The Best Places for Whale Watching in Northern California

Carrie Ohlandt -

Outdoor Adventures

Is whale watching in Northern California on your bucket list? You’re in luck! This popular and unforgettable activity is available to visitors in the winter, spring, summer, and fall. An estimated 22,000 Eastern Pacific gray whales pass through Pacific Coast waters from December to March, and warm summer months are characterized by the migration of blue whales and humpback whales. From the cliffs of Mendocino to the San Francisco Bay, there are plenty of places to enjoy whale watching in Northern California. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. Eureka

Located on the shores of Humboldt Bay, Eureka, CA is the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland. Outdoor recreation is abundant, with activities like boating, sport fishing, kayaking, and whale watching all available close by. To see the whales from the water, charter a boat or take a kayak tour out of Trinidad Harbor. There are also countless sites to whale watch from land. The best ones are located high on the cliffs of Shelter Cove, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Patrick’s Point State Park, and Table Bluff.

Where to Stay: Carter House Inns & Restaurant 301

The Carter House Inns is an enclave of three magnificent Victorian homes perched alongside Humboldt Bay in Old Town Eureka. Luxurious accommodations set the tone for visits to giant redwood forests, rugged Pacific beaches, and all the other wonders of the region. End your day of adventure at Restaurant 301, the Carter House’s award-winning eatery and one of the best restaurants in Northern California.

2. Mendocino

The quaint, coastal village of Mendocino is a beloved whale watching destination. There are plenty of great lookout points in the area, including Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, Point Arena Lighthouse, and Mendocino Headlands State Park. You can even whale watch at the annual Whale Festival in March. It’s a wonderful event that features whale exhibits, educational lectures, and delicious fare from local restaurants.

Where to Stay: Sea Rock Inn

Some of the most awe-inspiring views of the Mendocino coast can be enjoyed from the guest rooms at the Sea Rock Inn. Surrounded by flower gardens and ancient cypress trees, the buildings gently descend a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Before setting off to explore, enjoy a generous buffet breakfast and watch the waves crashing below. You might even catch a glimpse of a migrating whale!

Where to Stay: Glendeven Inn Mendocino

With its spectacular vistas and countless amenities, Glendeven Inn Mendocino is a premier destination on the California Coast. Ocean-view rooms, wood-burning fireplaces, gourmet breakfasts, and an afternoon wine hour are all included in your stay. The grounds are just as wonderful with eight acres of manicured gardens and walking trails. Don’t forget to say hello to the grazing llamas!

3. The Bay Area

The waters bordering San Francisco are a seasonal hotspot for whale migrations. Humpback whales, blue whales, and gray whales have all been spotted here. The Oceanic Society offers full and half-day guided tours to the Farallon Islands, and San Francisco Whale Tours provides whale watching adventures year-round. It’s always a good time to visit!

Where to Stay: Washington Square Inn Bed & Breakfast

The Washington Square Inn is ideally situated in San Francisco’s legendary North Beach neighborhood. It’s just a short cable car ride from Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Coit Tower, China Town, Union Square, and Telegraph Hill. No matter where you end up, the inn’s friendly staff is dedicated to making your vacation as comfortable and relaxing as possible.

Where to Stay: Mill Rose Inn Bed & Breakfast

Less than an hour from San Francisco in Half Moon Bay, CA, Mill Rose Inn offers nothing less than the finest accommodations. Scattered throughout the inn are valuable works of art and magnificent decor, which create an ambiance of soothing refinement. Within minutes of the inn are several secluded beaches, one-of-a-kind shops, hiking and biking trails, wine tasting venues, and amazing art galleries.

4. Monterey

The Monterey Submarine Canyon in Monterey, CA, is a deep water canyon system that provides many benefits to year-round whale watching. Killer whales use the canyon as hunting grounds throughout the year, and humpback whales, blue whales, and a variety of dolphins and sea lions feed here in the summer months. Visitors can charter a boat out of the wharf for an up-close look at these incredible species.

Where to Stay: Old Monterey Inn

Set amidst an acre of gardens on a quiet, oak-studded hillside, the Old Monterey Inn exudes romance and warmth. The 1929 English Tudor inn is just 15 minutes from Fisherman’s Wharf and offers superb lodging and delectable breakfasts. Nearby attractions include culinary classes, tennis, garden tours, horseback riding, shopping, and, of course, whale watching.

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