Quite frankly, I don't know how the gray whales do it. I bitch and sulk if I have to walk more than a few blocks to get a food fix, while each year the aquatic mammals make a 12,000-mile round-trip migration that marks a path from their frigid Arctic feeding grounds to the warm Baja California waters where they breed.
That lengthy journey's rough on the gray whales, but good news for you: Our Pacific coastline is a prime whale-watching locale. Tourists and residents gather by the thousands during the migratory period from December through April, peering through binoculars and hoping for a glimpse of a broad lead-colored back or a misty spout. But the best chance of seeing a wandering whale isn't on land. Nope, if you want to lay eyes on the blowholed behemoths you'll need to go where they are -- out in the ocean.
Whale-watching boat trips are available from a score of vendors, but the nonprofit Oceanic Society Expeditions' irresistible combination of (relative) affordability and expertise earns our nod. Join an experienced naturalist for a 6-1/2-hour trip each weekend (and some weekdays) through mid-May. Boats launch at 9:30 a.m. from the San Francisco Yacht Harbor/Marina Green, Marina & Scott, S.F. Admission is $60-63; call 474-3385 or visit www.oceanic-society.org. -- Joyce Slaton
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can, as Margaret Mead famously observed, change the world. ("Indeed," she concluded, "it is the only thing that ever has.") Imagine what such a team could do for the health of San Francisco Bay. Save the Bay is one such coalition, and at the moment, it's looking for people with paddling experience to lead trips out onto the water as part of its Discover the Bay program. Canoe and Kayak Volunteer Training teaches you how to guide outings designed to show the public the "hidden gems of the Bay region and watershed," according to the group's Web site. Wet-suit up starting at 10 a.m. at Arrowhead Marsh, I-880 & Hegenberger, Oakland. Participation is free; call (510) 452-9261 or visit www.savesfbay.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser