• The Point Reyes Beach as viewed from the Point Reyes Headlands

    Point Reyes

    National Seashore California

Whale Watching at Point Reyes

Click on the following links to find out more about viewing opportunities for these species and to learn about their habitats and behaviors:

Birds ¦ Coho Salmon ¦ Elephant Seals ¦ Tule Elk ¦ Whales

 
Whale Watchers at Point Reyes

Whale Watchers at Point Reyes

Engaging in the longest migration of any mammal, the California gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) swims 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) each year, spending about one third of its life migrating from the cold, nutrient-rich waters of Alaska, to the warm, shallow lagoons of Baja California. Along the way, these incredible animals can often be seen from the shores of Point Reyes. What drives the gray whale to undertake this incredible annual round trip from Alaska to Baja? Food and reproduction.

Jutting 16 kilometers (10 miles) into the Pacific Ocean, the headlands of the Point Reyes Peninsula offer one of the finest spots to view the gray whale. The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary provides a 32-kilometer (20-mile) wide "highway" along which the whales cruise; sometimes they travel in the close lane (nearer to shore), and sometimes they travel in the far lane (farther out to sea). The areas around Chimney Rock and the Lighthouse offer some of the best whale watching spots in the park.

 
Graph depicting the number of gray whale sightings at Point Reyes National Seashore through the winter and early spring months. Highest numbers of whales are sighted in January and late March/early April.

Here at Point Reyes National Seashore, the peak of the southern migration usually occurs in mid-January and that of the northern migration in mid-March. Late April and early May afford the opportunity to see mothers and calves close to shore.

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Gray Whale Mother and Calf. Photo credit: Wayne Perryman, Photogrammetry Program, NOAA SWFSC.

Gray whale mother and calf.

There is a mystery about these beautiful giants. Like humans, they breathe air, have warm blood and give birth to live young. However, their home is in the depths of the dark ocean where so much is concealed from our probing human eyes. As the gray whales migrate along the Pacific Coast, we may have a brief chance to view them before their return to a world that remains mysterious. Download the Pacific Gray Whales Resource Newsletter for more information about the gray whale. (298 KB PDF - Adobe® Acrobat Reader® required).

Numerous ranger-led programs are offered during the Whale and Elephant Seal Season.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to the high volume of traffic out to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas during the gray whale migration, the park will be operating a shuttle bus system from the Drakes Beach parking lot (usually from New Year's to Easter each year on weekends and holidays - weather permitting). Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from South Beach to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas WILL BE CLOSED during shuttle operating hours. For more information call the Bear Valley Visitor Center at 415-464-5100.

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Some of the best places to view whales from shore besides Point Reyes National Seashore are listed below:

(drive times and distances are approximate)

North of Point Reyes National Seashore

Bodega Head
Bodega Head Park and Sonoma Coast State Beach (707) 875-3483. From Highway 1 take Westshore Road to the end of Westside Road. 1 hour north of Point Reyes

Jenner
Bluffs at Eckert Acquisition, approximately 13 kilometers (8 miles) north of Jenner on Highway 1.

North Jenner Beaches, from Russian Gulch to Jenner. Jenner is approximately 17.5 kilometers (11 miles) north of Bodega Bay.

Fort Ross
Fort Ross State Park (707) 847-3286. 19 kilometers (12 miles) north of Jenner on Highway 1.

Stillwater Cove
Stillwater Cove Regional Park (707) 847-3245. 5 kilometers (3 miles) north of Fort Ross on Highway 1.

Salt Point
Salt Point State Park (707) 847-3221, 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of Fort Ross on Highway 1.

South of Point Reyes National Seashore

Marin Headlands
Golden Gate National Recreation Area (415) 331-1540. Take Alexander Avenue exit off Highway 101, north of Golden Gate Bridge. Use Conzelman Rd. to Point Bonita, or Bunker Rd. to Rodeo Beach.

Point Montara
Point Montara Lighthouse 650-728-7177 (hostel). Highway 1 & 16 Street, less than 0.8 kilometer (0.5 mile) south of Montara (15 minutes south of San Francisco). Call ahead for more information on day use.

Highway 1 Bluffs
Bluffs along Highway 1 south of Pescadero to Pigeon Point Road.

Pigeon Point
Pigeon Point Lighthouse 650-879-0633 (hostel). 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Half Moon Bay (about an hour south of San Francisco). Half Moon Bay is about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. Call ahead for more information on day use.

Ano Nuevo
Ano Nuevo State Reserve 650-879-0227. Highway 1 at New Year's Creek. 43 kilometers (27 miles) south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1.

Whale watching by boat

Our Outfitters & Tours page lists the businesses and organizations offering Whale Watching trips out of San Francisco Bay and Bodega Bay.

The Whale Trail

The Whale Trail is a series of sites along the Pacific coast where the public may view whales and other marine mammals from shore. The Whale Trail's mission is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of whales and our marine environment by establishing a network of viewing sites along the whales' trails through Puget Sound and the coastal waters of the Pacific.

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Did You Know?

Four tidewater gobies (small brackish-water fish) in a hand. Credit: Cassandra Brooks/NPS.

Since the restoration of the Giacomini Wetlands in 2008, the tidewater goby--a federally endangered brackish-water resident fish species--has not only been observed in the newly restored channels and ponds, but in Lagunitas Creek, where it had previously not been documented since 1953. More...