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Wandering Wildlife


Monarchs aren’t the only creatures to flock to Northern California in winter. Check out these hot spots to watch other beasts on the move.

Gray Whales: December–May

Thar she blows! Eschrichtius robustus graces our coast on its 10,000-mile round trip from Alaska and the Bering Sea to Baja California. Choice viewing spots include Salt Point, on Highway 1, 15 miles north of Jenner, as well as Bodega Head, 30 miles to the south, and Point Reyes.

To mingle among the whales, take a cruise with the Oceanic Society. Cruises depart from San Francisco; adult tickets $63, (415) 474-3385, www.oceanicsociety.org.

Boat trips with the Monterey Bay Whale Watch get you cozy with gray whales, killer whales, and dolphins; from $28. (831) 375-4658, www.gowhales.com.

Elephant Seals: December–March

A cacophonous delight, the bellowing elephant seal couples at Año Nuevo State Reserve have been described as "pairs of king-size traveling waterbeds"—but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And to the females, size does matter; the male’s floppy proboscis—which can be two feet long—advertises his virility. Año Nuevo State Reserve, on Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, is the only place you can watch the randy pinnipeds and their amorous antics. (800) 444-4445.

Sandhill Cranes: November–February

How’d you like to take a winter vacation with 42,000 of your closest pals? That’s what sandhill cranes from as far away as Alaska do in California’s Central Valley. Catch a glimpse of them feeding in the wetlands this winter.

The California Department of Fish and Game leads tours at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve near Lodi, (916) 358-2869; The Nature Conservancy’s Staten Island and Cosumnes River Preserve Visitor Center, off Interstate 5 between Stockton and Sacramento, is open on weekends, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., (916) 684-2816, www.cosumnes.org.

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