A Visit to the Marine Mammal Center
Ever wonder who takes care of the seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals that end up stranded on California's coast? Marin's Marine Mammal Center has been on the scene rescuing and caring for sick, injured, malnourished, and abandoned marine mammals — including elephant seals, seal lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and even whales — since 1975. Sign up for a visit and learn about what they do.
Located at Fort Cronkhite in the Marin Headlands, the Marin Mammal Center's $32 million facility offers tours and educational activities for the entire family, especially on Marine Science Sundays. It's a wonderful destination as an outing on its own, and as a not-to-miss part of a visit to the Headlands.
Admission and self-guided tours are free of charge, but require advance reservations which can be made online. Pick up a guide card from the information desk (remember to return it on your way out) and take a look around. At the back of the center you'll find the pools and pens where the Center's patients stay while recovering.
The best place to check out the pens and their residents is from the second floor observation area. There are often volunteer docents stationed here who can answer questions about what you're seeing down below in the enclosures, and who the current patients are. Remember to be quiet here — you're visiting a hospital for sensitive wild animals.
On our recent visit there the Center's hospital had mostly sea lions and harbor seals. It's a fun place to visit at any time of year, but it's busiest in the spring with the appearance of many seal and sea lion pups on the California coast.
On your visit you can also look into the fish kitchen where meals are prepared for the Center's patients, the chart room, and the laboratory. The Center's classroom is open as well, where you can watch a video (while we were there it was playing a segment from Mike Rowe's Dirty Jobs featuring the Center), work on kids' coloring and activity pages, and explore a variety of marine mammal specimens, including seal, sea lion, and sea otter pelts, skulls, x-rays, photographs, and more.
If you're there on one of the Marine Mammal Center's Marine Science Sundays, your family can take part in free themed educational activities in the classroom. Upcoming programs include "Sea Otter Spectacular" (September 11 and 25) at noon and 2 pm.
We've attended Marine Science Sunday programs, and they're a lot of fun and really informative. It's perfect for kids of all ages, but those ages 7 to 14 will probably get the most out of it. Marine Science Sunday programs are open to all, but you must have a free advance ticket to attend. They also offer Marine Mammal Monday virtual interactive events that you can attend from home.
Get more out of your visit by taking a docent-led tour of the Marin Mammal Center facility. Docent-led tours, best for ages 7 and up, include insights into the workings of the Center and stories about its patients. Tours cost $15 for adults; $7.50 for students 5–17, seniors 65+, military, and Marine Mammal Center members (plus one guest); and are free for children 4 and under. Tours last about an hour and take place Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays at 11 am and 3 pm.
The Center also offers a 30-minute Behind the Scenes Experience. On this walking of the hospital, you’ll hear inspiring stories about how the Center's experts care for sick and injured marine mammals, learn about the innovative technology behind their state-of-the-art hospital, and find out how you can make a difference and help, too. Behind the Scenes tours are held on the first and third Saturday of the month at 1 pm, and participants must be at least 7 years old. The cost is $20 for adults and $10 for seniors, students, and military. Tickets must be reserved in advance.
All tour fees go to funding the Center and caring for its patients. You can also "adopt" a marine mammal: for $30 and up you can support a seal, sea lion, sea otter, or other patient and get an adoption certificate and even plush toys and books. See the current adoption lineup online here.
If You Go
The Marine Mammal Center is open Friday through Monday from 10 am to 4 pm; closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. It's located at 2000 Bunker Road at Fort Cronkhite in the Marin Headlands near Sausalito.
The Marine Mammal Center’s commitment to safety requires that all visitors ages 12+ present proof of full vaccination. Proof of vaccination may be provided in the form of a physical card, a photograph of a card or a QR code, and will be required upon entry to the Center along with a matching photo ID.
To get there, take 101 to the last Sausalito exit before the Golden Gate Bridge (exit 442). At the stop sign, turn right onto Alexander Avenue and follow it under the freeway. Take your first available left turn onto Danes Drive, then head through the incredibly long Bunker Road tunnel (it's one-way only, so you may have to wait at the entrance for up to five minutes). Follow Bunker Road into the Marin Headlands and to Fort Cronkhite. Bear right up the hill and follow the signs to the Marine Mammal Center. Parking spaces are located in front of the Center's building, but spaces are limited.
The Marine Mammal Center has clean restrooms and a gift shop. There's no food available on-site, or anywhere else in the Headlands for that matter, so bring your own. There's a small picnic area — with fantastic ocean views — at the Center, and you'll find more picnic spots down the road near Rodeo Beach or elsewhere around the Headlands.
For more information about visiting the Marine Mammal Center, call them at (415) 289-7325 or visit them online at www.marinmammalcenter.org.
To report a stranded seal, sea lion, or other marine mammal, call the Center's 24-hour rescue hotline at (415) 289-SEAL (7325).
March 23, 2023
March 23, 2023
March 20, 2023
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