Every March, gray whales make their 12,000-mile migration from their birthing grounds in Baja California to their feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska. And while the whale pods journey up the Mendocino Coast, locals and tourists alike flock to the region to observe these gentle giants, often with calves, as they make their journey.
This also means the return of Whale Festival, a two-week-long coastal community-wide series of events that celebrate, educate and showcase the gray whale. Whale Festival offers a wide variety of activities, many free, every weekend starting Friday, Mar. 10, through Saturday, Mar. 25.
Here’s a list of highlight events for the festival. Additional events can be found through the links here.
Friday, March 10
Van Damme Beach Campfire Program – Gather at sunset at the Van Damme State Beach fire ring for whale trivia, campfire songs, stories, s’mores, hot chocolate and gray whale facts. $5 suggested donation, 6 p.m., Van Damme State Beach, Little River, mendoparks.org.
Saturday, March 11
Spring Ranch Whale Walk – Join a California State Park interpreter to spot gray whales, learn why whales migrate, and why we celebrate Whale Festival. Binoculars will be provided. The guided tour meets in the Hwy 1 pullout north of the Spring Ranch barns, across the highway from Gordon Lane in Little River. Free, 11 a.m., mendoparks.org.
Whale of a Treasure Hunt – Bring the kids, ages 5-12, to participate in a treasure hunt for sharks and whales. Hot dogs, snacks and beverages will be available for purchase. Free, 12-2 p.m., Community Center of Mendocino, 998 School St., Mendocino.
Sunday, March 12
Guided Whale Walks – Docents from the Noyo Center for Marine Science guide whale watchers on a walk to spot and learn about gray whales. The walk ends at the Crow’s Nest Interpretive Center, which features spotting scopes for whale-watching, exhibits, and a tidepool aquarium. Dress for the weather and bring binoculars. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in March. Free, 10 a.m.-12 p.m., Noyo Headlands South parking lot, Fort Bragg, noyocenter.org.
Battle of the Bloody Marys – Bloody Mary fans will not want to miss the Battle of the Bloody Marys at the Little River Inn. The event pits amateur and professional mixologists against each other with the hopes of their cocktail winning Best Bloody Mary in Mendocino County. Attendees taste their way through each cocktail and vote for their favorite. Proceeds from the event benefit MendoParks. 21 and over, $75, 1-5 p.m., Little River Inn, 7901 Highway 1, Little River, learn more and buy tickets here.
Thursday, March 16
Trip to Sea on the Telstar – Join Noyo Center for Marine Science naturalists and Telstar captain Sean Thornton on an excursion from Noyo Harbor to the Pacific Ocean to learn about gray whales and other marine life off the coast. Bring your own binoculars. Registration required, $50, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., learn more and register here.
Saturday, March 18
The Art of Discovering Whales Book Signing – Local author and whale artist Larry Foster is the only scientific artist to commit his entire fifty-plus-year career to producing anatomically correct portrayals of whales, dolphins and porpoises. His works have been published in National Geographic, Smithsonian and BBC Wildlife magazines. At this special event, Foster will showcase his work and sign copies of his books, including the bestselling Sierra Club Handbook of Whales and Dolphins. Books will be available for purchase. 12-2 p.m., Noyo Center for Marine Science Discovery Center, 338 N. Main St., Fort Bragg, noyocenter.org.
Fort Bragg Beer Festival – After a three-year hiatus, Rotary Club of Fort Bragg is back with its popular beer festival. Over 12 breweries, including many local and regional independent breweries, will serve up their brews paired to thirsty patrons, with proceeds benefiting local nonprofits. Mendocino Coast Humane Society and the Rotary Club will serve barbecue. Pook and the Nasty’s and Hellbilly Brewgrass will provide the soundtrack. There will also be a raffle, merchandise for purchase, and free sober rides will be provided in the city limits. 21 and over, 12-4 p.m., $40, Historic Eagles Hall, 210 N. Corry St., Fort Bragg, fortbraggrotary.com.
Downtown Wine Walk – Over a dozen merchants will serve Mendocino County wines and hors d’oeuvres while wine lovers stroll through historic downtown Fort Bragg. The Caspar King Band will perform. 21 and over, $50 pre-sale/$55 day of the event, 12-4 p.m., learn more and buy tickets here.
Whale Tales & Wine – Join the Noyo Center for Marine Sciences for a reception and presentation highlighting the events that happened when a rare sperm whale washed ashore on the Mendocino Coast in the summer of 2022. Noyo Center Science Advisor Jeff Jacobsen and Sarah Grimes, Noyo Center’s Stranding Coordinator, discuss the whale stranding and our continued research of the specimen which now rests on the sea floor just off our coast. They will also share video footage collected using our underwater ROV from Blue Robotics. Free with wine, beer, coffee and food available for purchase, 5-7 p.m., Slack Tide Cafe, 32430 N. Harbor Dr., Fort Bragg, noyocenter.org.
Sunday, March 19
Whale Festival Craft Fair – The Soroptimists host an indoor craft fair featuring local artisans and craftspeople from throughout the area. A perfect place to pick up a one-of-a-kind gift from Fort Bragg. Mar. 18 and 19, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Town Hall, Laurel and Main St., Fort Bragg, si-noyosunrise.org.
The Ocean Commotion Show with Christopher’s Musical Marionettes – Renowned puppeteer Christopher Oates gets behind the strings to bring his “Ocean Commotion Show” to Noyo Harbor. Beverages and food available for purchase. $5, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Slack Tide Cafe, 32430 N. Harbor Dr., Fort Bragg, noyocenter.org.
Humpback Acoustics – Whale acoustics expert Jeff Jacobsen shares recent recordings of humpback song from a recent excursion off the Mendocino Coast. Experience these magic sounds and learn more about the recordings and what they mean. Free, 1-3 p.m., Noyo Center for Marine Science Discovery Center, 338 N. Main St., Fort Bragg, noyocenter.org.
Saturday, March 25
39th Annual Westport Whale Festival – The eclectic community of Westport hosts a day of live music, skits, dancing, educational talks by local marine experts, whale exhibits, a makers market, kid’s activities, and a tour of the home of the famous Westport Whale. Food and drink offerings include clam chowder, vegetarian chili and cornbread, baked goods, beer and wine. Free, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 37060 Hwy 1, Westport, mendocinocoast.com.
MacKerricher Whale Walks – Join a California State Park interpreter to spot gray whales, learn why whales migrate, and why we celebrate Whale Festival. Binoculars will be provided. The guided tour begins and ends at the Laguna Point parking lot in MacKerricher State Park, free, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., mendoparks.org.
Sarah Stierch covers wildfires, breaking news, and more for The Mendocino Voice. You can follow Stierch on Twitter and learn more about her work and donate to her directly at here. Contact Stierch at [email protected]. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.