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Farallon Islands Whale Watching - San Francisco

Join us on a day trip from San Francisco or Sausalito to the wonderful and wild Farallon Islands, one of the most diverse and exciting marine environments on Earth. Look for humpback and blue whales, thousands of seabirds, dolphins, sea lions and seals, harbor porpoises, and much more.
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The dramatic Farallon Islands. © Roger Harris

The Farallon Islands, just 27 miles off San Francisco, lie amid the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, a food-rich marine ecosystem that attracts whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and seabirds each summer and fall to feed and to breed. Researchers have catalogued hundreds of individual humpback and blue whales as seasonal feeding residents. 36 species of marine mammals, including 18 species of whales and dolphins, and more than 250,000 nesting seabirds can be found here.

The Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge is the largest seabird rookery in the contiguous United States with nesting Tufted Puffins, Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres and other species. Migratory seabirds such as Shearwaters, Jaegers, and Phalaropes are also attracted by these nutrient-rich waters. Island beaches are covered with sea lions, including massive Steller's sea lions, now on the Endangered Species List.

Each trip is led by an expert naturalist who assists with locating whales, identifying seabirds and other marine life, and who provide informative presentations throughout the trip on the islands and marine ecology of the area.

Photos & Videos

Trip Details

Our full-day (8-hour) whale watching cruises depart from San Francisco at 8:00 AM, and from Sausalito at 6:45 AM aboard the 56-foot Salty Lady, a Coast Guard certified vessel, on Saturdays and Sundays, and select Fridays, from mid-May through November. The trip price is $128 per person.

• $128 / person
• Groups of 6-9: $115 / person
• Groups of 10+: $100 / person

For departure dates and current availability, please check our booking calendar.

San Francisco: Marina Yacht Harbor (7:30 AM) located at 3950 Scott Street, San Francisco (map). Parking is free, but space is limited. Check-in time is at 7:30 AM, the boat leaves promptly at 8:00 AM. You will return to this dock at approximately 4:00 PM. Note: Select trips depart from Sausalito only, please check the information carefully when making your booking.


Sausalito: Clipper Yacht Harbor (6:30 AM), on Harbor Drive (map). Check-in time is at 6:30 AM, and the boat leaves promptly at 6:45 AM. Parking is free. You will return to this dock at approximately 5:00 PM.

Approximately 8 hours. In order to visit the whale "hotspots," including the Continental Shelf, and to have enough time to observe the wildlife at the islands, an 8-hour trip is required.

Under the Golden Gate Bridge and west to the Farallon Islands (27 miles offshore), looking for whales and wildlife along the way. At the islands we take time to observe wildlife which may include seabirds, seals and sea lions, whales, and occasional great white sharks, sea turtles, Mola molas, and more. Weather permitting, we may also visit the Continental Shelf to search for deep water whales.

Our Coast Guard certified vessel, the 56-foot Salty Lady, has an observation deck, limited indoor seating, and gender-specific bathrooms. Our captains are experienced in nature cruises and committed to marine conservation.


Warm, layered clothing with a waterproof outer layer is strongly recommended. Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are also advised.

Parking is free in San Francisco and Sausalito

Bring your own food and beverages; there are no concessions on board. Alcohol is discouraged, but not prohibited. Backpacks are fine, but please, no coolers due to space limitations.

No smoking is allowed on Oceanic Society cruises.

Age minimum 10; an adult must accompany children under 15. Children must wear a life jacket at all times while aboard the vessel.

Trips go rain or shine, but may be cancelled due to high winds and/or high seas. All passengers must call our weather hotline on the morning of departure for trip status.

For cancellation policy, refund and reschedule policy, and other important terms, read our detailed Terms and Conditions.

What We See

Throughout the season we have the opportunity to see humpback and blue whales and, less frequently, other whale species including gray whales, fin whales, and Bryde's whales. We also see California sea lions, harbor seals, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, and harbor porpoises regularly throughout the season. Less frequently we encounter Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso's dolphins, Dall's porpoises, northern elephant seals, and Mola molas (ocean sunfish), and occasionally we encounter great white sharks and thresher sharks. We also see orcas (killer whales) and leatherback sea turtles on rare occasions.

Many seabird species are seen throughout the season, though general bird diversity is better from May through early July. For recorded recent whale & marine life sightings, call (415) 258-8220, or read our sightings reports below.


Western Grebes; Black-footed Albatrosses; Northern Fulmars; Pink-footed, Buller's, Sooty Shearwaters; Ashy Storm-Petrels; Brown Pelicans; Double-crested, Brandt's, Pelagic Cormorants; Black Oystercatchers; Red-necked, Red Phalaropes; Pomarine, Parasitic Jaegers; South Polar Skuas; Heermann's, Herring, Western, Sabine's Gulls; Caspian, Elegant, Common, Arctic, Forster's Terns; Common Murres; Pigeon Guillemots; Xantus's, Craveri's, Marbled (rare) Murrelets; Cassin's, Rhinoceros Auklets; Tufted Puffins.


Red-throated, Pacific, and Common Loons; Eared, Western, and Clark's Grebes; Black-footed Albatrosses; Northern Fulmars; Pink-footed, Buller's, Sooty, and Black-vented Shearwaters; Ashy, and Wilson's (rare) Storm-Petrels; Brown Pelicans; Double-crested, Brandt's, and Pelagic Cormorants; Black, Surf, and White-winged Scoters; Black Oystercatchers; Red-necked, and Red Phalaropes; Ruddy Turnstones; Pomarine, and Parasitic Jaegars; South Polar Skuas; Bonaparte's, Heermann's, Mew, Ring-billed, California, Herring, Western, Glaucous-winged, and Sabine's Gulls; Caspian, Elegant, Arctic, and Forster's Terns; Cassin's and Rhinoceros Auklets; Peregrine Falcon.


Unforgettable Experience ... I can definitely recommend this trip ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
TripAdvisor Member

Best bargain in S.F! Wow - what a wonderful experience!! ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
TripAdvisor Member

Lived in the Bay Area for 10 years, boy have I missed a great experience before. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
TripAdvisor Member

For an up close experience with the islands, consider spending a full-day with the Oceanic Society ... You will get to spend eight hours with guides who know the best places to spot whales, especially humpback and blue whales that are common in the area.
SF Gate

The Farallon Islands are just 27 miles from San Francisco and the ticket to this classic adventure is aboard the nonprofit Oceanic Society's Salty Lady, a 56-foot-long whale-watching boat equipped with friendly staff and a naturalist who's a virtual water-borne Wikipedia.
Weekend Sherpa

The Oceanic Society runs top-notch, naturalist-led, ocean-going weekend boat trips – sometimes to the Farallon Islands – during both whale-migration seasons.
Lonely Planet

Recent Sightings

Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: July 17, 2015The following sightings report is from Oceanic Society naturalist Alicia Retes.Friday's Farallon Islands whale watching trip began with a smooth cruise out to the Golden Gate under an overcast morning sky. We immediately sighted a couple of harbor porpoises quickly "puffing" at the surface of the water on both sides of the Golden Gate. Captain Jared eased into Devil's Cove…Read More →Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: June 20 & 21, 2015Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed out in choppy seas with a 5 foot NW swell and 15 knot winds, but conditions improved during the day. The whales were abundant. Passengers saw 15–20 blue whales at the continental shelf! The captain shut off the engine and the group watched for about 85 minutes as the whales fed on a krill…Read More →Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: June 6 & 7, 2015What a weekend for seeing marine life! Saturday's boat headed straight out to Southeast Farallon Islands (SEFI), with NW winds but south swell. Getting out of San Francisco Bay was choppy, but there was very little wind outside the bay and conditions improved greatly with some passengers describing the ocean conditions near the islands as glassy. High fog kept the…Read More →Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: May 30 and 31, 2015 Saturday's Farallon Islands Whale Watching Trip headed out on calm seas to the Southeast Farallon Islands (SEFI), then moved to the continental shelf drop off, then 8 miles south. Passengers observed: Two very large Stellar sea lions chasing each other near Sugarloaf at Southeast Farallon Island. Several very large (1,000 lb) Mola mola, or ocean sunfish (the heaviest known bony fish in…Read More →Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: November 2014Following are the naturalists' sightings reports from our Farallon Islands whale watching programs during November 2014.Date: November 8 & 9, 2014Naturalist: Gale Broesder and Susan ShermanHighlights: Sightings of one humpback whale, 20+ harbor porpoises, a brown booby, and two peregrine falconsParticipants on Saturday and Sunday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed out in dense fog that cleared later in the day.…Read More →

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