Oregon Sea Lion Caves


Pros: A very interesting, ‘other-worldly’ attraction

Cons: Typical tourist attraction – crowded in summer and during whale-watching time

I would love to take credit for the opening Review Title ” The Original Hard-Rockers”, but alas, I cannot. I saw it on a website and don’t know whom to attribute it. It’s catchy, but it isn’t mine.

Believe it or not, this picture was taken from inside the Oregon Sea Lion Caves  amphitheatre,  looking out toward open water. Perhaps I can set the scene a little better. You’ve just taken a two-hundred-eight foot elevator ride through (at one time), solid rock. The doors open to a loud, raucous atmosphere of water crashing, seagulls squawking,  and sea lions barking – a veritable cacophony of sounds and smells. The interior height of the cavern is the equivalent of a twelve-story building.  It feels very strange – perhaps even frightening – the thought of millions of cubic yards of earth and rock above you, and an unruly, turbulent ocean in front of you. But man is a curious species, so you approach the barricade that protects you from it, and it from you.

NO WAY! Fifty feet below, sitting, sprawling and arguing on a rock, is a rookery of Stellar and California Sea Lions – approximately fifty or so.You wonder how in the world they can, or would even want to, live in this echo-y, chaotic environment? But this is a very special place for them – it’s the only known mainland rookery and hauling area ( winter home) of these species of sea lions. The only comparison is the Blue Grotto in the Mediterranean.

A little history lesson. . .

The cave, which is estimated to be about 25 million years old,  was first discovered in 1880 by Captain William Cox, a local seaman. The story goes, one calm day he came upon the grotto and connecting system of caves and caverns. After exploring that day, he returned several times. Once, he was marooned inside the cave for many days while a violent storm kept him from leaving. He survived by shooting a young seal pup and eating its flippers. Apparently, if you’re hungry enough. . .

After much local investment and hard labor the Oregon Sea Lion Caves opened it’s doors in 1932.  The first access to the main cave was by wooden stairs and walkways. Then, in 1961 the Otis Elevator Company finished installing an elevator that descends two-hundred-eight feet – a grueling three-year project.

Back on top. . .there’s lots to see and do. From the observation deck you can see twenty miles seaward. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of a Gray Whale (eschrichtius robustus)  or two. This is their traditional migration route to southern waters. And if you’re really, really lucky you may see an Orca, a Killer whale. Their distinctive black and white bodies are easier to spot than the Gray, but they are far fewer.

In 1982 Oregon Sea Lion Caves commissioned artist Ken Scott, to create a statue representative of the site and it’s native cave-dwelling residents commemorating their 50th anniversary. After a year of artistic  creativity, he delivered a beautiful life-size, fifteen-hundred pound bronze statue named A Sea Lion Family – a bull, cow and a pup. Check it out on their website.

Oregon Sea Lion Caves are open every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Their hours of operation are 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.  (winter hours). And speaking of winter and weather – bring a jacket. Even in the warmest summer months the grotto is damp and chilly.

Ticket prices:

  • Adults  $14.00
  • Seniors $ 13.00
  • Children 5-12  $8.00
  • Under 5 – no charge
  • Parking is free

No (time) limit how long you can remain in the cave.

Oregon Sea Lion Caves

91560 Hwy 101

Florence, Oregon


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