SPECTACULAR!! ORCAS-”KILLER WHALES!!”THE MIGHTY GIANTS “BLUE WHALES!!” HUMPBACK WHALES!! BEAUTIFUL WEATHER!!
That’s a typical “Sightings Report” from the Princess Monterey Whale Watching company. Each year from May through November, whales and dolphins are routinely spotted off the California coast, and so far this is one of the best years for sighting orcas, the big blues, and playful humpbacks in recent memory.
The only caveat is that they tend to feed far offshore, so you’ll need to hop on a whale watching boat to see them. So here are my picks on the best humpback and blue whale watching tour companies in Northern California.
Monterey Bay Whale Watching
The placid waters of Monterey Bay offer fantastic whale watching opportunities—I’ve spotted whales while lounging on a hotel’s rooftop hot tub (hey, somebody had to review that hot tub). Why? Because right off the coast of Monterey is an oceanic phenomenon: The Monterey Canyon—the largest and deepest submarine canyon off the Pacific coast of North America, reaching depths of up to two miles.
Because of upwelling that occurs, creatures from the deep are constantly emerging to the surface, which in turn attracts hungry dolphins, whales, orcas, sea otters, and huge flocks of birds.
As a scuba instructor I’ve seen a lot of marine life, but nothing compares to the hundreds of truly bizarre deep-water creatures I’ve spotted swimming around Monterey Bay. You don’t even need a scuba license to spot them—just rent a sea kayak and look down.
But you’ll have much better odds of spotting these deep-water denizens during a whale watching cruise, and the top outfit in Monterey is Princess Monterey Whale Watching, which runs daily 2-1/2 to 3 hour narrated trips from their departure point at the end of Old Fisherman’s Wharf No. 1. They’ve been in the whale watching business for more than 30 years and run a smooth operation. 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 or near Monterey, the Carmel Mission Inn, Monte Verde Inn, and Lone Oak Lodge are all offering exceptional deals that you can only book via LocalGetaways.com.
Farallon Islands Whale Watching
The Farallon Islands, just 27 miles off San Francisco, lie amid the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, a food-rich marine ecosystem which attracts whales, dolphins, seals, and seabirds each summer and fall.
Researchers have catalogued hundreds of individual humpbacks and blue whales as seasonal feeding residents. From May through November, it’s possible to view up to 23 species of marine mammals, including 18 species of whales and dolphins.
But there’s only one way to get a good look at these gentle giants: sign up for a whale watching cruise with Oceanic Society Expeditions, which runs 8-hour tours that depart from Sausalito’s Clipper Yacht Harbor and the San Francisco Yacht Harbor near Marina Green Park.
Weather permitting, the 56-foot Salty Lady will head underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and out to the Continental Shelf to search for deep-water whales. Expert naturalists are on board to tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about whales, dolphins, and seabirds.
These full-day whale watching cruises depart from Sausalito at 7:30am and from San Francisco at 8:30am on Saturdays and Sundays from mid-May through November (free parking from both departure points). Bring lunch, beverages, sea-sickness pills, and warm, layered clothing with water-proof outerwear for sea spray. The age minimum is 10, and an adult must accompany youths under 15.
These trips leave very early, so if you’re looking for a great rate on a place to stay that’s within easy driving distance of Sausalito, I highly recommend the Laurel Inn near the Presidio in San Francisco.
Tip: Don’t forget to bring binoculars, and if you’re prone to sea-sickness, the best over-the-counter medication to take is Bonine—it works amazing well.
If you have your own tips and recommendations on your favorite whale watching getaways in Northern California that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.
For more insider tips on fun things do, see, and explore in California, the place to go is LocalGetaways.com, where you’ll always find best California travel deals.