One of Fisherman’s Wharf’s most memorable experiences is a whale watching tour of the San Francisco Bay, and this time of year, you don’t have to travel far to see a dramatic spout or a powerful fluke (or tail fin) rising above the water.
Woman-owned business San Francisco Whale Tours is a popular choice for a lively, 2.5-hour cruise around the Golden Gate Bridge aboard a 65-foot catamaran named “Kitty Kat” owned and operated by Kat and Joe Nazar and their crew of seasoned naturalists.
SF Whale Tours
“When you see a spout, shout it out,” said Lead Naturalist Michael Pierson of San Francisco Whale Tours, who has spent a lifetime compiling information about all things nature.
Within minutes, a gray whale spout surfaces at 3 o’clock where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s all about the 4 Bs of whale watching folks,” said Pierson. “Blow, breach, back, and birds.”
The blow is informally referred to as “whale snot” since it includes the lubricants in a whale's lungs and nasal tracts, and scientists can learn a lot from the substances in whale blow. In fact, one researcher developed a special tool to do just that: a drone dubbed SnotBot.
The breach is when most or all the whale's body leaves the water. Gray and humpback whales breach for several reasons: to feed, play, and help rid themselves of annoying parasites that may cause itching to their sensitive skin.


Humpback Whale Breaches
The back is self-explanatory—it’s the most common portion of the whale that surfaces above the water—and the fourth B is for the birds that cluster above a patch of water, interested in the fishy meal being stirred up there. These are all good indicators of spotting a whale.
Several minutes later, out in the shipping lane four miles offshore, a school of playful harbor porpoises is seen under the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge. After another ten minutes, a gray whale arches its bumpy, speckled back heading North towards the Farallon Islands with its tail fluke waving goodbye.
Gray Whale Tail
According to San Francisco Whale Tours’ website, gray whales migrate north past the Golden Gate from mid-February to mid-May, while humpbacks spend time feeding off the coast, and in the bay, from late April to October.
San Francisco Whale Tours also offers an unrivaled view to observe the spectacular diversity and abundance of seabird colonies that inhabit the Bay.
From views of main San Francisco attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz to sightings of humpback and gray whales, this is a trip you will never forget. Even if you don’t happen to spot a whale, you’ll still be immersed in nature—not to mention some of the most spectacular coastlines in the world.
Each trip offers a unique experience—don’t miss the boat! The meeting location is at Pier 39, just off the Embarcadero. Arrive at the departure location 30 minutes before boarding time to make sure you can find the gate. You can bring your own food and drink on board, including wine and beer (no hard liquor). Pack some grub, grab your binoculars, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime on the adventurous Pacific Ocean.
If you go: Golden Gate Whale Watch is offered by San Francisco Whale Tours (; $120 for 2.5 hours). Schedules vary so be sure to check their website for the current calendar of tours available.