Great State Parks to Visit If You Want to See a Gray Whale

Have you spotted a whale yet this year? It’s not too late!

There’s a good chance you can see a whale in April. The entire population of Gray Whales migrates along the California coastline twice a year. At this time of  year, Gray Whales are leaving Baja (where they traveled for the winter to mate and give birth), and are traveling north along the coast, making their return journey home to the Arctic.

A typical schedule: 

The migration trip for the Gray Whale is thought to be the longest of any mammal. They cover 10,000 to 14,000 miles round trip, at an average speed of 10 km/h. Really puts your commute to shame, doesn’t it?

The northern migration often is the easier time to see them, because the whales swim close to shore, with their babies between them and the shore, probably to protect them from sharks. Additionally, they are moving slower against the current with their young calves in tow.

According to, your best bet for seeing a whale is to scan the ocean’s surface, looking for a spout (a spray of water). Grey whales normally swim in a cycle of 3 to 5 blows, 30 seconds apart, followed by a three- to six-minute dive, and they often show their tail flukes just before they dive. If they’re swimming just below the surface and you’re high enough to see the water’s surface, they may leave a “trail” of circular calm spots on the surface as they pass, making them easier to track.

Great Places to Watch for Whales

So where to go? There are a few great spots to watch for whales; the best being places where the coastline sticks out. Here are three of our favorite state parks with nice vantage points. Bring your binoculars!

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park 

Pigeon Point has a great vantage point to watch for whales, with the lighthouse perched on a jut of land that reaches farther into the sea.

On Thursdays through Mondays in April, volunteers will be available at Pigeon Point from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to help spot whales and to answer questions about their annual migration. While you are there, you can also learn about the other marine life that frequent the area, the history of the lighthouse and more. More Info >

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
There is a wonderful little trail that takes you out to a point that is great for whale watching. In addition you get the best view of McWay Falls from this trail. Whale watchers stand at coastal overlook points in December, January, March and April to watch gray whales migrate; a lucky few have seen gray whales come into the mouth of the cove. More Info > 


Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

They gray whale is the most often spotted whale at the Point, but you can spot other types of whales throughout the year here, as well. More Info >

Even if you don’t spot a whale at these spots, you may still see dolphins, harbor seals, and sea otters, which are always fun. And at the very least, you’ll spend a lovely spring day in a state park.

Good luck, whale spotters.

Help Us Restore a Coastal Beacon

DSC_0299Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of the oldest and most treasured landmarks on the California coast. Its first-order Fresnel lens, the most powerful lens of the day, was a marvel of high-tech design when it was first lit in 1872. For more than 140 years this strong, stunning beacon has guided passing ships and inspired millions of visitors from all over the world.

Unfortunately, after a lifetime of exposure to wind, rain, sun, fog, and salty sea mist, the 115-foot tower is literally crumbling. And recent structural failure compromises the tower’s integrity and makes complete rehabilitation critically necessary. Closed to the public since a portion of its iron belt course broke off in 2001, it may not stand for the years ahead without immediate action.

And the California State Park Foundation has stepped in to take that action. CSPF is spearheading a major fundraising campaign in partnership with California Department of Parks and Recreation to restore Pigeon Point Lighthouse to its original glory and give it a renewed future. And on March 21st, the Park Champions volunteer program will host a special volunteer workday at Pigeon Point. This workday will focus on habitat restoration projects to improve the plant and animal habitat surrounding the lighthouse, reinvigorating this stretch of the beautiful central San Mateo coast.


This volunteer workday will take place Saturday, March 21st from 9:00 am – 1:30 pm. A tour of the lighthouse grounds and description of the restoration project will be lead by our very own Programs Manager Cecille Caterson. Lunch will be provided, and teens 16 and up are welcome with a legal guardian. To sign up for this workday, visit the Park Champions volunteer calendar.

Once this important landmark has been restored and reopened to the public, it will provide rich educational opportunities to hundreds of thousands of tourists, school children, and hostel guests who visit each year. The lens will once again dazzle us with its 24 beams of light; we hope you’ll join us in making it happen.


A State Park Beacon

If you’ve ever laid eyes on Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, you know what an amazing state park this is. Thousands of others know it, too, as more than 100,000 people visit Pigeon Point each year.

But Pigeon Point has been in need of some TLC for quite some time. More than 100 years of severe coastal weather has taken a toll. In December 2001, a piece of Pigeon Point Lighthouse’s upper course iron belt broke, crashing 100 feet to the ground. For safety reasons, the Lighthouse Tower and Oil/Watch House are currently off-limits to visitors.

In an effort to turn things around for this beacon, CSPF has taken Pigeon Point on as a capital project, and is currently working to raise the significant public and private funding needed to complete the entire restoration. In an exciting first step, CSPF, in partnership with California State Parks, will begin the first phase of this historic project tomorrow! This will include removal and restoration of the Fresnel lens, interim stabilization of the upper tower and displaying the lens in the Fog Signal Building.

Workers are going to begin taking the First-order Fresnel Lens apart piece by piece. To remove it from the building, they will send pieces out the window on a zip line!

Project Day One Update from the Field

As we work to bring Pigeon Point back to all its splendor and glory, please consider donating so that the Pigeon Point Lighthouse can shine for another 100 years.