Every year, over 20,000 California Gray Whales make their way south from Alaska and the Bering Sea down to their breeding grounds in Baja California. After a brief respite in Baja where the babies are born, the whales return back to their northern territory. The Mendocino Coast provides excellent opportunities to see the whales without all the crowds around, starting at the end of December and continuing into April. If you have ever been to Point Reyes when the whales are going by, it’s hard to park anywhere near the ocean because of all the watchers. That’s not a problem up here!
There are 3 ways to see the whales: watching from the shore, going out on a whalewatching excursion from Noyo Harbor, or going on a plane flight. Some great places to see whales from the shore are:
- Mendocino Headlands: I’ve seen whales within a hundred yards of the cliff. You have a great perspective out at the western edge, and you can see the whale spouts coming your way from quite a distance.
- Chapman Point / Spring Ranch: just south of Mendocino, the bluffs here provide great views.
- Point Cabrillo: the folks working at the lighthouse have a phenomenal view of the whales. The picture in this article was taken by me at Point Cabrillo.
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens: if you walk all the way out to the ocean, you’ll have an excellent vantage point.
- Noyo Bluffs: just south of the Noyo Bridge — another great vantage point.
- MacKerricher State Park: walk out on the boardwalk to the platform overlooking the harbor seal pupping site, and you’re in a great spot to see them. They also have educational programs from January through March — the details are below.
The other way to see the whales is to go out on a boat. You’ll find a number of excursion boats that will get you up close and personal (not really — they are required to keep a decent distance from the whales). But you are incredibly close, and you’ll take pictures that amaze everybody else afterwards! Some of the excursion boats are:
- All Aboard Adventures: Captain Tim is now providing us with a whale forecast. 707-964-1881
- Adventures Unlimited: 707-964-3316
- Noyo Fishing Center (Rumblefish and Tigerfish): 707-964-3000
- Lady Irma II: 707-964-3854
- Telstar Charters: 707-964-8770
- Fort Bragg Sportfishing: 707-961-9292
The third way to see the whales is to go for a flight with Coast Flyers, who fly out of the Little River Airport. You literally get a bird’s eye view of the whales, and you’ll see more whales than you can count during your flight. 707-937-1224
If you want to know more about the whales, MacKerricher State Park Visitor Center has a Gray Whale & Marine Mammal Program. MacKerricher Docents lead interesting talks and watches about Gray Whales and marine mammals on Saturday and Sunday mornings, January through March. Meet at the MacKerricher Visitor Center, then after a brief program, caravan to Laguna Point deck to watch for whales and other sea life through spotting scopes and binoculars. Call 707-964-8898 for the schedule.