Twice each year, some 20,000 gray whales pass along the California coast as they swim south to breeding lagoons on the west coast of Baja California during winter months, then back to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic’s Bering Sea in spring. The round trip for these sea giants is roughly 12,000 miles and is considered one of the longest among mammals.
If you’d like to witness this epic journey, you can in Sonoma County! The peak months for whale watching here are January through May. If the weather is good, whales can be seen within a few hundred yards of coastal headlands. During spring migration, even little whales are a big deal, as the recently born calves cavort with their mothers on their way back to colder waters. Bring binoculars for a spectacular sighting.
PLEASE NOTE: Always read and obey warning signs along the coast. Ocean conditions can change quickly, and the absence of a particular sign does not mean there is no threat of hazardous conditions. Always keep a safe distance to the ocean and be careful when looking through binoculars and taking photos.
Bordering the Gualala River and Mendocino County, this oceanfront park marks the northernmost point on the Sonoma Coast. During whale migration season, many visitors will head to Whale Watch Point, which offers excellent views of the ocean, weather permitting. Parking is $7; free for regional park members. 42401 CA-1, Gualala.
Just south of Gualala, The Sea Ranch extends for 10 miles along the Sonoma Coast. The headlands here offer views of the sea, the rugged coastline, and — if you're lucky — migrating whales. The Sea Ranch is a private community but six public access trails, managed by Sonoma County Regional Parks, give visitors a chance to experience this area and catch a glimpse of its wildlife.
Just 15 miles south of The Sea Ranch, Stillwater Cove features hiking trails through redwood forest and along ocean bluffs. Just north of the cove, the Stillwater Bluff Trail curves above the rocky coastline and offers views of the Pacific and a vista point for whale watching. Parking is $7; free for regional park members. 22455 Highway 1, Jenner.
One of the prime whale-watching spots in Sonoma County, the steep and rocky bluffs of this peninsula offer sweeping views of the ocean. January through May, volunteers from the Whale Watch public education program are stationed in this part of the Sonoma Coast State Park on weekends (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) to answer questions and share their knowledge about whales.
Whale Watch from a Boat, Bodega Bay
For a chance to get closer to the whales, while remaining at a safe distance, book a whale watching tour with a local fishing charter company. Companies like Bodega Bay Sportfishing and Miss Vic Sportfishing offer tours departing from Bodega Bay. Rates range from $100 per person for a half day to $1,200 for an entire boat for 1 day.
Written by Sonoma Magazine Staff