Nine Places to See Whales

Spy migrating humpbacks, orcas, and grays from bluffs and parks along the Pacific Coast.

View of Point Reyes Lighthouse, Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif., image

Gray whales pass the Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, Calif., each January and March. 

Great sighting spots on ocean promontories line the West Coast. The months of the gray whale migration are especially good times to watch. In November and December, look for spouts as the giants commute south; in March and April, watch close to shore, where whales snack and rest as they head north.

Lime Kiln Point State Park
Walkers in this park on the west side of San Juan Island, Wash., may see orcas from the rocky bluffs or be treated to the hollow, rhythmic sound of whales spouting in the shallows below.

Cape Flattery Trail
Big grays swim near the boardwalk portion of this short path in the Makah Indian Reservation northwest of Washington’s Olympic National Park. The observation platforms at the end of the trail project over deep pools, providing especially good views.

Cape Lookout State Park
The headland trail on this narrow promontory 13 miles southwest of Tillamook, Ore., climbs several hundred feet above the sea, the perfect vantage from which to see spouting, breaching behemoths from December through June.

Cape Ferrelo
In early January, visitors to this promontory just outside Brookings, Ore., often spot clusters of gray whales resting among the black volcanic pyramids that thrust up from the surf.

Mendocino Headlands State Park
From the grassy, windswept cliffs overlooking stone sea arches in Mendocino, Calif., look for spouting whales just beyond the whitecaps. Come in March for guided ranger tours on weekends.

Point Arena Lighthouse
Though brisk, January is often clear at the lighthouse, which rests on a spit of land jutting into the Pacific five miles north of Point Arena, Calif. That means good weather for seeing humpbacks and grays.

Point Reyes Lighthouse
In mid-January, take the shuttle from the Drakes Beach parking lot to the western tip of California’s Point Reyes National Seashore to catch the peak of the gray whales’ migration south. To see them on the way back, return in late March.

Marin Headlands
South of Sausalito, Calif., the ocean-front bluffs above Rodeo Lagoon offer wide views toward the Farallon Islands, great for spotting gray whale mothers and calves December through March.

Big Sur
Along the curvy stretch of Highway 1 that hugs California’s Central Coast, almost every turnout offers an excellent place to see mother grays with their young in winter, and view playful humpbacks from late spring through early fall.

Read about the best times to see whales along the Pacific in Whale Watching in the West.

Photography courtesy of Masur/Wikimedia Commons

This article was first published in January 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information. 

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