We typically take a look at Phil's (see tip on Phil's) during our visit, and then drive around to the docks to see who's selling fish from the boats. Only a few small fisherman still exist, but their bargains can be very good when fresh of the boat. My wife bought a whole halibut, had it scaled and cut-up, and our ice-chest filled with ice for the trip home for about $3- per pound! It's fun to buy direct from the fisherman, but remember to bring an empty ice chest. Ask for plenty of ice to keep your fish cold for as many hours as it takes to drive home. There's no link or telephone number, just drive down and look for the signs leading to a boat.
Moss Landing has several antique shops that clearly specialize in marine junk, judged by the stuff standing outside some of the stores. It would be well worthwhile to take a moment and browse these places before leaving town. Most of these storefronts are interesting from an architecture point of view as they are pretty old buildings by and large.
Sea otters are cuter, skinnier, and much quieter than their cousins the sea lion. Unfortunately, they are also smaller and more shy, therefore more difficult to spot. During my last visit to Moss Landing, we saw three otters floating in a calm area at the back of the Marina near the Hwy 1-Moss Landing Road intersection, and we saw several more in the channel leading from the bay to the harbor.
Southern Sea Otters are an endangered species with only about 3,000 remaining, all of these are along the California coast where there were once 12,000 to 18,000 otters. In the 1930s the sea otters were thought to be extinct until a small colony was found near Bixby Creek during construction of highway 1. Their range is limited from Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, through Monterey Bay to Point Conception near Santa Barbara. Southern sea otters are about 4 feet long with males weighing 65 pounds and females 45 pounds.
Moss Landing Wildlife Reserve Area is a 728-acre state wildlife area comprised mainly of salt ponds controlled by tidal gates. This reserve is known for its shorebirds, the brown pelican roosting areas, as a pupping location for harbor seals, and a roosting area for terns and endangered snowy plovers. Some 200 acres of this area were used as salt evaporation ponds until 1974 when they were abandoned and taken over by the birds.
Access is available from Highway 1 to a viewing area and observation deck.
The Moss Landing Power Plant was originally constructed in 1949, but all of the original units were decommissioned in 1995. Two newer generation units, along with the existing landmark 180 foot-tall cooling towers, were built in 1964, and are still in use today. In 2002 two additional generation units were completed, making the plant's total natural gas powered generation capacity at 2,560 MW or enough to power 2 million homes. The newer generation units are run continuously, while the older units are operated only in peak electrical demand season, from about June through September.
This power plant is the state of California's largest power producer, as well as the fifth largest carbon dioxide emitter among power plants.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company built and operated the original power plant, but it was sold to Duke energy in 1998 then to LS Power Group in May 2006.
Moss Landing is on the Salinas River at the end of the farm country of the Salinas Valley. At just 80 miles long, this valley is much smaller than the more famous San Joaquin Valley, but very important to the local economy. Salinas Valley is famous for its artichokes, lettuce, broccoli, celery, strawberries, tomatoes, and has an expanding grape and wine industry. The main towns in the Salinas Valley around Moss Landing include Salinas (of course) as well as Watsonville, and Castroville--where Marilyn Monroe was named the town's first "Artichoke Queen" back in 1947.
Moss landing is such a small town (under 800 residents), it's hard to believe there is much of interest here. Believe it or not, Moss Landing is not only home to a huge marina and a fishing fleet, but also the area's largest power plant, some 20 antique shops, a thriving agricultural industry featuring lots of artichokes, Moss Landing State Beach, the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
Moss landing also has a few Bed and Breakfasts (such as the Captains Inn), several very good restaurants (including Phil's, Haute Enchilada, Whole Enchilada, Fish Harvest, and Charlie Moss's), and a few small shops.
Moss Landing Harbor is operated by the Moss Landing Harbor District, which falls under control of the State of California, and it is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. This harbor is the largest commercial fishing harbor in Monterey Bay, and it hosts a large number of recreational and research vessels.
During our last visit to Moss Landing, we parked at the end of Sandholdt Road where it dead ends near the breakwater. Walking to the top of the small dune and past the "warning do not walk here" sign, and we were treated a peaceful view over the entrance to the harbor. From here we saw fishermen, sea lions, sea otters, sailboats, and we got to watch the ongoing dredging operation.
More than 200 dealers and 20 permanent antique shops spread down almost half a mile of the main street through Moss Landing. They also have a section of about 10 food booths, many of the same which vend at the Monterey Farmers Market. The street is closed to traffic and junk booths line both sides. Entrance is $5...first time in my life I've ever paid to walk through a flea market. Parking is free.
It's kind of unique, but I wouldn't go back. At least we had a good breakfast at the Haute Enchilada and we stopped at the Thistle Hut for some fresh fruits and vegetables.
Moss Landing Municipal Marina and the Elkhorn Yacht Club are two of the large marinas in Moss Landing. They offer fuel, launch ramps, guest docks, rest-rooms, showers, pumpout stations, laundry, and trailer/RV parking for boaters. VT member Atufft says he has purchased fresh fish off the fishing boats in the marina.
Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is a 1400-acre laboratory for scientific research and estuarine education. It is one of just 26 National Estuarine Research Reserves nationwide and is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Game. The reserve has a visitors center, 5 miles of trails, and various kayaking routes. To walk the trails there is a $2.50 day-use fee.
During my visit I hiked all three major trail loops and a few of the spur trails in about two hours. Sure it was a fast walk and I didn't see much wildlife, but to me, a bird is a bird is a bird... I did see some cool crabs and a mule deer during my hike. This is not the best hiking around in my opinion, and could get expensive at $2.50 a person if you had a big group, so I'd recommend Pinnacles, the Santa Cruz Redwoods, Point Lobos, or Big Sur for a much more entertaining hiking experience.
Rare free State Beach has tidal mud flats, sandy beaches, access to the jetty, and views of the marina. Animals here include migrant shorebirds and terns, Snowy Plover, tons of sea otters, and a few dozen harbor seals. This is a good spot for fishing, windsurfing, surfing, picnics, horseback riding, and birdwatching.
Best of all: it's free!