The little known Secret of Moss Landing Photography

Sea Otter on Shore Leave

Sea Otter on Shore Leave

The sea otters of Moss Landing are marvelous creatures. Seemingly posing all day for photographers in a little bay, I even had one of them coming to shore for me. In the light of the setting sun, he seemingly wanted to afford me a unique photograph. Maybe he was curious at this strange creature with this clicking device observing him.

Once hunted close to extinction, California’s population of well over 2000 otters all stem from a single colony that survived the hunt for their fur. Most otters populate the Central California Coast between San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

I have seen otters in Monterey and Pacific Grove, but never as close as I have at Moss Landing, making Moss Landing one of the best places for otter photography.

How to get there

Driving Highway 1 from north to south, take the Moss Landing Road exit to your right and stop at the small bay full of boats. Walk around and look for the otters between the boats. The GPS location below is the exact spot where the otters often hang out and sleep on their back most of the day.

GPS position

The Otters were exactly at this spot:

How to photograph the Otters of Moss Landing

Sea Otter Swimming and Eating

Sea Otter Swimming and Eating

You need a long telephoto lens to shoot the otters up close. Since I did not have such a lens, I tried to stay with the otters that were moving and I got lucky twice in a row. I followed them on foot around the little peninsula. Meanwhile the sea otters were swimming on their back and cleaning themselves or eating crab like this little one here.

I had the advantage of having the otters for myself while they were backstroking along the shore. I kept my focus on them and took a nice series of photographs, discovering much about the personality of these remarkable creatures.

If you have a lot of equipment, a long lens (400mm or more) and a tripod, stay near the spot I marked on the GPS. With a smaller setup, you can walk around the boats and discover some of the more active otters there.

The peaceful harbor offers enough photographic excitement until the sea otters show up. The nearby state beaches and Elkhorn slough are worth the trip.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

During the afternoon, the otters are most active, foraging for food, and cleaning. This is the best time of the day to photograph them. I took the picture at the top of this posting near the end of the day, where I had to boost ISO levels. This is not a sunset location.

Time required

It is hard to predict how long you will need. Just stop when you pass on Highway 1 and take some time to look around. When the otters are out, you will most likely lose track of time anyways.


  • Telephoto Lens
  • Lens Extender
  • Tripod
  • High ISO camera

Difficulty Photographing

The otters keep their distance, which makes it hard to follow them once they get moving. Even if your lens has image stabilization, you need to keep the exposure time below 1/125s once the otters move.

Sea Otters are endangered species. No matter how excited you may get, please keep your distance and do not disturb them!

Close Locations

Useful Resources

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  1. edvatza
    Posted 2009/01/28 at 00:12 | Permalink

    Good information here, Andre. Moss Landing is a great place to photograph the otters. I also went on the Elkhorn Slough Safari – a boat trip out of Moss Landing. The rafts of otters in the slough were absolutely incredible.

    One thing we can’t stress enough is that the California Sea Otter is endangered and we humans need to give them their space. So don’t try to chase them. If you are lucky as we were one day at the marina in Monterey, we had two swim up to where we were standing and then glide on by. They were actually too close for my lens to focus!

    God I can’t wait to go back to the Central California Coast!

  2. Posted 2009/02/13 at 18:21 | Permalink

    Hi! Thanks for visiting my site. Love the Otters. I have tried to photograph them – sneaky little guys.

    Really interesting site you have; different take on the whole photo realm of things.

  3. Posted 2009/02/19 at 20:02 | Permalink

    This post makes me homesick for Salinas. Never thought I would say that either! And one of my favorite Mexican restaurants is in Moss Landing. So you can take photos AND eat great food there!


    • Carrie
      Posted 2014/02/22 at 16:43 | Permalink

      Which Mex restaurant, please??!! We moved from San Diego and cant find ANY good Mex food in Monterey. :(

  4. Posted 2009/02/20 at 05:25 | Permalink

    I assume you are referring to “The whole Enchilada”? It looks very inviting. I should check it out one day.

  5. Posted 2010/03/02 at 01:19 | Permalink

    Just stumbled across your site searching Big Sur.
    On a 1400 mile whirlwind tour of California (my 1st time out West),I was lucky enough to stop for lunch at this gem of a place. What I found here just blew my mind. Sea Otters,Sea Lions,and all kinds of feathered friends. Some of the shots I took are here >
    I will be visiting again later this month,and am concentrating my stay on the coast,with Marina,Ca as my launching pad. The coast is now in my blood. Just wish it was closer to Syracuse,NY.

  6. Posted 2010/03/02 at 05:38 | Permalink

    Hey Chris,

    thanks for stopping by. It’s a pleasure to have you here. I agree with you, the California Coast is exceptionally beautiful.
    Let me know if you need advise about your upcoming trip. I have been to many places that I have yet to write about.
    I only disagree on one thing, I am glad the coast is where it is, since this happens to be my neighborhood :)

    • Posted 2010/03/12 at 09:37 | Permalink

      I have the following on my “hit list”. If you have any recommendations for or near the following,I’m all ears. Have you ever gone out on a whale watch ?

      Marina State Beach – Dune Nature Trail
      Pacific Grove Asilomar Coast Trail
      Point Lobos State Reserve
      Garrapata State Park
      Point Sur Lighthouse and State Historic Park
      Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
      Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd
      Sand Dollar Beach Trail
      Jade Cove
      Willow Creek
      WR Hearst State Beach

  7. Lark and Howard
    Posted 2010/08/21 at 17:37 | Permalink

    My wife and I are heading to Moss Landing for the weekend. I appreciate all your comments and photography . Lunch-at Whole Encilada for sure. I’ll post my photos.

  8. Rico
    Posted 2013/02/21 at 02:37 | Permalink

    Hi there!
    Just wanted to say thank you for all your great info! I was hoping to get a glimpse of these cute furry lil mammals & I did! Right where you suggested even. The Otter wasn’t there early in the day but just like you said in the afternoon there it was drifting blissfully away while I was snapping pics to my hearts content as I was the only one there. We also ventured over to Jetty Road and saw the whole “Raft” of Sea otters there. Grooming,playing,sleeping,eating and what not. It was such a great weekend obseving these guys we have planned another trip just to revisit them again.
    As far as Dining goes, “The Whole Enchilada” was great as well as Phil’s Fish Market & The Sea Harvest. If dining in is not your cup of tea, The Whole Enchilada Market place has wonderful produce & very nice Sandwiches of which we tried the Tri-tip sandwich yummie, huge & enough for 2 meals!
    Thanks again for your recommendations <3 x <3 x <3


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  25. Mila
    Posted 2015/08/27 at 23:20 | Permalink

    Activity of the otters depends on the tides therefore they could be active any time of the day.

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