In winter, Southern California is inundated with visitors from the north looking for warm waters and a little sunshine. No, we're not talking about the annual migration of snowbirds hauling gleaming Airstream trailers but rather the equally ponderous--if slightly more beloved--gray whales. Some 26,000 of the leviathans that departed the chilly Arctic waters last fall will pass by the California coastline in great numbers this month.
Dana Point Harbor welcomes the barnacled cetaceans with an annual celebration, but you need not wait for the Dana Point Festival of Whales to enjoy a nautically based excursion. Whale-watching trips are available daily now through mid-April. Donna Kalez of Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching says the 50-foot-long beasts are so common around Dana Point that the company guarantees sightings or lets you ride again free.
Landlubbers can stroll along the walkway that runs from Dana Wharf to the Ocean Institute, with exhibits on whales and other marine creatures. Docked near the institute is the brig Pilgrim, a replica of the 1825 ship that carried Richard Henry Dana to these shores. You can visit the brig on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.