It’s the Bay Area’s Galapagos: saltwater brimming with some of the most abundant sea-life and birdlife in North America: dolphins, elephant seals, whales, and great white sharks, as well as cormorants, murres, and albatross. 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. Risso’s dolphins and Dall’s porpoises are likely to escort you out to the world-class wildlife refuge. The waters are also home to dozens of great white sharks, which migrate every autumn to spawn and feed. This is also the best time to see whales; fall trips offer an excellent chance of seeing humpbacks and blues. Be sure to have your camera ready; watching those enormous butterfly-shaped flukes float into the sky and slip back into the sea will send a shiver up any shutterbug’s spine. Flukes at 2 o’clock!
The Oceanic Society is your seaworthy nonprofit outfitter. Trips depart at 8:00 a.m. from San Francisco and return at about 4:00 p.m.; they go out on Saturdays and Sundays through November. The cost is $125 per person. Make a reservation online or call (800) 326-7491 (Monday to Friday). Bring plenty of snacks and water!