It’s time to witness one of the greatest wildlife migrations on the planet, and it’s happening just west of you. Every March and April herds gray whales can be spotted from shore as they journey northward along the coast, completing the last leg of their 14,000-mile annual round-trip. The proud parents are heading back to their Arctic feeding grounds after giving birth to their calves in the warm waters of Baja California (yes, even baby whales are adorable).
Ergo, this week’s theme is all about my favorite places along the Northern Coast to spot gray whales—from Mendocino to Monterey Bay—as well as the best whale watching boat tours and places to stay during your whale watching getaway. And don’t forget to bring binoculars.
I love going to Bodega Bay. It’s one of the few working-class fishing towns left on the California coast, where most locals start their day before dawn mending nets, rigging fishing poles, and talking shop. And the whale watching opportunities here are superb, particularly from the bluffs of Bodega Head, the small peninsula that shelters Bodega Bay. There are two hiking trails that follow the ocean, allowing you to combine both a seaside stroll and whale watching outing.
And on weekends through Mother’s Day you’re likely see Bea Brunn (a.k.a. Whale Mother) at the Bodega Head parking lot. Along with her fellow stewards-of-the-sea, Bea volunteers her time to share her knowledge of the cetacean migration with visitors. Donations of $5-$10 per person are appreciated, as they help the stewards continue to provide free docent-led environmental education programs for school groups.
To get to Bodega Head from downtown Bodega Bay, turn west on Eastshore Road, then turn right at the stop sign onto Bay Flat Road and follow it a few miles to the very end. Through April several of Bodega Bay’s fishing charters offer daily whale-watching trips, such as Bodega Charters.
And if you’re looking for a romantic place to stay near Bodega Bay, the oceanside Bodega Bay Lodge is offering a fantastic deal exclusively through LocalGetaways.com, with rates starting at $139.
POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE
This whale watching outing makes for a wonderful day trip from the Bay Area. The lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore is the top spot on the California coast to see gray whales as they make their northward migrations. But it’s no secret either, so if you plan to drive out to the lighthouse, arrive early as parking is limited (if possible, come on a weekday).
On a weekend or holiday through April (weather permitting), it’s wise to park at the Drake’s Beach and take the shuttle bus to the lighthouse, which is $5 for adults and free for kids age 12 and under. And dress warmly—it’s often quite cold and windy out there. For more information call 415/464-5100 or log onto www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/shuttle.htm.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
Okay people, I’m letting you in on my secret spot to watch whales that’s very close to San Francisco: Point Bonita Lighthouse on the southwest tip of the in the Marin Headlands. Not only is Point Bonita one of the best lighthouse tours on the California Coast—the views of the entrance to the San Francisco Bay are sensational—it’s also a prime location for spotting gray whales as they round the point. For more information and directions call 415/331-1540 or log onto www.nps.gov/goga/pobo.htm.
But if you really want to get a good look at these gentle giants, sign up for a whale watching cruise with Oceanic Society Expeditions, which runs tours that depart from the San Francisco Yacht Harbor near Marina Green Park. Expert naturalists are on board to tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about whales.
HALF MOON BAY
A leisurely 45-minute drive from the busy streets of San Francisco is the heavenly little hamlet of Half Moon Bay, one of my favorite coastal towns on the California coast. With its pristine beaches, mild climate, and close proximity to San Francisco, it’s the perfect solution for anyone in need a peaceful weekend getaway—especially when combined with a whale watching cruise.
Oceanic Society Expeditions offers 3-hour weekend trips from Pillar Point Harbor, and if you’re looking for place to stay in Half Moon Bay, the Coastside Inn is offering a fantastic deal exclusively through LocalGetaways.com, with rates starting at $99.
The placid waters of Monterey Bay offer fantastic whale watching opportunities (I’ve spotted whales while lounging on a hotel’s rooftop hot tub), but you’ll have much better odds of spotting them during a whale watching cruise with Monterey Whale Watching, which runs daily trips on the Princess Monterey and Pacific Explorer.
And when combined with a trip to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium you’re guaranteed to have an aquatically enlightening getaway. Tip: If you’re looking for a place to stay in Monterey, the Sanctuary Beach Resort is offering an exceptional offer through LocalGetaways.com: Beachside accommodations for two for only $169.
THE MENDOCINO COAST
If there was ever a reason to spend a few days on the Mendocino coast, it’s to watch the whales. Because of the way the Mendocino coastline is formed, you can often spot whales right from the shore, while pods of them often feed and rest their young in Mendocino’s sheltered coves (especially near Point Cabrillo, near the lighthouse). To book a whale watching boat tour give Captain Tim a call at All Aboard Adventures.
For more insider tips on California activities and tours, California vacation spots, California tourist attractions, California vacation packages, and California inns, B&Bs, lodges, hotels, and restaurants, explore LocalGetaways.com, where you’ll always find the best California travel deals.