The Landlubbers Guide to Whale Watching

by Katie Cook

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It’s Gray Whale season in the Bay Area! From December through April Gray Whales follow the Pacific coastline south from their winter home in the Arctic to their summer home in Baja California. The Farallon Islands  create a whale superhighway, directing the whales to hug the coastline, and make it possible to see whales from several points in the Bay Area. I would highly recommend taking a whale watching trip to the Farallon Islands, but if you’re the type who gets queasy just thinking about boats then grab your binoculars and take a day trip to one of the spots below.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse– Located an hour south of San Francisco in the seaside town of Pescadero the boardwalk behind the Pigeon Point Lighthouse is prime whale watching territory. In March great numbers of whale cows and calves often swim within 30 to 40 yards of this point and volunteer docents set-up tables along the boardwalk to help visitors get the most from their whale watching experience. The lighthouse keeper’s house now operates as a hostel (complete with a hot tub!) making this an easy weekend escape.

Point Reyes–  Getting to the Point Reyes Lighthouse can be a bit of a trek, but the whale watching (and the abundant opportunities for cheese tasting along Highway One) make this drive well worth the effort. The best whale watching spots are located at Chimney Rock and the Lighthouse. Viewing areas at the Lighthouse can get crowded, so the 1.6 mile hike to Chimney Rock is always my preference. On weekends during whale watching season the park rangers host a variety of whale watching programs that are free to visitors.

Muir Beach Overlook– Just west of Muir Woods, the Muir Beach Overlook is a rocky promontory with clear, wide coastal views. A small sign along Highway One, just north of Muir Beach points the way to the Muir Beach Overlook. The Overlook trail is a narrow trail that hugs the side of the bluff and it can be unnerving to people who have a fear of heights.

Mori Point– Located directly south of the Sharp Park golf course in Pacifica, Mori Point is a quick 20 minute drive from San Francisco. The Upper Trail goes along coastal bluffs and ends at the western edge of Mori Point. In addition to being a prime whale watching spot, Mori Point also has great views of hidden coves, Rockaway, and the Pacifica Pier.

 Pillar Point Bluff– Better known as the ideal vantage point for the world-famous Mavericks surf break, the coastal bluff at Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay is also a great place for whale watching. Just ten minutes south of Mori Point, Pillar Point is directly above the Fitzgerald Marine Preserve.

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