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.