From stingrays in Grand Cayman to wild ponies on Chincoteague, these coastal destinations are where the wild things are.
Allen B. Bunting
1 of 9Photo: Paul Souders/Getty
Stingray City, Grand Cayman
The clear, shallow water of Grand Cayman's North Sound teems with southern stingrays. They began to congregate here because it's where fishermen cleaned their catch. Now, they come for handouts from tourists. Ebanks Watersports offers trips to visit the sandbar, where passengers can touch, feed, and snorkel among these gentle swimmers; gocayman.ky.
2 of 9Photo: Felicia Fairchild
Assateague Island National Seashore, Virginia and Maryland
During spring and fall, this area's famed wild horses spend much of their time grazing the Virginia and Maryland coastlines. The best way to see the privately owned Virginia herd is aboard the Pony Express Nature Tour cruise. Captain Mark Coulbourne knows where the horses hang out (tours run May through October, 866/766-9794). On land, hike or bike the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge's (pictured) 1½-mile Woodland Trail to an observation platform overlooking the ponies' habitat. For more info, visit nps.gov/asis.
3 of 9Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy
Big Pine Key, Florida
The lower Keys are the only place in the world to see the pint-size Key deer. A subspecies of Virginia white-tailed deer, they stand just 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Go to the National Key Deer Refuge in the early morning or at dusk for the best viewing―you may spot a newborn during the April-to-May fawning season. Stop at the visitor center before heading to an observation platform, or hike trails to see the deer; fws.gov
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Depoe Bay, Oregon
From now until June, Oregon's "whale-watching capital" welcomes roughly 18,000 gray whales en route to Alaska. Visit the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay to learn the best spots to view the grays. (Insider's tip: Northbound whales, which migrate now, swim closer to shore than southbound winter travelers.) Spring Whale Watch Week, when center volunteers will be stationed along the coast to provide viewing tips and facts, starts March 22. Or, for an up-close glimpse, hop aboard a Tradewinds Charters tour; whalespoken.org.
5 of 9Photo: Doug McKinlay/Getty
Knight Inlet, British Columbia
To see black bears and grizzlies, head to Knight Inlet, northwest of Vancouver. The Knight Inlet Lodge, open May through mid-October, offers packages that range from two nights long to six. A boat takes guests to a channel brimming with salmon, and to other areas the bears frequent; grizzlytours.com
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San Simeon, California
Winter is a great time to observe one of California's largest resident populations of elephant seals. Visit Friends of the Elephant Seal's site to learn about these funny-looking marine mammals and to get recommendations for the best places to find them. One top viewing spot: the Piedras Blancas rookery just north of San Simeon, where on-site docents will answer questions; elephantseal.org.
7 of 9Photo: Darrell Gulin/Getty
Stonington Peninsula, Michigan
During late summer and early fall, thousands of monarch butterflies swarm Michigan's Stonington Peninsula on their long southern migration. You're likely to find many at Peninsula Point, a resting spot on the Upper Peninsula. Visitors can climb the 40-foot lighthouse for a bird's-eye view of the butterflies' journey across Lake Michigan, or observe them resting in the surrounding cedar trees. Pack a picnic, and don't forget a camera; visitescanaba.com
8 of 9Photo: Trina Dopp Photography/Getty
Many green sea turtles (or honu) that gather off Maui's shores eventually make their way to Maluaka Beach, also known as Turtle Town. To view the sea turtles in their natural habitat, grab your snorkel or scuba gear. Maui Eco Tours claims an average of 15 turtle sightings per snorkel trip. Sign up with Lahaina Divers for a guided dive at Turtle Reef. Not a diver, you can snorkel on the trip instead. The Turtle Lagoon at the Maui Ocean Center offers a chance to see the reptiles and stay dry.
9 of 9Photo: The Washington Post / Contributor/Getty
Delaware Bay, Delaware
Head here to visit one of the world's largest spawning grounds for horseshoe crabs mid-May through mid-June. These crustaceans are protected at five community-based sanctuaries―Broadkill Beach, Slaughter Beach, Fowler Beach, Pickering Beach, and Kitts Hummock, all accessible to the public. If you see a crab turned on its back, "just flip 'em." For more information, visit horseshoecrab.org.