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Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries

Where world-class wildlife watching awaits you.

Historic Point Arena Lighthouse

A Point to Remember

Visitors look out at California's historic Point Arena Lighthouse, which sits near the new northern boundary of the expanded Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

In March 2015, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries announced that Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) on the central California coast would double to more than twice their original size.

The expanded sanctuary boundaries comprise one of the most productive upwelling zones in North America, where cold water rises from the depths, bringing nutrients and microscopic sea life to the surface. The process supports a wide array of wildlife, including 25 endangered or threatened species, 36 marine mammal species, more than one-quarter million seabirds, endangered blue and humpback whales, and a significant population of white sharks.

In addition to protecting important Pacific wildlife and marine ecosystems, the two sanctuaries support people’s connections to the sea, including commercial and recreational fisheries, recreational and cultural activities, seafaring traditions, and maritime heritage resources like historic shipwrecks and lighthouses.

Visiting Your Sanctuaries:

Greater Farallones

Planning a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area this summer? You can:

  • Take a day trip to the visitor center, located in a historic U.S. Coast Guard station at the mouth of San Francisco Bay. After learning about the sanctuary’s wildlife and conservation work, a sandy beach with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge awaits you.
  • View the sanctuary’s marine life in a three-story tank, part of a permanent exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Check out sanctuary sharks and other species at the Aquarium of the Bay, located at historic Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Hike along the area’s picturesque Pacific beaches and explore rocky shores for intertidal creatures, or venture offshore in search of whales and seabirds. The sheltered waters of Tomales Bay or Bolinas Lagoon beckon you for paddling and world-class birding. These are among the activities offered in the sanctuary’s monthly excursions.

The sanctuary also offers many opportunities for fishing and other recreational pursuits, and a wealth of teacher trainings, public workshops, and school programs.

Cordell Bank

Cordell Bank NMS is located entirely offshore, its southern boundary 42 miles north of San Francisco and its eastern boundary six miles from shore.

The sanctuary’s permanent exhibit, located at the Oakland Museum of California, gives visitors a rich perspective on Cordell Bank's wildlife, ecosystems, and conservation efforts.

Cordell Bank is a birders’ paradise and a unique wildlife watching destination year-round, although late summer and early fall tend to be the best times of year for excursions due to typically better sea conditions. Private vessels will enjoy the opportunity to view seabirds from around the Pacific that are drawn by the area’s swiftly changing oceanographic conditions, as well as marine mammals, such as humpback and blue whales, who come to sanctuary waters to feed.

Fishing in the sanctuary must follow all State of California and federal fishery regulations.

Visitors who want a personal introduction to the offshore wildlife can register for an annual field seminar led by sanctuary staff each August.

Sanctuary Series

As a travel destination, few places on the planet can compete with the diversity of the National Marine Sanctuary System. This article is part of an ongoing series to highlight what you can see and do at some of our most iconic natural and cultural marine resources. Check out our other sanctuary stories: