Sea Lion Caves

Useful Information

Sculpture in front of the entrance, Sea Lion Caves, Oregon. Public Domain.
Location: On the coast on Highway 101 about 19 km north of Florence.
Open: All year daily 9-17:30. [2006]
Fee: Adults USD 8, Children (6-15) USD 4.50, Children (0-5) free. [2006]
Classification: Speleologysea cave in basaltic rock.
Light: natural/electric
Dimension: VR=36 m, L=120m(?).
Guided tours:
Address: Sea Lion Caves, 91560 Hwy 101 N, Florence, OR 97439, Tel. +1-541-547-3111, Fax: +1-541-547-3545. E-mail: contact
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Inside the sea cave with sea lions, Sea Lion Caves, Oregon. Public Domain.
1880 discovered by William Cox.
1887 land bought from the state by William Cox.
1927 cave bought by R.E. Clanton.
AUG-1932 show cave opened, together with the opening of Highway 101.
1934 Clanton leaves, Roy Acme Saubert joins the business.
1939 Roy Saubert and J.G. Houghton washed into the sea by a big wave, Houghton was able to cling to a rock, Saubert was never found.
1940s cave operated by Hannah Saubert.
1946 original entrance building burned down to the ground.
~1950 Clifton Saubert, Jack Jacobson, and Donovan Houghton, the sons of the original owners took over.
1958 replacement of wooden staircase started.
1961 elevator built.
1962 World's Fair in nearby Seattle.
1970 cave now managed by Steve Saubert.


Sea lion skeleton, Sea Lion Caves, Oregon. Public Domain.
Closeup of sea lions, Sea Lion Caves Oregon. Public Domain.

As the name Sea Lion Caves says, this cave is used by the Sea Lions. The cave itself is a huge sea cave at the dramatic Oregon coastline. In the Sea Lion Caves region lives a herd of 200 Northern sea lions or Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus). Sea lions live at Sea Lion Caves year round. The cave itself is used primarily during the fall and winter months and is called the hauling area. The rock ledge below the lookout - just outside the cave - is the sea lions home during the spring and summer months. It is where they breed and bear their young.

Steller sea lions are named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, an German naturalist, who accompanied the Russian explorer Vitus Bering in 1741 on his second Alaskan expedition. Steller was the first who studied and classified these animals.

The tour starts at the main building and gift shop, and includes some stairs and an inclined scenic pathway which takes you to the lift. The lift carries you down 63 m into the extraordinary multi-hued sea cave. The main hall has a floor covering about 0.8 ha and the ceiling is about 38m high.

The cave is said to be the largest sea cave in the world, which is definitely untrue. Probably it is the largest sea cave used as a show cave, as there are very few of them worldwide. Most sea caves are visited by boat and can not be called show caves, as they lack any kind of development. This one is developed, with elevator, stairs, paths and viewing platforms.

Bring a good pair of binoculars to watch the sea lions and other animals like nesting sea birds and even whales. Flash photography is prohibited to protect the animals, which are disturbed by the flashlight. But photography without is allowed, so so bring film for low-light conditions if you plan to take pictures inside. It's cool and damp in the cave, appropriate clothes are much recommended.

Light from side entrances, Sea Lion Caves, Oregon. Public Domain.

Sea Lion Cave was discovered in 1880 by William Cox, a local seaman, when he rowed his boat into the western channel on a calm day. He returned to the caves a number of times to explore them. Once, during stormy weather, he was trapped in the cave for several days by breakers and he had to shoot a young sea lion to survive, eating the meat off one of its flippers. At least the legend goes so. He finally bought the property with the cave from the state in 1887, but he did not develop it in any way.

Development started after R.E. Clanton bought the land in 1927. He took in two partners, J.G. Houghton and J.E. Jacobson. They constructed a wooden tower which led down 135 steps to the north entrance of the caves. However, the partners had an dispute and the partnership ended when Clanton left after an trial in 1934. Soon after Roy Acme Saubert joined the business, the grandfather of the current owner. But only five years later in 1939 he died when he was washed into the sea by a big wave. During a storm Roy Saubert and J.G. Houghton went down to hte foundation of the wooden staircase, which always was the weakest point of the structure. Both were washed into the sea by a big wave, but Houghton was able to cling to a rock, Saubert was not. The body has never been found. Hannah Saubert, his widow, took his place and when the other partners left she managed the cave alone for years. A decade later the sons of the original owners took over. Today the cave is managed by the grandson of Roy Saubert and the granddaughter of J.E. Jacobson.