Within your own backyard lies adventure that will transport you to a place that feels miles from home. So leave your passport behind and start exploring The Nearest Faraway Place.
Way deep down, everyone has Jacques Cousteau—or Steve Zissou—fantasies.
Leaving the day-to-day bustle far ashore and exploring the oceans with the company of breathtaking beasts like whales and sharks, nary a care in the world save making eye contact with a breaching humpback.
Of course, for the vast majority of us, this is a fantasy is just a passing whimsy, but if you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, you have the opportunity to take to the seas and live that life, even if for a just a few hours.
Located roughly thirty miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, the Farallon Islands are a federally designated National Wildlife Refuge, a series of rocks jutting up from the ocean populated by masses of migrating shorebirds, seals whales, and sharks.
Once known by Native Americans as “the Islands of the Dead,” it’s an apt term if you’re discussing fur seals, who are regularly the victims to the masses of great white sharks that patrol the waters. They’re also home to a staggering number of rodents, to the point where conservationists were contemplating poisoning them en mass. But don’t worry—you won’t have to deal with them. Setting foot on the islands is off limits to the public, and they’re uninhabited except for a small research station. You view the islands by ships—cruises leave regularly from San Francisco.
If you’re picturing a lux ocean liner, don’t. The Farallon Islands are a more rugged breed. Many of them are bring your own food and drink (non-alcoholic), their only onboard amenities a knowledgeable tour guide and the opportunity to learn just what the term “sea legs” mean as you bob and weave over swells, sea spray splashing your face and leaving behind the residual salty taste of adventure.
Whales of all shapes and sizes are common encounters, from grays to humpbacks to the magnificent sentient cetacean that is the blue. The likelihood of finding a particular species varies depending on seasons and migration patterns, but the certainty of seeing something worth the cost of admission—around $125—is all but guaranteed.
For the adrenalin-addicted among us, there is also the option of taking a shark diving trip, where you can descend into the depths to come face to face with a toothy Jaws character, and maybe even catch a Godzilla sighting—the Farallons served as a nuclear waste dump for much of the 50s and 60s.
Okay, we’re kidding. Godzilla (probably) isn’t real.
But the sharks and whales and waterborne rodeo ride certainly are, and if you find yourself wandering the City by the Bay and want to indulge the nagging part of your brain that needs to be fed inspiration and adventure, there’s no better choice. Just don’t forget your camera and red Team Zissou beanie.
Photo Provided by Creative Commons