The Marine Mammal Center

Where’s the best place to get to know seals and sea lions in the Bay Area? Hint—it’s not Pier 39. The Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands cares for hundreds of these magnificent mammals every year, each with a name and a story to share. Since 1975, the Center has helped more than 17,500 California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, northern elephant seals, sea otters, and other coastal creatures get a second chance at life in the wild. Admission to the Center is free, and offers a rare opportunity to witness state-of-the-art marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation efforts. Watch from the upper observation deck as volunteers tend patients, and then gaze down on sweeping views of Rodeo Beach beside the life-size elephant seal statue in the courtyard. Take a Docent-led Tour, observe food preparation (fish is a popular choice), and learn the heartwarming stories of past patients. For the medically minded, there’s even an observation window offering a view into the necropsy (animal autopsy) room. You’ll leave with an understanding of your connection to your coastal cousins—and of how human health is forever tied to ocean health.

BONUS: Combine your trip to The Marine Mammal Center with a hike to one of the best lookouts in Marin, Hill 88. The trailhead is just down the road from the Center.

The Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Rd., Sausalito (Fort Cronkhite); 415-289-7325. There is no admission fee but Docent-led Tours are highly recommended (small fee applies but it helps the patients!). The Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.