The three-month training program to become a docent (most Sundays in the autumn) is one of the most comprehensive within the California State Parks system. Local experts teach classes on a variety of subjects including elephant seals, other marine mammals, the history of Año Nuevo Island, Ohlone Indians, birds and terrestrial animals, geology, and more. Training is also provided on interpretive techniques for educating visitors and logistical skills on working inside the coastal natural preserve.

Training begins in mid-September. For more information review the parks’ website and contact the Docent Recruitment Coordinator at 1-650-879-2032 or email


Docents interpret the activites happening in front of the tour group at overlooks. (Photo: courtesy CA State Parks)
Breeding Season Guided Walks

Every winter, over 5,000 elephant seals return to Año Nuevo to give birth and mate along the shoreline and in the dunes.  During this time, volunteers trained in the natural and cultural history of the park lead guided walks through the elephant seal rookery.  Each year they share this amazing experience with over 60,000 visitors from all over the world and many school groups from northern California.


Bobcats and other wildlife. (Photo: © Cynthia Rocha)
Roving Season Interpretation

During the spring and summer months, the elephant seals return to the rookery to molt, and the juveniles return a second time in the autumn for the fall haul out.  During these months, docents are stationed at wildlife overlooks, meeting points or in the park store to greet the visitors as they explore the park and answer questions about the seals, the history of the area and the plentiful wildlife found within Año Nuevo State Park.


Equal Access Boardwalk (Photo: CSPA archive)
Equal Access Docents

Accessibility for all to view and experience the parks’ cultural and natural history is paramount for State Parks. At Año Nuevo the visitor center, theater and trails through the terraces are all ADA compliant. To view the elephant seals, an Equal Access Program offers accommodation for those who are mobility challenged. Transportation to the trailhead is made possible with a wheelchair accessible van, Then participants can move along a boardwalk to the viewing area. The Equal Access volunteers receive extra training after they have become a docent.

In addition, there is always a need for American sign language and foreign language docents in all the parks’ programs.


The work of volunteers! (Photo: courtesy Cynthia Rocha)
Construction Volunteers

Over the past years, a dedicated group of volunteers have gone above and beyond the duties of interpretation and docent duties.

With the aid of State Parks’ staff and construction material funded by CSPA, boardwalks, benches, viewing platforms and staircases have been built with volunteer labor in various parks throughout the sector. No project was bigger and more needed than the Equal Access boardwalks at Año Nuevo. If you have construction skills, please let us know. 


The Park Store is the visitor's first contact for interpretation (Photo: courtesy CA State Parks)
Park Store Docent

During the breeding season, the park store at Año Nuevo is staffed with park aides; but once april comes around there are plenty of opportunities to work in the store after some initial training.

The store is the first interpretive contact with the visiting public.  You can set the stage for what they will see on their journey through the park. With the store open, visitors can also pick up a souvenir of their visit.

Proceeds from the store's sales supports training all of the volunteers and docents as well as many projects including the construction project noted above.