Año Nuevo Dunes are in Año Nuevo State Park which is known for pinniped rookeries and seabirds, located on a low rocky windswept point, about 55 miles (89 km) south of San Francisco and 21 miles (34 km) northwest of Santa Cruz, California. The reserve is a habitat for diverse plant communities, including old-growth forest, freshwater marsh, red alder riparian forest, and knobcone pine forest. The point remains undeveloped with the exception of cultural remnants of a prehistoric Native American village site and a number of structures from the 19th century Cascade Ranch.
The Quiroste Ohlone were the first people known to inhabit the Año Nuevo area. The Spanish maritime explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno sighted the point on New Years Day in 1603, and his diarist and chaplain of the expedition, Father Antonio de la Ascensión, named it Punta de Año Nuevo. The first European land exploration of Alta California was the Spanish Portolà expedition of 1760-70. Guided by Vizcaíno’s landmarks as the group traveled north along the coast in 1769, the explorers recognized Point Año Nuevo. After the mid-19th century, developments occurred, including the light station constructed on Año Nuevo Island and the Cascade Ranch.
Año Nuevo State Park is the site of one of the largest mainland breeding colonies for the northern elephant seal. The males battle for mates on the beaches and the females give birth to their pups on the dunes. California sea lions, sea otters, and other marine mammals also come ashore to rest, mate, and give birth in the dunes or on the beaches and offshore islands. Hundreds of thousands of people come to witness this each year. The seals attracted so much interest that early reservations are needed during the winter breeding season. Read more here and here. Explore more of Año Nuevo Dunes here: