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Farallon Islands

Farallon Islands

Visit a wild archipelago, with whales, seabirds, and great white sharks

Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a massive sanctuary that protects 3,295 square miles off the northern and central California coast. It’s a veritable oceanic Eden, where seemingly inhospitable rocky outcroppings and the sea around them teem with marine life. Gray, humpback, and blue whales, as well as orcas, all visit in different seasons, while pods of porpoises, dolphins, sea lions, and seals hang around throughout the year.

More life lives on or around the dramatic Farallon Islands, almost barren lumps that rise out of the sea some 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sea lions and seals are found here, and the skies fill with countless seabirds. The refuge protects the largest seabird rookery in the contiguous U.S., with nesting species including tufted puffins, rhinoceros auklets, and pigeon guillemots.

This water world of nature is remote, but not inaccessible. From May through November, full-day guided cruises offered by the Oceanic Society let you ride out to the Farallon Islands, with experienced naturalists adding color commentary and helping you spot animals. Scheduled trips depart from the San Francisco’s waterfront, and further north, in the Marin County town of Sausalito.

With all that life under the waves, it’s not surprising that the ocean here is also home to great white sharks. Looking for the memory of a lifetime? Great White Adventures offers day trips from late September through November, and you don’t need to be a certified diver to stand in the safety of a specially designed underwater shark cages and possibly see white sharks in their undersea realm. Elegant, indifferent, and wine-cask thick as they glide by, these unparalleled hunters might give you the willies, but you can’t deny their incredible grace and physical power.

If you can’t make the trek to the Farallon Islands, check the schedule for events at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Special talks and exhibits often focus on the unique creatures along the West Coast.

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