Whale Watching at Point Reyes


Which Whales to Watch

Whales can be spotted off the shores of Point Reyes almost year-round! Many of the whales are here for only part of the year, so different seasons provide different whale watching opportunities. While the most commonly spotted whale at the Seashore is the gray whale during their winter and spring migration, there is the chance of seeing other whale and dolphin species throughout the year.

Summer or Fall: Humpback whales, Blue Whales, Fin Whales
Winter/Spring: Gray Whales
Year-Round: Minke Whales, Orcas (part of the dolphin family)


Best Locations for Whale Watching

Since the tip of the Point Reyes peninsula sticks out 10 miles (16 km) into the Pacific Ocean, it gets visitors that much closer to areas where whales are swimming and migrating past—the next best thing to being on a boat! As a result, the best whale watching tends to be from higher coastal areas far out on the peninsula like the Point Reyes Lighthouse, or the end of the Chimney Rock trail, and the Tomales Point Trail. Being up high looking down on the water gives visitors the best vantage point for whale watching. Whales will often be visible with the naked eye, but binoculars or spotting scopes enhance the whale watching experience.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse and associated buildings at the base of 313 stairs.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse.

At the westernmost end of the Point Reyes Headlands, the Lighthouse served mariners for 105 years & is now preserved for future generations.

A two-story, white-sided, red-roofed building with a long dock at the edge of a blue bay.
Chimney Rock

View elephant seals. Visit the historic Point Reyes Lifeboat Station. Hike the Chimney Rock Trail.

A ranch complex with white wooden buildings on a narrow peninsula between the ocean and a bay.
Tomales Point, Pierce Point Ranch, & Elk

Visit the historic Pierce Point Ranch, see tule elk, and hike the Tomales Point Trail.

A whale spout and back visible next to white and red lighthouse
A Gray Whale spouts just off the Lighthouse Point.

NPS Photo/ Anela Kopshever

What to Look For


Spouting is the most common behavior viewed from land. This is where the whale is surfacing for a breath. Contrary to popular belief, they are not releasing water. The spout spray is their very warm breath meeting the cooler ocean air, similar to when humans’ breathe on a cold winter day. The warm breath condenses into water droplets and will be visible for just a few seconds. On windy days, whitecaps on the ocean's surface and spouts can be difficult to tell apart. Therefore, whale watching conditions are best when there is little to no wind.

The shape of the whale spout can help identify the species that you are viewing. Gray whales will have a short, heart-shaped spout, while humpback whales will have a taller, straighter spout.

A humpback whale is mostly out of the water, falling backwards.
A humpback says hello, breaching out of the water.

NPS Photo/ Anela Kopshever


Breaching is when a whale jumps, having most or all of its body above the water's surface at once! As their large bodies reenter the water, it creates a massive splash that can be visible for miles. All whales breach, but it is extremely common among humpback whales. One theory is that humpback whales breach to communicate far distances about hunting, mating, or potential threats.

The black and white head of an orca breaks the surface of the water.
An orca spy hopping takes a moment to get its bearings.

NPS photo / Kay White

Spy Hopping

Spy hopping is a behavior seen in whales and dolphins. This is when they poke their head above the water line to look around. This can be seen on migrations looking for landmarks to orient themselves or look for potential hazards around the surface. Depending on the species, this behavior can last for a few seconds up to several minutes. Spy hopping is similar to how humans tread water; the whale will maintain its height by flicking its tail, and balance using its fins. This behavior is most commonly seen in humpback whales and orcas.

Two humpback whales with water-filled mouths break the surface of the ocean.
Two humpbacks take advantage of nutrient filled waters off of the Point Reyes Penninsula.

NPS Photo/ Anela Kopshever

Lunge Feeding

Lunge Feeding is a technique used by most baleen whales. This hunting technique is when whales approach their prey from underneath, capturing the food while swimming upwards. This will result in the whale partially exiting the ocean, with a mouth full of food and water.


Other Marine Animals to See

The waters surrounding Point Reyes are protected within the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. These waters are one of the most diverse and productive in the world. This important marine ecosystem provides feeding grounds for many species of invertebrates, fish, sharks, birds, and mammals. Visitors may see common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and harbor porpoises. Also keep an eye out for harbor seals, sea lions, and elephant seals that live all or part of the year in Point Reyes.


Whale watching by boat

Our Outfitters and 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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Whale Sighting Links

Are you wondering whether any whales have been seen recently in the waters off Point Reyes? Or whether any whales may be heading our way? Check out the links below.

Whale Alert - West Coast

Whale Alert - West Coast was formed by The Office of the National Marine Sanctuaries, Conserve.IO, and Point Blue Conservation Science, working in coordination with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), to help reduce the number of ship collisions with whales. Conserve.IO developed the Whale Alert smart phone/tablet application providing a user-friendly way for just about anyone to report whale sightings on the west coast in real time. This app are a publicly available, so feel free to download the Whale Alert app and share your sightings of whales with the world. Numerous, accurate reports will hopefully help sailors avoid colliding with whales.

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Photo Gallery


Learn More

  • Two kids petting a horse atop which is a smiling park ranger.
    Park Programs and Events

    Get to know your Seashore by going to a ranger program or attending one of these special events!

  • A gray whale and her calf come to the surface of the ocean and exhale.
    Gray Whales at Point Reyes

    Gray whales delight visitors as they pass by the Point Reyes peninsula during their winter and spring migrations.

  • A humpback whale tail, dark grey and white, break the bubbly surface of the ocean.
    The Whale Trail

    The Whale Trail provides a list of all the whale watching spots along the Pacific Coast.

Last updated: August 19, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956


This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (e.g., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; fire danger information; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.

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