California Wildlife Encounters: Top 7 Places to See Wild Animals

California Wildlife encouters

California is a very popular state known for its sprawling cities, exciting cultural life, arts, and of course the celebrities. With cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, it has a lot to offer. But what about its natural side and the wildlife that surrounds it?

Well, you will be happy to know that it has a lot to offer. Here are some of the most common wild animals you can come across while exploring Cali.

Gray Squirrel

Gray Squirrel

Gray squirrels are one of the most commonly seen mammals in California. They are typically found in urban and suburban areas, but also in forests and woodlands. These squirrels have gray fur with a bushy tail and distinctive ear tufts. They are known for their agility and are often seen scampering up trees or leaping from branch to branch.

California Ground Squirrel

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California ground squirrels are a very common sight in the state and are found throughout all of its parts, from coastal regions to the Sierra Nevada mountains. These squirrels have brownish-gray fur and live in underground burrows. They have distinct loud barks used to warn other squirrels of potential danger and scare potential predators.


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The coyote is arguably the most common predator found throughout California. They prefer open areas such as deserts, grasslands, and scrublands, but they also come to more urban regions. Coyotes have grayish-brown fur and are known for their yipping and howling calls. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat anything from small mammals to fruits and vegetables.

Black-tailed Deer

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Black-tailed deer are commonly found in forests and woodlands throughout California. While many states have white-tailed deer as the dominant species, that is not so in California. They are easily recognizable for their distinctive black tails and grayish-brown fur. These deer are herbivores and feed on a variety of plants, including leaves, twigs, and fruits. They are also popular game animals and are hunted for their meat.

Mountain Lion

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The mountain lion, also known as the cougar or puma, is a large predator found throughout California, mostly in the hills and mountains. While they do prefer to roam around mountainous regions, they can also be found in suburban areas. Mountain lions have tan fur and are known for their stealth and agility. They are solitary animals and are rarely seen by humans.


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Raccoons are frequent visitors to urban and suburban areas throughout California. They have their famous black masks around their eyes and grayish-brown fur. Raccoons are omnivores and will eat a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, and small animals. They are also known for their curious and mischievous behavior and are not afraid of picking through trash and waste.


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The bobcat is a small predator found throughout California. Not as dangerous as the coyote or the mountain lion, it is still not a good idea to approach it. They are typically found in forests, deserts, and scrublands. Bobcats have tan fur with distinctive black spots and a short, bobbed tail. They too are opportunistic feeders and are willing to eat a variety of prey. They do prefer small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Top Places to Find Them

California has a wide variety of ecosystems, which means there are plenty of places to spot wildlife in their natural habitat. These are the best 7 places to do just that:

1. Yosemite National Park

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Yosemite is home to a variety of wild animals including black bears, gray wolves, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and mule deer. Visitors can also see a variety of bird species, such as bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and great gray owls. It is easily one of the most popular national parks in the state, and beyond.

2. Channel Islands National Park

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The Channel Islands are home to a unique and diverse array of wildlife like island foxes, Channel Islands spotted skunks and the endemic Channel Islands fox. Visitors can also see elephant seals, sea lions, and a variety of bird species like bald eagles and brown pelicans.

3. Joshua Tree National Park

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Joshua Tree is known for its unique rock formations and that is something that makes it special and attractive for tourists. However, it is also home to a lot of different animals, mainly the bighorn sheep, black-tailed jackrabbits, coyotes, and rattlesnakes.

4. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

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Anza-Borrego is the largest state park in California and is home to a variety of desert animals that are not always so easy to spot. These include the bighorn sheep, kit foxes, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. Visitors can also see bird species like roadrunners (yes, like the one from Looney Tunes!) and Gambel’s quail.

5. Point Reyes National Seashore

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Point Reyes is home to a variety of marine mammals for all of you who like to marvel at coastal animals and spend time near the sea. Make your way here to spot some harbor seals, elephant seals, and gray whales on any given day. A variety of bird species call this place home, particularly great blue herons and snowy egrets.

6. Monterey Bay

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The famous Monterey Bay is one of the best places in California to see marine mammals like sea otters, harbor seals, and gray whales. Visitors can also see a variety of bird species, such as pelicans and cormorants. There are many animal-watching tours to be booked here and it goes without saying that it is a great opportunity for all sorts of leisure activities.

7. Sierra Nevada Mountains

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The iconic, historically important, and always interesting Sierra Nevada Mountains are home to a variety of wildlife to marvel at. In this mountain range, you can spot black bears, mountain lions, mule deer, and bird species such as Steller’s jays and pine grosbeaks. You can never go wrong with the Sierra Nevada for anything animal related.

After uncovering the wild animal hotspots in California, you might want to expand your nature adventures to a neighboring state; check out our guide on exploring the fascinating native wildlife of Arizona for more exciting encounters.

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