Because Leo Carrillo encompasses varied habitations, a bird watcher will enjoy a great variety of birds. You may observe brown pelicans, sea gulls, grebes, and cormorants (see phto 2). Loons, and surf scoters may be seen in the winter. In the campground I spotted scrub jays, plain titmice, sparrows, brown towhees, rufus sided towhees, a strikingly pretty black phoebe, a yellow-rumped warbler, nuttalls woodpecker, and lots of crows. We also saw a number of raptors, including red tail hawks, and a cooper’s hawk.
When you first enter the beach area, there is a sign on the left giving some very useful and interesting information about the tidepools and the life living there. As the sign says: Please be careful when observing the marine life in the tidepools and do not disturb them.
Leo Carrillo is not only located along the Pacific Coast, but it is also located in the Santa Monica Mountains. The Willow Creek trailhead can be found near the entrance station to Leo Carrillo. There is a day use fee to enter the park, and a day use parking lot is located near the trailhead. The trailhead is for two trials, the Willow Creek, and the Nicholas Flat Trail. The Willow Creek trail will take you from the campground area, up a hill, around behind it, then loop back down, making a four mile hike according to a ranger that I talked too. As you begin climbing up you will have a wonderful high view across the ocean and out toward some islands, before it turns inland, curving behind the hill, and continuing on up before turning and curving around to the side over looking the camp ground. As the trail leaves the ocean view, it makes its way along a deep ravine with a vertical drop off the side of the path. Here the trail becomes quite narrow, so if you have a fear of high places, you would not enjoy this. It was very nice back between the hills, with varied green vegetation, and a number of birds, including a red tailed hawk soaring above. The same ranger who I talked to about the trail told me that this hike is especially nice in the spring when the wild flowers are in bloom. In the photo you see the hill that the trail loops around. The side in the photo is more desert like than the back side that leads you between hills and along the ravine.
From the bluff walk that I described in the tip above, you can access two coves. (see photo 2) Each one has a short set of stairs, of about 28 to 30 steps, that will take you off the bluff and down to the small, sandy coves. You will find the first cove just north of the main lifeguard lookout station located on the bluff. Watch the tide, as the beach shrinks in size as the tide comes in. In one of these the water can come almost up to the bluff and staircase. These coves offer more shelter, and at times more privacy, although during the busiest seasons, people can be found in all areas of the beach. I enjoyed taking a book to one of these coves, and settling down to the relaxing sound of the surf, and the beauty of the curving waves. We also found the larger of the two, a nice place to fly our stunt kite.
Walk the path that runs along the bluffs between the South Beach area and the North Beach area. Much of this walk runs along the edge of the bluff, providing you sweeping views of the beaches, coves, and ocean. You can walk into a cove from here, or take a pair of binoculars or a scope and look out across the ocean to see what sea birds or mammals that you can spot. During whale migrations you may spy some blows.
The North Beach area is a long, open area of sand and Pacific Ocean. Unlike the southern section there are not rocky reefs or tide pools. This makes North Beach better for wading along the shoreline. This section of the beach seems to be popular for all activities that one enjoys on the sand, swimming, boogie boarding, and kite surfing. Located on the northern end of Leo Carrillo State Beach, the area runs along highway 1. You will find a large parking lot located directly behind the beach, and a visitor center that is open during the busy season. To access this parking lot you must enter through the state park entrance gate, then drive a park road that will take you under a highway 1 overpass. The clearance height for this underpass is 8 feet. If you are taller than this, you will have to park in the parking lot near the entrance gate, and walk to north beach from there.
In the southern part of the Leo Carrillo, along highway 1 you will find an area of beach that seems quite popular with surfers. We saw surfers riding the waves along this section of the park every day that we were visiting. The people that you see in this photo are all surfers. This is also a good beach for any activity that you enjoy on the sand along the ocean. This is also where the tide pools are located, however you must wait for the tide to go out to enjoy the little sea critters left behind. The down side to this section of the beach is that it is rocky along much of the shore between the ocean and the beach within the park. You can see this rocky area in the photos. There is a lifeguard station at this end of the park, which is usually staffed during the busy months.
Leo Carrillo has one of the finest tidal pool areas that I have ever visited. Located on the south end of the park along highway 1, rocks and sea caves extend out into the ocean. As the tide goes out, you will discover that the now exposed rocks and pools are teaming with sea creatures. Muscles carpet the rocks, and turquoise sea anemones (see photo 4), along with pink, purple, orange, and black starfish, can be easily seen clinging to the rocks and in the little puddles left behind by the receding water. Look carefully; I also saw turban snails, a number of purple sea urchin, and a sea hare moving along with his little antennae like stumps on his head. This was very exciting, since I have never seen a sea hare in the wild. Where the rocks remain farther out in the ocean, waves coming in crash against them, sending frothy white water into the air. What a sight, what a sound! What a place! Help to preserve it. Do not remove any sea life, not even shells from this state protected area. Empty shells offer homes for hermit crabs that have outgrown their current home.
In addition to the marine life a variety of birds visit the beach here. I did not see that many birds; but did have this little guy who was nice enough to pose for me.
There is a lifeguard station at Leo Carrillo State Beach to help look out for your safety. It is located near the north end of the beach.
Leo Carillo State Beach has a wide variety of types of beach. The open sandy beaches, reefs, and the tidepools. The views are great.
Kids of all ages enjoy searching the tidepools for signs of life. The tidepools are the home of numerous types of marine life like: Seastars (or Starfish); Sea Urchins, Mussels and Clams.