Gray whale migration peaks along the California coast from January through April, and NorCal is full of countless epic viewing spots to see this natural phenomenon for yourself. It’s rare for a whale to end up in the San Francisco Bay, but every so often it does happen – that said, your best bet is to head to one of these key viewing spots. Even from land, you’re likely to see them spouting, slapping their tails (known as “lobtailing”) or even breaching. If you want to see them up close, a whale watching tour will do the trick.
Gray whales have the longest migration pattern of any mammal, covering a roundtrip total of 12,000 miles from their feeding grounds in the Arctic down to their breeding and mating grounds in Baja’s lagoons. The southward migration takes place around December and January, and the northern migration occurs from February to late April. Between January and March you’ll see the most concentrated activity, as whales are traveling in both directions.
Read on to discover where to see gray whales in and around the Bay Area!
Whale watching near San Francisco
Take off from Pier 39 and enjoy views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge on your way out to the Pacific Ocean. You can also check out the Oceanic Society, which takes groups out to the Farallon Islands April-November.
Especially from the Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail, which has some of the best ocean views in the Bay.
This is one of the tallest lighthouses in the country. It’s surrounded by fascinating tidepools and has a hostel if you want to stay overnight.
Some whale-watching excursions include the following:
South of SF on the way to Santa Cruz, this beach is also a hotspot for elephant seals year-round.
Whale watching north of SF
Point Reyes is one of the best whale viewing spots in NorCal, being that the peninsula extends further into whale territory than other spots on the coast. Stake out near Chimney Rock and the Point Reyes Lighthouse, or grab a shuttle between viewing areas. Don’t forget to spot the elephant seals at Drakes Beach!
Whale watching south of SF
Santa Cruz’s position just above the Monterey Bay makes it a key feeding point for migratory whales. Take a walk along West Cliff (Pleasure Point is a great spot) and you can watch the surfers while you’re at it. Check out Santa Cruz Whale Watching for tours.
Monterey Bay is one of the most dynamic spots for wildlife viewing in the world, where visitors can spot all kinds of whales, sea otters, seals, jellies, and more among the famous kelp forests. Don’t miss Whalefest at Moss Landing! Some good whale watching spots from land include Point Lobos and Garrapata State Park.