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Along California’s North Coast, Mendocino County is a hot spot for whale watching any time of year—but your chances go up between March through May, when gray whales tend to head toward Alaska. The Mendocino Coast Whale Festivals are timed to coincide with that annual migration, but also offer more to do than just gaze out across the ocean, waiting to see a spout or a fluke. Up to four annual March celebrations—which take place on consecutive weekends in Mendocino, Little River, Fort Bragg,  and Westport—combine whale watching with sipping wine, tasting chowder, and exploring these charming towns in Northern California.

The first on the calendar is typically the Mendocino Whale Festival, in the village of Mendocino. Mendocino Headlands State Park provides the perfect spot for spotting whales, while the village’s participating shops and galleries will keep your Mendo Whale wine glass topped off while you browse boutiques and explore historic spots such as Ford House Museum. There is also typically a chowder tasting and competition, featuring local beers like North Coast Brewing Company.

The next weekend, the neighboring town of Little River pulls out all the stops for its Little River Whale Festival. Take a free docent tour from the Van Damme Visitor Center to see Van Damme State Park, or play at the state park on your own, hiking its Fern Canyon Trail or exploring its pygmy forest. Other festival activities may include art exhibits, a docent-led whale watching walk, a guided kayak sea cave tour, and a bloody mary and bacon competitions.

On the third weekend, the Fort Bragg Whale Festival welcomes visitors to whale watch from the many dramatic vantage points along the Coastal Trail. Then, check out the local chefs competing in the spirited chowder contest, usually held in Fort Bragg’s Masonic Hall; no matter which local chowder wins, they all pair well with the local wine or beer.

The tiny town of Westport hosts the fourth weekend, typically with live music, a craft fair, and tours of the Westport Whale—a hollow, 32-foot concrete whale created by a local outsider artist.

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