jose through the 101 interchange where it will turn into 17S to Santa Cruz. At Santa Cruz, follow the signs to highway 1S. Moss Landing is directly off of highway 1.

Alternatively, you can take 101S. Exit to 156W before Prunedale, and then exit 1N to Moss Landing.

Most of the activities are at north harbor, off of Jetty Rd. The power plant is an unmistakable landmark that is located to the south of Jetty Rd.

Accommodations, restaurants and most boat tours are in the south harbor, further south on 1, off of Moss Landing Rd.

Moss Landing Activities

Lesser Tern
Lesser terns and other sea birds thrive in the slough.


Jetty Road leads into Moss Landing State Beach. From here, you can view wildlife across the north harbor.

The Moss Landing State Wildlife Area across highway 1 from the north harbor is frequented by fishermen along the shores of the estuary. Check their website for the latest information.

Sea nettle
Don’t forget to look down into the water! Jellyfish, sea nettles (pictured), and fish can be found floating by.


Kayaking outfitters from the north harbor (Jetty Rd), offer rentals and quick training courses to set you on your way. The water in the slough is extremely calm, however paddling in/out can be a workout depending on the flow of the tide (see tip below). I’ve tried Monterey Bay Kayaks at Elkhorn Slough and always had a good experience.

An alternate to kayaking are “hydrobikes”. The main advantage the bikes have over kayaks is that they’re higher up over the water and extremely stable. This means bringing large gear (like a large DSLR w/zoom lens) is a lot safer than on a kayak. The downside is that they have a propeller that requires a minimum depth and can get tangled in sea grass or fishing line. Try calling Monterey Bay Hydrobikes to check pricing as they sometimes offer day-of discounts depending on their schedule.

Tip: Check the tide tables for the high tide time. Ideally begin your journey before high tide to let the tide push you into the slough. Start returning to the harbor after high tide, and kick back as the ebbing tide pulls you back in.

Harbor Seal
Harbor seals can be spotted asleep in the slough.

Boating Tours

Typically located at the south harbor, boating tour operators offer a leisurely experience into the slough. The advantage is that you have a guide and boat do all the work for you. The disadvantage is that you have less control over your view and ability to explore according to your own interests.

Otter Pictures

Taken from a hydrobike (see above under Kayaking).