Bay Area Wildlife - Farallon Islands - Monarch Butterflies - Tule Elk in Point Reyes


Wild Things

Fall brings some of the year's best wildlife viewing to the Bay. Time to enjoy high-definition nature on the NorCal big screen.  

Farallon Islands Whale Watching Trip Oceanic Society

Farallon Frenzy

It's the Bay Area's Galapagos; a saltwater stew 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. And the Farallon Islands are just 27 miles from San Francisco. The ticket to this adventure is aboard the 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. At this time of year the waters are also home to dozens of great white sharks, which migrate every autumn to spawn and feed on those perfectly plump sea lions. This is also the best time to see whales; fall trips have a 95 percent 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 outfitter. Trips depart at 8:00 a.m. and return at about 4:00 p.m.; they go out on Saturdays and Sundays through November. The cost is $120 per person. Make a reservation online or call 800-326-7491 (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday). Bring plenty of snacks and water! And be sure to take an anti-nauseant if you're prone to seasickness.

Monarch Butterfly Natural Bridges Santa Cruz

Monarch Madness

October marks the return of the Monarch butterfly to the California coast, and one of the largest concentrations of these amber-colored beauties is at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz. They've journeyed 1,500 miles from the Rocky Mountains in search of mild temperatures, and from now through March you can see them resting on their leafy coastal thrones. Commonly spotted in eucalyptus trees, the butterflies flit and flutter among the branches in warmer weather (55 degrees or higher); when the temperatures dip, they move into huddles so thick the trees look more like shingled roofs. At Natural Bridges, visitors walk a few minutes down the Monarch Boardwalk into the forest to the grand "Monarch Resting Area," on a wooden platform. It's a winged wonderland.

TIP: The butterfly season officially kicks off Oct. 12 with "Welcome Back Monarchs Day." The family-friendly celebration includes parades, live music, and of course a costume contest. (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)

There is an $8 entrance fee. Docents with Natural Bridges State Beach lead 1-hour tours of the Monarchs on the weekends at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. through February. Dogs are allowed in the park, but not on the trails or on the beach.

Tule Elk Point Reyes

Exclamation Point

In 1978 there were only 10 Tule Elk in Point Reyes. Thanks to rigorous conservation and reintroduction efforts, more than 400 of the animals now prosper there. The best place to see these impressive beasts is Tomales Point, which juts out into the Pacific like a long finger. Hiking Tomales Point Trail—one of our favorite hikes in all of Northern California—takes you directly through a Tule Elk Reserve. The wide, easy 4.7-mile (one way) walk traces the park's burly, Pacific-plunging bluffs. Feel the ocean breeze slide across treeless headlands as you devour the uninterrupted Pacific views to the west and beautiful Tomales Bay to the east. Hikers can turn around anytime, but we recommend going all the way to picnic at the trail's end lookout point. Spot sea lions surfing the waves, sailboats bobbing in distant Bodega Bay, and (if you're lucky) whales diving and flicking their tails. Bring binoculars and snacks. And remember: Respect your elk.

Afterward, relax at nearby McClure Beach. It's just a half-mile hike from the designated parking lot, bonfires are permitted (with a fire permit), and crowds are slim.

The trailhead is at the northern end of Point Reyes at Pierce Point Ranch. Note: For the hike's last three-quarters of a mile, sand and overgrowth obscure the trail, but just keep walking and you'll reach the rocky tip in no time. The parking lot for McClure Beach is a few hundred feet past the Tomales Point trailhead on Pierce Point Rd. No dogs on the trail.

Winter Warm-up

Ever thought, "I wish I would: run a marathon/bike 100-miles/compete in a triathlon."? What are you waiting for? Team in Training (TNT) is looking for you. As the world's largest endurance sports training program, with more than 20 years of experience, TNT coaches everyone from beginners to seasoned athletes to participate in some of the best athletic events around the world, with a huge bonus: your efforts will help the fight against cancer. Get ready to accomplish big things! Ride your bike 104-miles through Southern California's wine country, run a half-marathon through some of San Francisco's most gorgeous locations, test your mettle in a full marathon that begins at Rome's 2,000 year old Coliseum, cross-country ski across Anchorage, Alaska, or run across a lava field in Hawaii as you complete a thrilling triathlon. Oh yeah, and have some good times with new friends and teammates. Lace up—it's time to train. And make a difference in the fight against cancer.

WARNING: Completing any one of these events can become highly addictive. Learn more by attending one of the Team In Training information meetings listed below.

Saturday, October 4, 9:30 a.m.: Fremont Marriott, Fremont
Monday, October 6, 6:30 p.m.: Oak Hill Park, Danville
Tuesday, October 7, 6:30 p.m.: Potrero Hill Sports Basement, San Francisco
Thursday, October 9, 6:30 p.m.: Walnut Creek Sports Basement, Walnut Creek
Saturday, October 11, 10:00 a.m.: Pleasanton Middle School, Pleasanton

For additional meetings near you, visit

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