For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, the idea of visiting a sea cave conjures up visions of tumultuous seas and jagged rocks along the coastline. But for travelers who don't have to be constantly dodging rogue waves, there's an Oregon sea cave worth the trip: Sea Lion Caves.

Located 11 miles north of Florence on U.S. Highway 101, about midpoint on the 400 miles Oregon Coast, this natural attraction offers visitors a beautiful walk through an environment that was once underwater and is now home to hundreds of California sea lions. While these animals may be fun to watch (and even pause for a photo), their presence isn't solely due to their popularity with tourists. The sea lions are here safely thanks to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), who gave them a helping hand in 1965 when their numbers were dwindling.

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What To Know About Oregon's Sea Lion Caves

The natural beauty of Oregon's central coast, coupled with a thriving and unique ecosystem, make this stretch of highway one worthy time. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will take visitors a few hours to drive down the entire stretch; that would be an unfortunate (but true) reality when visitors consider the number of recreational opportunities awaiting visitors here.

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It's A Natural Wonder

Unlike most caves, visitors won't find Sea Lion Caves on a map—not surprising considering the mighty Columbia River created it. Those who don't know its history may assume the sea lions took over an abandoned cave or even partially artificial caverns like those in Japan. But believe it or not, it's all naturally occurring. The cave is carved out of basalt rock, and the sun and waves from the Pacific Ocean are slowly cutting away at it.

Sea Lion Pup Season Is A Crowd Pleaser

The best time to visit the caves is between July 15 and September 1, when young sea lions, called pups, emerge to practice swimming and vocalizing. They can be seen during early morning hours when they gather on the rocks for a group yawn and once again as they dive back into the mouth of the cave at dusk. It's such a satisfying site that visitors may forget all about selfies with human family members along this Oregon shoreline.

It's Not Just About The Sea Lions

The best part about visiting sea caves is that visitors are more likely to spot wildlife than a selfie stick, especially where large groups like to gather for safety from predators like killer whales. So if their kids are really into marine creatures, make sure they wear their rain boots to keep an eye out for sea otters, crabs, and other animals that have carved out their own place in the Sea Lion Caves.

It's A Short Walk With Spectacular Views

The cave is great for all fitness levels because the park rangers recommend visitors take their time to enjoy the beautiful scenery as they reach some of the highest points on this coastal trail. Experts say it takes about an hour to walk from the entry point at Exit 121 of U.S. 101 to the end of the trail, where they will find some of the best views Oregon Coast has to offer, overlooking Florence and its historic bayfront buildings known as “America's Friendliest Town.”

Weather Is A Wildcard For Visitors

Sea Lion Caves is always open, rain or shine, but unsuspecting beachgoers who see a sunny day in the forecast could face disappointment if unexpected clouds roll in and it starts to pour. To be safe, check out the local weather for any chance of lightning around this part of the Oregon Coast so visitors can adjust their plans accordingly.

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Things To Bring When Visiting Oregon's Sea Lion Caves

Plenty of tourists visit the caves, as they should. It's a fun and educational attraction that kids and adults can enjoy together. But this is also the kind of place where visitors only need to bring themselves (and their cameras). So, if they are lucky enough to make it out west this summer, here are some things visitors might want to pack to make the most of their trip:

A Sense Of Adventure And Excitement For Exploring A New Place

Let's face it; Sea Lion Caves isn't an attraction that every family can drive by on their way to a different destination. It's not even in line with the typical Pacific Northwest vacation route (although I know plenty of people who have been there).

So, if visitors are interested in visiting Sea Lion Caves rather than other nearby attractions, it's likely because they are adventurous and aren't afraid to see something new. And that's the kind of person who will truly enjoy a trip to the caves. Don't come here expecting to be in a large, busy city or some other attraction where picturesque settings are the norm.

Bug Spray And Sunblock For Exploring Outdoors

The one thing Oregon's coast is known for is its beautiful beaches -- which means they will likely spend some time outside visiting Sea Lion Caves and enjoying the area around it. No matter what time of year visitors visit, they will need to pack bug spray and sunblock. While the area is dry in the summer months, it still receives plenty of sunlight and warm weather.

Comfortable Shoes For Walking Along Trails

Even if they have never visited a cave before, anyone can fathom that they are typically pretty dark. And while the path to Sea Lion Caves may not be completely black, I'd still recommend wearing a comfortable pair of shoes they can walk in without worrying about slipping or getting their feet wet. That's because some sections may get flooded with water due to tidal conditions, depending on when they visit.

A Camera To Capture Memories And Their Experience

There's no better way to remember a trip than by having visual proof -- and there's no place like Sea Lion Caves to have that photo op with the sea lions. While most people who visit take advantage of this opportunity, I wouldn't be surprised if some would prefer not to attract the animals’ attention. So, that means their camera should be the only thing they bring along besides their other essentials: Their cell phones for taking pictures and keeping in touch with family, a jacket or sweater for cooler weather, sunscreen to help protect from sunburn, etc.

Cash For Tickets, Souvenirs, And Snacks

Just about every traveler knows the drill: Keep some cash on them if their credit card doesn't work, or they want to take advantage of a special nearby offer. This is especially important when visiting attractions like Sea Lion Caves, where all the profits go to benefit ODFW and help sea lions stay healthy. So, pack a little cash to help show their support.

  • Tickets: Adults -$14.00
  • Seniors citizens - $13.00
  • Kids 5 - 12 years - $8.00
  • Kids below 4 years - FREE
  • Parking - FREE
  • Opening Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • They are normally open 363 days a year (weather permitting), only closed on Thanksgiving day and Christmas day.
  • More about tickets and operating hours.

A Comfortable, Breathable Shirt And Shorts

It can be cold or hot on the Oregon Coast, depending on the time of year they visit, so it's best to dress in layers if at all possible. If they are visiting in warmer weather, I recommend packing a lightweight shirt that they can easily remove if they get too hot. On the other hand, the caves are typically cold and damp year-round. So, a long-sleeved shirt is probably best for their visit to keep warm and comfortable while exploring.

Check weather updates of the place here: http://www.sealioncaves.com/weather.php

Binoculars Or Other Ways To Get A Better View Of The Sea Lions

This is one suggestion that may not necessarily apply to everyone. However, if visitors are interested in observing the sea lions up close and personal while they sleep, this is some advice worth considering. The best place to see them from land is from atop a rock on either side of the cave when low tide occurs. If they don't want to climb on a rock or prefer not to hike, then the parking lot offers an excellent viewing area as well.

Benches and other seating structures throughout the property provide a nice place to sit if they get tired from walking around too much.

Sea Lion Caves is one of the most unusual and beautiful natural attractions on the Oregon coast. While it may not be at the top of their must-see list, it's something they should consider adding to their next trip. For those who have been before, one must already know why this place is worth returning to again and again. And for those who haven't been, it’s definitely a place they want to check out.

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