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Whale Trails and More along CA Highway 1 Discovery Route

-Photo courtesy


Story by Greg Aragon

The CA Highway 1 Discovery Route (H1DR) recently announced six new Whale Trail sites to help visitors capture memorable view of the giant mammals as they migrate down the Pacific Ocean, along the California shoreline. The H1DR is comprised of 10 coastal towns along Highway 1, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The towns are highlighted by natural beauty, with wine regions, amazing outdoor adventures, and a variety of charming ocean-front lodging options.  

The Whale Trail is series of sites where the public can view marine mammals from shore. Today, there are more than 90 Whale Trail locations along the west coast. The six new spots along the H1DR are located at Avila Beach Pier, Cambria, Cayucos, San Simeon, Oceano Nipomo and at Montaña de Oro State Park in Baywood-Los Osos.

“The mission of The Whale Trail is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of whales and our marine environment by establishing an ever-growing network of viewing sites, increasing awareness that our marine waters are home to whales, dolphins and other species,” says Donna Sandstrom, Founder of The Whale Trail. “Our goals are to connect coastal visitors to marine mammals and their habitat. At Whale Trail sites along the west coast, people might even be watching the same whales at different points on their migrations.”

The marine mammals you will see around The Whale Trail along the Highway 1 Discovery Route depends on what time of year it is, and how likely it is for that animal to be in coastal waters. Gray whales travel along the central California coast during their annual migration between their feeding grounds in Alaska and calving grounds in Baja California. The best months to see them are December and January on their southbound migration, and March through April when they are headed north. 

Mothers and new calves stay closer to the coast on their northbound journey and may be easier to see from shore. Gray whales are identified by the coloration and patterns on their tail flukes. The gray whale population is estimated to be between 22,000 and 26,000 animals.

Humpback Whales are commonly seen from spring through fall, humpbacks feast on schools of anchovies, sardines or krill. They often leap clear of the water, landing with a thunderous splash called a breach. Humpbacks have the longest pectoral fins of any cetacean, and are known for their long songs which change from season to season. Humpback whale populations are surging in the Pacific, and the animals are increasingly seen close to shore.

Blue whales can move along the entire California coastline during summer and fall as they search for great swarms of krill. At an average of 80 feet long, these baleen whales are the largest animals that have ever lived, with hearts the size of small cars.

If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of an orca, or killer whale, the top predator in the sea and the largest member of the dolphin family. Three kinds of orcas live along the Pacific Coast: residents, transients and offshores. The types are distinguished by their diet, range, and family structure. Transient orcas hunt marine mammals, and roam the central coast in search of prey such as gray whales, porpoises or seals. The resident orcas of the Pacific Northwest eat fish, and travel in large matriarchal pods, sometimes as far south as Monterey. Offshore orcas are rarely seen near shore though a large group was observed near San Diego in late 2016.

Other marine animals to see include the year-round bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, curious harbor seals, elephant seals, and sea otters.

The California Highway 1 Discovery Route is located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, approximately a 3-4 hour drive from each, in coastal San Luis Obispo County. With 10 uncrowded beaches, 12 state parks, the Hearst Castle, three bountiful wine regions, restaurants featuring farm-to-table cuisine, unique wildlife habitats and more, the 101-mile stretch offers the best of Highway 1. For more information on the California Highway 1 Discovery Route, visit

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