While Santa Cruz gets thumbs-up for its hang-loose surf scene, oceanfront amusement park, flawless beach, and classic wooden pier, there’s another giant treasure lurking just beneath the surface. Migratory whales, including grays, blues, and humpbacks, can all be spied off the coast here at different times of year, and dolphins, sea otters, and seals are observed year round. See for yourself on exciting whale-watching cruises, chartered sailing excursions, or—for staggeringly intimate encounters—on guided kayak paddles when waters are calm.
What makes Santa Cruz such a prime spot for whale watching? According to Gary Griggs, director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at U.C. Santa Cruz, the town’s location on the northern end of Monterey Bay puts it on the edge of some of whales’ favorite undersea dining rooms. “The whales are here feeding on sardines, anchovies, and plankton, which have been attracted by blooms of microscopic plants such as diatoms,” explains Dr. Griggs. What’s more, Monterey Bay’s unique geology produces an area of relatively calm bay waters, where, according to Dr. Griggs, “plankton, small fish, seabirds, whales, and dolphins congregate to share in the food.” It makes for a fascinating, lively mix, and a great opportunity to learn more about California’s fascinating and delicate ocean ecosystems.