The Oregon Coast is my absolute most favorite place to be in the United States – hands down! I LOVE the ocean, caves, and had seen sea lions up and down the coast. So I was wondering if it is worth seeing the Sea Lion Caves in Florence, Oregon? The reviews online are pretty brutal but here are the pros and cons. Then you can decide are sea lion caves worth visiting?
My kids and I were on a 9000 mile road trip (yes 9000 miles!) so as you can imagine our budget was meticulously planned out. When planning our trip I had decided not to visit the Sea Lion Caves based on reviews and cost as we drove through Florence simply because we wanted to spend our money elsewhere. It’s not cheap. Adult tickets will run about $14 each which is a bit steep.
I knew we would see sea lions up and down the coastline, and although we’re pretty hard core cave fans, we didn’t have an unlimited budget on such a long trip. BUT we literally drove past the Sea Lion Caves on US 101 and we had some serious FOMO (Fear of Missing Out!) so we turned our van around and decided to visit. We literally drove past it and turned around to go back! Crazy I know!
Why did I turn around? Because of this sign right here in the front of the building. The Sea Lion Caves is the LARGEST sea cave in the USA. I’ve been in 40+ caves in the USA and I just literally can’t drive past a cave without stopping. And how could I pass up seeing the largest sea cave in the US!?
Open in 1932, the Sea Lion Caves is a privately owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary. None of the animals are caged or enticed to be here. This is a natural safe haven for sea lions, birds, and whales.
I gulped a little as I paid the admission price and prayed it would be worth the cost. There’s no doubt the view was stunning as pretty much any ocean view off of US 101 is!
I honestly wasn’t really sure what to expect. Most of the reviews I’d read online had simply said it was an expensive way to see a bunch of sea lions. But it ended up being more than that. Although of course viewing the sea lions in the cave is touted as the experience, there were other things to see and do. For us, it was a great way to pass an hour or so after driving in the car for so long.
As we were walking down the steep hill to get to the cave entrance I realized that there were several observation areas looking out to the ocean. It wasn’t until I got to the furthest one and looked down that I saw hordes of sea lions basking in the sun. If you’re going to visit, make sure you go down every long path or stair case – the views will be your reward!
We’d seen sea lions up close at Pier 39 in San Francisco as well as some in Astoria and at Yaquina Head, but I’d never seen SO MANY in one area! I wish I’d brought binoculars to see them closer but it was very cool.
Before we went down into the caves we also saw a mama whale with her baby hanging out in the cove area. It was the first time any of us had seen a whale in the wild so it was an amazing experience. It was hanging out there for the full 1-2 hours we were there and constantly on the water surface rolling around. My kids were so excited!
Once you take the elevator to get down into the sea cave it’s much more than JUST a sea cave! They have signs and exhibits you can read about that tell you more about this famous sea cave. In the middle of the floor is also an area where you can see a sea lion skeleton. I wasn’t expecting such a nice set up.
As you can see above the amount of sea lions inside the sea cave doesn’t disappoint! We also saw (and heard) plenty of pigeon guillemot which was a new species for us to see. They were quite interesting!
Be forewarned though – the sea lion caves smell exactly as you would imagine with hundreds if not thousands of sea lions in and out! It was really fun though watching the sea lions swimming about and loudly barking. I could have stayed there and watched much longer if my kids weren’t with me!
Remember, we’re animal lovers and cave nuts so this attraction was a great experience for us. I definitely wish I had binoculars as well for inside the cave. If you’re truly on a strict budget and can’t spare the cost of admission it isn’t the END of the world if you skip it. But if you need to stretch your legs, can’t miss seeing a one of a kind attraction, or are obsessed with nature and caves like we are, you’ll want to stop here.
I’m really glad we turned around and visited the Sea Lion Caves in Florence, Oregon. It was a great place to stop and stretch our legs on the Pacific Coast Highway and we left feeling like it was worth the stop. Yes, it is essentially a tourist trap, but I’ve never been to anything like it and enjoyed our time there.
A lot of reviews said they spent 15 minutes there but with the 5 of us in our family watching the educational videos, reading the signs, taking both trails to see the various observation points as well as the extra staircase inside the cave we ended up being there about 45-90 minutes(ish).
You’ll need to be able to handle some short steep trails and up to 40 stairs to get around. Plus a bonus – there’s a pressed penny machine AND benches to sit at once you get down the stairs from the gift shop!