Call Me Ishmael
February 1, 2008 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Questions about whale watching near San Francisco......

I want to see whales and would like to buy tickets on a whale watching excursion for me and Mr OWG as a Valentine's Day gift. So my questions:

1. Are there recommended tour operators that I should target? Departing anywhere from Half Moon Bay to Point Reyes would be fine.

2. Is February a good time to go? I think the migratory path is further out in the Spring, but I assume it doesn't matter so much from the boats.

3. Is it worth going for the full day? Some seem to offer half-day excursions.

4. Is there anything in particular in the way of tips or other recommendations that we should know about? We'll have waterproof warm clothes, binoculars, snacks, and water. Anything else to know?
posted by otherwordlyglow to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Very good time of the year to go- take a trip out to Point Reyes as an alternate V-day event. Mr. OWG will enjoy the meandering road out and there are a number of really great places to watch the wales from. Go all the way to the lighthouse- that's often a good spot, but make sure he's ready for the bajillions of stairs to descend and climb.

While you're there, don't forget to check out the seals! This is a great time to view them as well (from a safe distance)

No suggestions to be had for the whale tour operators. I'd suggest adding good sunglasses, SPF 50 sunscreen, and a point and shoot camera (for the "ooh!" "gone." moments when your fiddly SLR won't capture the breaching whale fast enough)
posted by arnicae at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2008

I've done trips from Half Moon Bay and from SF, and I'd strongly suggest the Half Moon bay locale, especially if anyone has a propensity for seasickness. The stretch of water (the Potato Patch) getting out of SF Bay is extremely choppy. It's probably worth considering dramamine or sea sickness patch.

I haven't heard anything about whether there are lots of whales out there or not.
posted by jasper411 at 11:05 AM on February 1, 2008

Oh, one more thing - we were glad to do the half day tour, as it's wonderful and amazing and all that, but after a while you start to feel cold and wet and disappointed that there aren't more whales, and dry land with hot chocolate starts to sound *really* good.
posted by jasper411 at 11:11 AM on February 1, 2008

Response by poster: Yep, we've been to Pt Reyes tons of times and were just out to the lighthouse a few weekends ago. Didn't see any whales from land so I think we need the boat. From what the ranger told us, the Spting migration is much farther out than the Fall one. You can still sometimes see the whales from land in the Spring but they are likely to be way far on the horizon. I want to be able to reach down and pet one. I know that is not a likely outcome though.

The tip on avoiding seasickness by going via HMB sounds like a good one.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2008

DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT take the trip to the Farallones from Sausalito operated by these folks. I did it a few years ago and it was one of the worst days of my life. They knew it was too rough to go out, but they took us out anyway because they had some researchers on board who were paying for a charter trip to the Farallones research station. When we got within 2 miles of the Farallones, the captain announced that it was too rough to dock and that we'd have to turn around. (This was after a 2.5-hour trip. There were only 2 people on board who hadn't gotten seasick, and we hadn't seen a single whale.)

It was a poorly run operation. Never. Again.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2008

Pt. Reyes lighthouse is usually ideal right now. Unfortunately this year there have been very few sightings there so far.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2008

There is a place a few miles out from Monterey where the whales really like to hang out. It's supposed to be some sort of underwater crater that traps plankton like a big whale buffet.
I can't remember the name of the company we went with, but it was from Monterey Bay. We did see a couple of blue whales, one even breeched! Ooh, ahh...

It's really really cold.
posted by idiotfactory at 4:19 PM on February 1, 2008

My best advice is to take sea sickness meds *no matter what.* And take them before you board. The seas are very rough in winter, and once you spot whales your skipper may stop the boat and sit in one spot for a while. This means lots of rocking back and forth, which is what gets most people sick, even seasoned folks. I've been on several trips off the CA and AK coasts, and the people who don't take the meds always regret it. One couple had to "stand at the back rail" in the rain and wind for FIVE HOURS until the trip was over. Better to be drowsy than to wish someone would just throw you overboard already!

I've started wearing a baseball cap with my hood over it (to keep it from blowing off) instead of sunglasses. It gives me good shade for my eyes, but isn't in the way when I use the camera or the binoculars as sunglasses would be. Also, those disposable hand warmers are awesome. I never get used to how cold and windy it is out there, and having a couple of those tucked into the pockets make a big difference. I've been known to stick a couple in my boots, too. :)

Oh -- and have a great time!
posted by shifafa at 9:33 PM on February 1, 2008

I would definitely recommend the Oceanic Society tours. They run big boats, they have a naturalist on board, and they actually cancel if it's too rough to go out. (Although, still take the motion-sickness meds. Fully one-fourth of the people on the first trip I went on got sick off the back of the boat.)

A half-day is plenty. After a morning of keeping yourself warm and upright out on the water, you'll be exhausted.

I went from Half Moon Bay, and found it entirely pleasant.

February is prime time to see gray whales. (Those are the whales you want to see, right?)
posted by bisesi at 1:52 PM on February 2, 2008

Somebody said the whales had already gone by if I understood correctly, which yeah, does seem improbably because normally January & February are ideal. You can also just drive up to Mendocino and watch from the headlands.
posted by salvia at 4:47 PM on February 2, 2008

improbable I mean.
posted by salvia at 4:48 PM on February 2, 2008

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