When gray whales head north to Alaska, you can see them in San Diego, Mendocino, Calif., and Lahaina on Maui, Hawaii.
STAY Right in town, the 1878 Mendocino Hotel & Garden Suites overlooks grassy headlands and the Pacific. From $105.* (800) 548-0513, www.mendocinohotel.com .
EAT At the MacCallum House’s affordable Grey Whale Cafe, top off dinner with a fancy dessert (above) from the adjoining dining room. (707) 937-5763.
PLAY At the Mendocino Whale Festival March 4 and 5), a free trolley travels between the many festivities, ranging from winetasting to whale-watching walks. (707) 961-6300, www.mendocinocoast.com .
P.S. Bike the Fern Canyon Trail or float Big River with the tide. Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too can set you up. Rentals, $12–$20 an hour. (707) 937-0273.
SAN DIEGO, CALIF.
STAY The sleek 500 West sits near the water in a restored 1924 building. European-style (shared) bathrooms. From $79.* (619) 234-5252, www.500westhotel.com .
EAT You can nosh on fish tacos ($2 each), introduced to Southern California by Ralph Rubio, at the original Rubio’s in Mission Bay. (858) 272-2801.
PLAY At Cabrillo National Monument (619-557-5450, www.nps.gov/cabr . spot gray whales from the shore through March. You can also hop on a boat at the San Diego Harbor.
P.S. At SeaWorld, whale sightings (orcas) are guaranteed. Price: $53 but AAA members save $10 in March and April. (800) 257-4268, www.seaworld.com .
LAHAINA, MAUI, HAWAII
STAY Rooms at the Guest House go for $149. Each room has a hot tub and spacious lanai. Breakfast included. (800) 621-8942, www.mauiguesthouse.com .
EAT At Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in nearby Kapalua, you get 25 percent off everything on the menu from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. (808) 669-6286.
PLAY Knowledgeable naturalists lead the Pacific Whale Foundation’s two-hour catamaran cruises ($30) leaving from Lahaina and Maalaea harbors. (800) 942-5311, www.pacificwhale.org .
P.S. Big Kahuna Adventures in Kihei rents surfboards for $20 a day. Beginner lessons also available. (808) 875-6395, www.bigkahunaadventures.com .
*Ask about the discount for AAA members.
Photography by Ralph Jenniches
This article was first published in March 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.