Wanderlust: Whale Watching in Northern California
By Megan MacNee
In second grade, I had a project where we had to research an animal and make giant stuffed paper versions of the animal to hang in the classroom. There was no question in my mind that I had to research whales for the project. I’m pretty sure I raised my hand to volunteer for them before the teacher had even stopped talking.
At this point, I was a Midwest kid living in Saint Louis, Missouri and the only trip I’d ever had to the ocean was when I was too young to remember. Yet somehow, these majestic creatures had me in awe.
It wasn’t until I moved to Southern California a few years later and took a trip to SeaWorld that I finally got to see a whale face to face. While I’m not going to advocate for the practices SeaWorld has used over the years, I will say that as a child they changed how I felt about wildlife and the environment; and the relationship that humanity plays in regards to them both.
For a long time, I even wanted to be a marine biologist, but that was before I took biology in high school and had to dissect something. Even though I never made a career path working with these animals they haven’t left my heart.
When I moved to Northern California I was amazed by how easy it is to get to see whales in wildlife. We’re spoiled here to have different species of whales traveling up and down the coast all year long.
Whales on the Coast
Along the Northern California coast, we are lucky enough to be along the migration routes for a variety of species. Which means, if you really want to you can find whales just about any time of the year.
From May to November, you have the chance to see humpback whales, blue whales, fin whales, and minke whales. In the December to April season, you’ll be able to see the gray whales that migrate along the coast. On top of this, you’ll have a chance to see orcas (killer whales) any time of the year, but they are seen most often in April and May.
Where & How To Go See Them
There are many ways to go whale watching. First, is wandering some of the beautiful outlooks you can find around Northern California where you can see the whales right from the shore. This is a great way to get a good hike in while seeing these wildlife from a distance. It’s also free, or a small parking fee.
A few places you can often see whales from along the Northern California Coast are:
- Sonoma Coast State Park
- Point Reyes National Seashore
- Point Montara Lighthouse
- Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Watching them from the shore is worth a trip, but to get to know these majestic animals you’ll want to hop in a boat and take a tour out on the water.
Arguably, the best place in Northern California to go whale watching is the Monterey Bay. The bay has an enormous amount of wildlife much which you can see from the surface. Most tours leave from the Moss Landing area to explore along the bay where you’ll find otters, dolphins, and sea lions, along with the whales.
You’ll find a variety of companies giving tours but none are like Fast Raft which I recently had a chance to tour with. You’re on a small (yet very stable) raft that can zoom along the bay. This cuts down your travel time, giving you more chances to witness the wildlife. It’s also right on the water and much less invasive than the larger boats. This means when a whale pops up ten feet away from you, it is really right there in front of you.
On top of the Monterey Bay, you can find whale watching tours all along Northern California whether they take off from San Francisco, Mendocino or Half Moon Bay.
Now it’s time to take a trip to the coast and take a look at these wonderful creatures that travel along our coasts.