Point Reyes National Seashore – Visit the headlands of the Point Reyes Peninsula to catch a glimpse of whales cruising along the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Best spots in this national park for gray whale sightings include the areas around Chimney Rock and the lighthouse. Daily, sunrise to midnight. FREE. 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station. 415-464-5100. nps.gov/pore/index.htm.
Point Bonita Lighthouse – Come to the Marin Headlands at the tip of Point Bonita for a prime whale watching opportunity. Daily, 9:30am-4:30pm. FREE. Marin Headlands Visitor Center, Fort Barry, Building 948, Sausalito. 415-331-1540. nps.gov/goga/pobo.htm.
Farallon Islands – Hop a boat at Pier 39 and enjoy gorgeous views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge as you head to the Farallon Islands, about 27 miles west of San Francisco in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. This ecosystem is an important habitat for marine life, so keep an eye out for whales, seals, sea lions, dolphins and thousands of sea birds. Weekends, 8am. $79-99. SF Bay Whale Watching. Pier 39, San Francisco.415-349-5255. sfbaywhalewatching.com.
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary – This area encompasses 276 miles of shoreline from Marin to Cambria, and its water is rich with nutrients. Marine life often feeds close to the shore, which means you might be able to spot whales in the sanctuary without ever boarding a boat. Wed.-Sun. 10am-5pm. FREE. Sanctuary Exploration Center, 35 Pacific Ave. Santa Cruz. 831-421-9993. montereybay.noaa.gov.
Gray Whale Highway – Go on a two and -a-half hour cruise just a few miles from the Monterey coast to watch gray whales migrate along a deep submarine canyon. Tours daily, departure times vary. $44.95. Princess Monterey Whale Watching. 96 Fisherman’s Wharf No. 1, Monterey. 831-372-2203. montereywhalewatching.com.
Pigeon Point Light Station – This state historic park is a great place to see gray whales passing by the coastline on their way to Baja. Also seek out a docent volunteer to help you spot wildlife. Daily, 8am to sunset. FREE. 210 Pigeon Point Road, Pescadero. 650-879-2120. www.parks.ca.gov/PigeonPoint/.
Sanctuary Cruises – Take a four-hour tour from Moss Landing Harbor, which leads directly to the head of the Monterey Submarine Canyon. From there, the boat has immediate access to deep water and, hopefully, a “parade” of gray whales. Daily, 10am. $40-50. 7881 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing. 831-917-1042. sanctuarycruises.com.
Blue Ocean Whale Watch – Enjoy a trip aboard the 60-foot luxury vessel High Spirits to view whales, seals, dolphins and more from an observation deck that offers great views of the Monterey Bay. Weekends, 10am. $50. 7881 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing. 831-600-5103. blueoceanwhalewatch.com.
Where to Whale Watch around the Bay Area