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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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Overview

Our 2016 Farallon Islands whale watching season has ended. From December through April we are leading gray whale watching trips out of Half Moon Bay. Click here for trip dates and details.


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 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.

Your trip supports ocean conservation

Oceanic Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ocean conservation. Your participation in our whale watching trips helps fund our global ocean conservation programs and local programs including whale entanglement response. Moreover, we use our whale watching cruises as an opportunity to collect photographic identification data on whales, which we share with a network of researchers throughout the eastern Pacific. You can see our recently photographed whales on Happywhale. Through our whale watching trips, we also help transport biologists and staff members to and from the Farallon Islands in support of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Point Blue Conservation Science. Learn more about Oceanic Society here.

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.

TRIP COST & DATES:
• $128 / person
• Groups of 6-9: $115 / person
• Groups of 10+: $100 / person

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

DEPARTURES:
San Francisco: Marina Yacht Harbor (7:30 AM) located at 3950 Scott Street, San Francisco (map). Parking is free. 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.

OR

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.

DURATION:
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.

ITINERARY:
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.

VESSEL:
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.

PASSENGER MAXIMUM:
48

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

PARKING:
Parking is free in San Francisco and Sausalito

FOOD & REFRESHMENTS:
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.

SMOKING POLICY:
No smoking is allowed on Oceanic Society cruises.

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

WEATHER:
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. Bird activity at the islands is highest from May through early July, which is the breeding season, and general bird diversity is best from early August to late October, when many migratory seabirds are also present. For recorded recent whale & marine life sightings, call (415) 258-8220, or read our sightings reports below.

SPRING-SUMMER (MAY-AUG) SEABIRD SPECIES:

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.

FALL (SEP-NOV) SEABIRD SPECIES:

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.

Reviews

A Life Experience, a must do for real nature lovers! ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
TripAdvisor Member

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: October 1, 2016 Our Farallon Islands whale watching trip on Saturday, October 1 departed from Sausalito under calm conditions. Without the usual morning fog, visibility was excellent and we made our first sighting a few miles outside of San Francisco Bay. It was a single humpback whale that surfaced several times around the boat. The whale eventually moved on and spouted behind us,…Read More →Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: September 10, 2016 Within an hour of leaving San Francisco Bay we had our first sighting on a trip that witnessed over 100 humpback whales. At 8:48am we came across a pair of humpbacks surfacing and feeding together. 15 minutes after we first spotted them, these whales began surfacing separately, close to each other but at different intervals. We were able to tell the two apart only…Read More →Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: September 3, 2016As we boarded our whale watching vessel at San Francisco Harbor, Oceanic Society naturalist Chris Pincetich spotted a marine invertebrate called a sea hare clasped on a floating log just under the surface. After a brief description of this creature, our trip began in search of whales and the Farallon Islands. It soon became apparent that the weather conditions were below…Read More →Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: August 13, 2016Our Farallon Islands whale watching trip on Saturday, August 13 departed from San Francisco under medium fog with light winds and calm seas. These conditions allowed us to make good time to the Farallon Islands and on the way we spotted a humpback whale traveling alone. After observing this individual surfacing and spouting for around 15 minutes, it arched its broad back and dove…Read More →Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: August 6, 2016On our Farallon Islands whale watching trip on August 6, 2016, as we headed toward the islands we saw a number of splashes off the left front of the boat on the horizon. Upon closer examination we discovered it was a lone humpback slapping its pectoral fin on the water. This particularly gregarious humpback was only the beginning of what would turn into…Read More →

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