A whale jumps out of the water along the Sonoma Coast
Sonoma Coast State Park

Whale Watching in Sonoma County: Bodega Head & Beyond

The annual north-to-south gray whale migration along Sonoma County's coast peaks during the winter months, with good opportunities for whale spotting.

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There's something about seeing one of these beautiful and massive creatures gliding through the ocean that brings out a sense of wonder in spectators. You'll see tiny tots and regal elders alike shouting with excitement: "Look, a whale!" or "It's spouting!" People seem willing to wait endlessly to catch even a far-off glimpse of a whale, and the sight of one close to shore can easily make your day.

If you're visiting during the winter whale migration, here are some of the best parks for whale watching in Sonoma County.

Bodega Head, Bodega Bay

Coast at Bodega Head
Bodega Head

One of the top whale-watching spots in the county is Bodega Head. About 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, this small peninsula juts well out into the ocean. Its placement not only helps to shelter Bodega Bay, but also attracts binocular- and camera-toting observers who want to get closer to these giants cruising by. On weekends from January through Mother's Day, volunteers from the Whale Watch Public Education Program are at Bodega Head to answer questions and share their knowledge of whales and migration.

Bodega Head is part of the 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park, where many beaches offer tidal pools, hiking trails, and awesome views. All the park's beaches are great destinations for a picnic, too; you can relax on the sand, enjoying lunch and the day, while keeping an eye out for the traveling creatures.

Get your Sonoma Coast State Park map or brochure

Gualala Point Regional Park, Gualala

Marked by five large ceremonial posts crafted on-site by wood carvers from northeastern Russia during the 2014 Days of Sakha Cultural Festival, Gualala Point Regional Park is an oceanfront park nestled between the Gualala River and Mendocino County. The park's expansive beaches, prolific estuaries, 2.9 miles of trails, and stunning vistas make it a haven for hikers, beachcombers, birders, and, of course, whale watchers. During the winter season, Gualala's towering coastal bluffs provide an ideal vantage point for the annual whale migration. Pack a picnic, hike up the winding unpaved paths, and relax as you take in the unparalleled views overlooking dramatic cliffs.

Stillwater Cove Regional Park, Jenner

The coastal town of Jenner is a must-visit for outdoor and nature enthusiasts; and Stillwater Cove Regional Park is one of its crown jewels. Known for sweeping ocean panoramas and incredible sunsets, the park has become a top spot for whale watching in Sonoma County. Stillwater offers more than 3 miles of hiking trails along the Sonoma coastline, including the Stillwater Bluff Trail, located just north of the cove, which winds up along the rocky shore, ending with an inspiring view of the Pacific. During whale migration season, this trail is a great lookout point. The park also a large campground and features a crescent-shaped beach, making it a favored tide-pooling location.

Fort Ross State Historic Park, Jenner

One of the main attractions near Bodega Head, Fort Ross State Historic Park houses the remnants of an iconic Russian-era fort compound. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the 3,400-acre park is is surrounded by beautiful beaches, Insta-worthy coves, and redwood forests, as well as structures and exhibits that showcase what life would have been like during the area's Imperial Russian settlement. As expected, Fort Ross is frequently visited by history buffs, but it's also a popular stop for outdoor fanatics, especially during whale-watching season, as these majestic creatures come up for air while circling the cliffs that surround the historic fort.
 
 

Salt Point State Park, Jenner

Coast at Salt Point State Park
Salt Point State Park

Just 8 miles north of Fort Ross Historic Park sits Salt Point State Park. The park's 6,000 acres encompass two campgrounds, 20 miles of hiking trails, and more than 6 miles of rocky coastline — ideal for day of whale watching. There are several trails leading directly to viewing points on the cliffs towering over the Pacific Ocean, most of which have picnic tables and facilities, making the park a great place to spend the whole day viewing the whale migration as well as other wildlife, like soaring birds and jumping dolphins. 

Also within the park lies one of the world's greatest wonders — pygmy forests. It's within these forests that you'll find redwood, pine, and cypress trees that are fully mature but miniature in size thanks to the unique ecology of the area. A hike along the 3.8-mile, two-hour Pygmy Forest Trail is the best to experience these natural wonders.

Learn more about Salt Point State Park's Pygmy Forest.

Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, Cazadero

Adjacent to Salt Point State Park lies the Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve. As the name suggests, the park is covered in clusters of rhododendrons throughout its 5 miles of hiking trails and expansive coast. Originally founded in the 1880s by the Kruse family as a place to raise sheep and carry on logging harvesting operations, it's now frequented by many who vacation in Sonoma County. The Kruse Ranch Road Trail leads directly to the Sentinel Rock Viewing Point, which is where you'll see these beasts cresting the water's surface. Grab your binoculars, a light jacket, and a few snacks for the ultimate day of whale watching in Cazadero.

Book a Whale-Watching Tour

If you're keen to get out on the cool Pacific waters, we recommend booking a whale-watching boat trip with one of the local tour providers in and around Bodega Bay. This is a fantastic way to get up-close and personal with the magical mammals. These experience companies, including Bodega Bay Sport Fishing CenterFish On Charters, and North Bay Charters, have been guiding people along the Sonoma County coastline for decades, so expect to get insider information on whale migration as well as facts on other local wildlife and the history of the area. 

Find more boat charters and tours in Bodega Bay.

Looking for more activities and attractions along the coast in Sonoma County? Check out this list of 10 Fun Things to Do on the Northern Sonoma Coast.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.