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Whale watching in sunny Northern California, 2014

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From January through April, Pacific lighthouses like Point Arena, Point Reyes, and others provide an ideal destination for savvy San Francisco travelers to enjoy Pacific whale watching, and romantic getaways. Whale watching is at its peak in February, and in March, you'll find a dazzling palette of coastal wildflowers as well.

Winter is a sunny time of year in the Mendocino coast region as storms move through quickly. 2014 promises to be continuously sunny for the forseeable future as it is shaping up into a severe drought year for the West Coast. The area is about 3 hours north of San Francisco by car.

Each winter, herds of California Gray Whales pass the Point Arena Lighthouse as they migrate to the warm lagoons of Mexico. Spyhopping and breaching activities are some of the whales' more aerodynamic activities that can easily be seen from vantage points along the California coastline.

Point Arena Lighthouse, on a point of land that juts out two miles into the Pacific, is an excellent place to view these magnificent mammals. The whales are commonly observed just off the headlands. Hike up to the Point Arena Lighthouse for a historic tour, and enjoy the spectacular vista of the surrounding area.

In Point Arena, a cozy coastal village, New Age lost-in-time shops are interspersed with local family grocers on the tiny main street. Surfers and deep-sea divers share the ocean's gifts, with fishermen unloading their daily catch of sea urchins, abalone and salmon.

Point Arena lies a short drive south of the famed village of Mendocino along Highway 1 in Mendocino County, known as "America's greenest wine region" for the eco-friendly methods area vintners use to create their celebrated pinot noirs and gewürztraminers. The Anderson Valley is home to numerous vineyards easily accessible via car and featuring year-round tastings and tours. It's also home to California's burgeoning lavender industry, and lavender farms and products are abundant.

After a winery tour, stop by Van Damme State Park or extend your stay at one of the quaint Mendocino inns. Downtown Mendocino is packed with antiques, arts and crafts, plus some fun bookstores and toy shops. See the "Murder She Wrote" Mendecino Inn, just above downtown and overlooking the village.

Nearby, the Elk Cove Inn won travelers votes for "Best Sunset Views" by 8,500 inn travelers in 2010-11. Another upscale favorite, the Heritage House, is just south of town. Enjoy the upscale, exclusive ambiance, a favorite with Marin and San Francisco professionals.

Where to stay in Point Arena: Perched on a stone bluff overlooking a peaceful cove on the Pacific ocean, the Wharf Master's Inn surrounds a beautifully restored Victorian-style home originally built in 1865 and listed today on the National Register of Historic Places. The home serves as the anchor for visitors to this bed and breakfast resort.

Further south, Point Reyes in Marin is a quick visit from the Bay Area. Likewise, the Pigeon Point lighthouse near Ano Nuevo State Reserve, Gray Whale Cove, and Half Moon Bay on Highway 1 south of San Francisco offers another perfect vantage point.

South on Highway 1 past Monterey, Point Lobos is another natural wonder with hiking trails that allow viewing of harbor seals frolicking in the surf nearby, and unparalleled views of the ocean. Take the Cypress Trail for the best views.

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