Grab your binoculars and head west—it’s whale watching season in the Bay Area. Gray whales are just offshore this time of year passing the Golden State’s rugged coastline on their way south to warmer waters where they’ll rear their newborn calves. It is one of the longest migrations of any mammal on earth and one you can be a witness to from many of our coastal trails.
That’s right, you don’t need to be on a boat to see whales. There are plenty of places on the coast where you can watch for whales from shore. And it’s not just gray whales, but minke, humpback and blue whales are all visible from the coast. Music to your ears I’m sure, especially if you get seasick on boats like me.
There are loads of options for coastal hikes. But below are two POST-protected properties that I’m especially fond of and have epic views of the Pacific, perfect for your next whale watching adventure. Now’s the time, so get out there and participate in the beauty of the season!
Overview: A relatively flat hike with views of the surrounding coast side
Distance: 3 miles round-trip
Hiking time: 1.5 hours
Season: All year, but the fall is particularly nice.
Driving directions: click here
Managing agency: San Mateo County Parks
See below of a trail map:
Pillar Point is in Moss Beach, just north of Half Moon Bay. The trailhead off of Airport Street starts with a raised wooden walkway over a small area of wetlands, then transitions to a hard-packed dirt trail.
When you get to the base of the bluffs, you are faced with a choice on how to get to the top: to the right is a well-packed gentle grade and to the left is a steeper path, which is shorter, but it has been degraded a little by winter rains. I don’t recommend the latter trail for anyone with mobility issues, or anyone with strollers.
For those looking for a wheelchair-accessible trail, there is street parking at the top of the bluff on Bernal Avenue and an entrance to the trail from there. Once you get to the top of the bluffs, the trail is mostly flat or gently-sloped and well maintained.
There are several good vantage points to watch the ocean and even a couple of benches along the way where you might sit and watch for whales. Even if you don’t spot any whales, there are great views all along this trail and other wildlife, like red-tailed hawks, to be on the lookout for.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more