Plan an Ocean-Friendly Staycation

Ocean Beach, image courtesy of Max Braun released under Creative Commons

Ocean Beach, photographed by Max Braun

Summer is here, along with summer vacations. In the spirit of World Oceans Day last week, I decided to research vacation ideas that offer a chance to actually help out the ocean. There are plenty of eco-friendly hotels and resorts out there, and more power to them. But my goal was to seek out more personal ocean interactions that support conservation efforts either directly or at least financially. String a few of these Bay Area activities together, and you've got yourself an ocean-friendly staycation.

Take an hour-long docent-led tour at the Marine Mammal Center. You'll learn about the dangers local marine mammals face, and how the MMC works to rehabilitate injured and sick animals.

Visit a local beach with your smartphone and document sightings of wildlife and pollution for Project Noah's California Coastal Wildlife Watch project using their free app.

Go whale watching with a non-profit organization that supports conservation efforts like the Oceanic Society, which runs trips year-round. I took a trip with these guys a couple of years ago to the Farallon Islands, and it was unforgettable. Whales and white sharks proved elusive, but we saw enormous jellies, a school of rare dolphins, and hundreds of birds. In cooperation with Cascadia Research, the Oceanic Society sponsors long-term humpack whale research in the Gulf of the Farallones.


Spend a morning cleaning up a local beach. Check Surfrider Foundation's calendar of beach cleanup dates this summer, typically organized on weekends. BYO gloves, trash grabbers, and buckets if you've got them.

Visit an aquarium and learn about marine species from around the world. Live animals are captivating, and your tickets help support important conservation and research work. The aquarium exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences cover a very wide geographical spectrum (from the Philippines to the Amazon and California Coast). The Monterey Bay Aquarium and Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 are great places to dive deeper into local Northern California ecosystems.

Participate in one of the Marine Science Institute's weekend programs, which include tidal explorations, canoe paddles, and a shark day this summer.

Dine at sustainable seafood restaurants in San Francisco like Credo, Greenburger's, Fog Harbor Fish House. Here's a more complete list which covers restaurants throughout the Bay Area certified by the San Francisco Seafood Watch Alliance.

Further afield
See the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal at Año Nuevo, just an hour south of San Francisco on Highway 1. Make sure to check online for seasonal access guidelines at Año Nuevo, and between mid-December and March, to reserve your guided seal walk.

Head to southern California for a volunteer vacation on Catalina Island. You'll gain access to parts of the Island that are rarely seen by most visitors and contribute directly to efforts to protect and restore Catalina's ecology. Options range from a-la-carte opportunities to assist at the native plant nursery or clean up local beaches, to packages which include accommodation, some meals and transportation. Learn more about volunteering with the Catalina Island Conservancy here.

Coming soon: a companion post about ocean-friendly international trips where you can contribute to conservation efforts with your own two hands.