Here in LA, it seems like everybody has someplace to go. And from all that honking, you’d think it’s pretty important. Well, one group that has someplace truly important to be is the hundreds of gray whales on their way to Mexico every winter, who pass right by Point Vicente. This year, there are record numbers: it’s turning into a whale of a traffic jam. Which is all to the benefit of those of us who want to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures. But perhaps you’re a landlubber. No sea legs for you. You’re the type that glamps, not camps, and your idea of a nautical adventure is Ralph Lauren boat shoes. Well, we’ve got a day trip that combines relaxation, indulgence, and catching sight of enough whales to satisfy Ahab.
Start With Mimosas and Sea Mammals
If hotels were sea creatures, Terranea would Moby Dick. It’s the big one. The one that stands out from the crowd. Years ago, the area was home to the largest oceanarium in the world, but now it’s the lap of luxury: resort, spa, swimming pools, a private cove and seaside walking trails. It’s also a front-row seat to the migration show. Spend the day in the lap of luxury, lapping up food and drinks while you peruse the pacific for the great grays. Here’s how we play it: park in the lot (for a fee) and explore the walking trails. Keep your eye on the water – whales swim right past the point on their way south. Then take turns sneaking in a spa or round of golf, while the other parent clambers down to the cove with the kids. (Spa-only day passes are $60 Monday-Thursday, and if the whole family opts for golf, there are stunning ocean views from the course, so you won’t miss a whale.) Don’t feel guilty – your little ones will be so busy skipping stones and spotting sea creatures they won’t even miss you. Then everyone reconnoiters for brunch at mar’sel, where again, you won’t miss a minute of migration as you relax and eat.
To truly indulge, rent a room and watch migrating whales from your balcony. Hit the family pool, which includes a splash pad and waterslide. At night, make s’mores by the fire pit, then listen to live music in the lobby.
Moving Right Along
If your budget or timeline doesn’t allow for an overnight, skip the room reservation, grab your binoculars and follow the trails over to Point Vicente Lighthouse. Right next door, you’ll find the Point Vicente Interpretive Center – one of the best shoreline spots to look for whale watching. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s where the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society conducts its annual whale migration census. Every day from December to May, trained volunteers record the number, species and behavior of migrating whales.
So far this year, volunteers have spotted more than 1,000 whales, including gray, fin, humpback, minke and orca – among the highest in 31 seasons. Volunteers (friendly folk who are happy to answer questions) have reported breeching, spyhopping, whales playing with their babies and even mating. The center also includes a small museum (admission is free but donations are welcome) showcasing the history of the peninsula. There are also picnic tables, walking trails and spectacular views of Catalina Island and the lighthouse. If you didn’t brunch earlier, this is your spot to picnic.
Pack in your seabag: Binoculars, sunscreen, a chair and a good camera. Wear layers and be patient.
Thar she blows: You’re looking for a puff of smoke over the water. Except that’s not smoke, it’s warm air coming from the whale’s blowhole as it exhales after a long dive. Keep watching for the fluke, or tail fin. Seeing a fluke means the whale is preparing to go deep.
Mark Your Calendar
A good day for whale watching is whenever the sky is clear and the sun is shining. But a great day for whale watching will be Saturday, April 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the center celebrates “Whale of a Day” with surf music, bouncy houses, children’s games, food, crafts, animal demos and tours of the lighthouse. Admission is free. Parking is limited, but free shuttle service is available from the Rancho Palos Verdes City Hall.
Where is your favorite place to watch whales? Are you a land lubber, or does your family have sea legs?
Images courtesy of Wendy Fontaine, Rancho Palos Verdes Parks & Recreation Department, and Alisa Schulman-Janiger