Moss Landing – Monterey Bay California Central Coast

Collections of mostly old, and some new stuff, Moss Landing is so different and interesting it is hard to believe it is one place.

Looking at a nostalgic treasure one moment, the eye is joggled in the next by something completely unexpected.

This is an environmentalist’s paradise .. no, it’s an ecologist’s nightmare. Wait! It’s a classic little fishing port with an Americana museum attached.
It could be a surrealistic SciFi, or, an Ayn Rand super novel setting with jazz and enchiladas on the side. It’s very different. Secrets whisper all about. You know you are in a place of many stories. Stephan King couldn’t have made up a place as unusual and colorful as Moss Landing.

Ironies. At first you wouldn’t think Moss Landing could be a nature lover’s Mecca. Dominating the skyline is the monster power plant with 500 ft. high steam stacks. The plant burns fossil fuels to heat up contained water to make steam. Water from the slough is used to cool the pipes down, and is returned within 10 degrees F. of the temperature it was taken. And, the towers inject a surreal note in the atmosphere. But, there is so much diversion, they blend into the background.

Haute Enchilada Art Cafe


Moss Landing comes in layers. The first is in the west, and is a large expanse of beach, sand dunes and a harbor. This is the pivot point of the great Monterey Bay, from whence all the excitement emanates. The 6,000 foot deep Monterey Canyon begins just 100 meters off shore at this point.

Pelican Network Sites for Monterey Bay Area

Big Sur EcoGuide

Back Country


Carmel Valley


Central Coast Guide

Central Coast Map

Elkhorn Slough

Events Calendar

Marine Sanctuary

Monarch Butterfly

Monterey Peninsula Gateway


Monterey Bay Aquarium

Pacific Grove

Pebble Beach

Point Lobos

San Juan Bautista

San Simeon

Santa Cruz

Steinbeck Center

Ventana Wilderness

Volunteer Opportunities

Inside the harbor is a boating community, research institutions and commercial fishing concerns. It is in the water and on a big spit of sand that seems like an island because to drive to it requires crossing the water on a single lane bridge.

(at left) The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Next comes the old town with its plethora of Americana and antique shops, a residential neighborhood and restaurants. The Whole Enchilada is an excellent Mexican restaurant with seafood specialties. Each July Moss Landing hosts a huge antique fair, when more than 300 dealers come to sell.

Then, the Steam Plant commands the territory. But, behind it is another world altogether.

Elkhorn Slough, with many miles of trails, an excellent interpretative center, channels for canoeing and float boats for bird and wildlife viewing excursions, and the national estaurine reserve research center. The estuary reaches inland into heavily wooded areas, offering a plenitude of nature experiences.

Then there’s the mind bending juxtaposition in the harbor. Fish catchers line up next to ocean research vessels. On the shore a bountiful fish market is just paces away from one of th world’s preeminent marine life research institutions.

In the water, in their boats are fishermen who curse seals and otters. And, lining up to get on a raft, or in a kayak, are people who hope to get a glimpse of the critters.

The area was reshaped to accommodate agribusiness, for which it became famous. Later, conservationists stepped in to help preserve some of the natural wonder. The Nature Conservancy was mostly responsible for the creation of Elkhorn Slough nature sanctuary. It is a significant habitat for California sea and shore birds.

Egrets, Herons, Cranes and Stilts prance around in the mud flats and channels, harbor seals haul out on the sand banks, sea otters raft along the lagoons, bobcats, muskrats and gray foxes live here. Rays and sharks swim in the shallows. Cormorants nest in the high Monterey Pines, Acorn Woodpeckers drill the dead trees. Black tail deer are inhabitants now, but long gone are the tule elk that once roamed these parts in abundance.

Fresh fish is sold right off the boat. Sign ups for the bird and otter watching excursions can be made in the parking lot. There used to be 700 commercial fishing boats in Moss Landing. Today there are but a hundred. Today you will see groups of naturalists, bird watchers, conservationists, or just trip-going curious launching out on a cruise up the slough to look at Herons roosting in trees, or Egrets studiously stepping around a mud flat, or a raft of otters cruising around the estuary.

Because of all the activity with the sea and slough, Moss Landing is not widely known as prime artichoke growing territory. But, this ground in the Pajaro River Valley is next to Castroville, and closer to the ocean – Moss Landing can justifiably claim to be as prime artichoke growing as anywhere.

More Info: Castroville, Artichoke Center of the World. Lazzerrni’s Artichoke World in Castroville and Moss Landing sells chokes online.

Ken Lazzerini, picking up boxes of artichokes, grows on a hilltop next to the Bay.

Kayakers paddle into the Elkhorn
Slough from the Moss Landing Wildlife
Refuge.  Amidst sea otters, rays and
sharks, they go deep into one of the
biologically richest wetlands on the
continent.  More than 250 species of
birds inhabit the slough.

It is interesting to contemplate the future, as it unfolds in full view here in Moss Landing. A couple of things are for sure. The fish catching business now is a big industry, with food giants like Tyson operating factory ships in the Pacific. Fisheries are being seriously depleted.

Meanwhile coastal habitats and wetlands are enlarging due to an uplifting of the public’s, private endowments and giving foundations, and our legislators’ ecological awareness. There is a commensurate growth in bird, marine and wildlife, and in the numbers of people who want to view them. When you see bus loads of bird watchers gather around a naturalist guide in Moss Landing, you realize this is an industry on the rise.

If someone you know is not a bird aficionado, just get them out in the Elkhorn Slough for a couple of hours, and they’ll catch on.

Bird watching is in front and in back up the Slough. Out on the beaches, through the dunes, over to the inlet, back in the marshes. More than 275 species have been identified. In one day, from one spot in the estuary, a group saw 116 species, a North American record.

Young pelican in the harbor

More than 25 years ago they nested at nearby Point Lobos. Since the banning of DDT, and with the protection of the Endangered Species Act, Pelicans have rebounded from near extinction. Now, they are reclaiming some of their old favorite haunts.

Elkhorn Slough is now a national estaurine sanctuary. It is California’s first estuary Research Reserve, and is managed by the California Dept. of Fish and Game. There are nearly 5 miles of trails for public visitors. Kayaking, canoeing, and power rafting arrangemkents can be made with Elkhorn Slough Safari.

Sea Otters -an endangered species that was thought extinct until the 1930s- are denizens of the Slough near the mouth at the harbor.

Then it’s back to the funny twists and ironies than make Moss Landing such a whimisical yet thought provoking place. A Mexican restaurant has a good jazz club, and an enchilada that’s actually a fish. American antiques have claimed the portion of the town. A dozen very good dealers and shops line Moss Landing Road, the original town’s main street, lined with Victorian homes. The giant steam stacks from the power plant loom over the 1800s scene in a time warp.

Moss Landing is growing country. Intensive strawberry and artichoke agriculture patches into the Slough and harbor tableau.

More pictures of Moss Landing

Moss Landing Laboratories –operated by campuses of the University of California– are carrying out an important project teaching seals to videograph whales underwater.

Heather, a volunteer, works with Sake at the Moss Landing Laboratory.

Photo by Caroline

Moss Landing Labs, under construction next to the Salinas Slough, is a research colloboration for six California Universities. Their former facility was destroyed by the 1989 earthquake.

Learn how to help train seals to videograph whales underwater.

PelicanNetwork is a cultural and natural history information advocacy and

Eco-Travel Guide to California Central Coast

Interactive Map

Join us
If you want to join our network of conservation advocates and receive useful information about the Central Coast.

Add me to the PelicanNetwork email list for
cultural and natural history news and events.

My Name

My Email


I am interested in becoming a
PelicanNetwork member.

Call Me, I want to make a donation.
My Phone
Hours to call

More about our philosophy and purpose

What does the Pelican in our name stand for?

Become a member of PelicanNetwork

Point Lobos

Pelican Getaways

Santa Cruz Redwoods

Big Sur Story

Pacific Grove

Steinbeck Center

Big Basin Creation

Big Sur Eco Guide


Central Coast Guide

C. Coast Activities

Big Sur Lodge

Elkhorn Slough

Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks

Central Coast Events

Big Sur Campgrounds


Calif. Back Country

Central Coast Map

Big Sur Coast

Sandpiper Inn

Monterey Peninsula

San Juan Bautista

Ventana Wilderness

Carmel Hiking

Bygone Towns

Pelican Protectin Alliance

Molera State Park

Pebble Beach


Monarchs in Pacific Grove

Big Sur People & Places

Santa Cruz


Natural Bridges - Butterfly

Big Sur Watercolors

Monterey Bay Volunteer

San Simeon-Piedras Blancas

Big Sur Hiking

Marine Sanctuary

Elephant Seal Notes

Artichoke Store

Big Sur Lodging

Moss Landing


Garden Art

Hwy One - Big Sur Road

Carmel Valley

Mission San Antonio


Big Sur Cabins

Carmel Birding

Hearst Hacienda

Birding Places

Santa Lucia Reserve

Carmel Lodging

Elephant Seals


Point Sur Historical Park

Morro Bay

Montaña de Oro

Nature Guide

Partington Cove & Canyon

Hecker Pass


Member Comments

Nacimiento Road

Pinnacles Monument


PelicanNetwork Links

Old Coast Road - Big Sur

Kayak Central Coast

Salinan Nation

PelicanNetwork Home

Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Bixby Bridge

Rock Art Site Steward

About Pelican Network

Big Sur Diving


Member's Comments

Pelican Member

Big Sur Birding

Big Sur Sanctuary

Voices of the Wetlands