Each spring, the celebrated North Puget Sound gray whales return for a visit.

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“Off the port side, at 10 o’clock, we have two gray whales!” the naturalist shouts. With breathless anticipation, we scan the water trying to spot the gigantic, mottled-gray creatures and hopefully even grab a photo or two. It’s spring and the celebrated North Puget Sound gray whales are back! Returning to make a pit stop in our waters along their 10,000-mile journey from Mexico to Alaska.

Knowing the gray whales’ time in the Pacific Northwest is fleeting, we block out time on our calendar to welcome back these fascinating mammals. After all, it’s not very often a 50-foot-long mammal weighing up to 35 tons (the equivalent of five adult male African elephants) takes up residence in your own backyard.

9 a.m. – Cruise and whale watching excursion

It’s early in the morning and as we stride onto the deck of the San Juan Clipper for our Seattle gray whale watching trip, the crew happily welcomes passengers aboard. The engines roar to life and the vessel slowly eases out of downtown Seattle’s Pier 69. Within moments, the vessel comes to full speed with passengers eagerly anticipating a day among the majestic creatures.

As we near Possession Sound, our onboard naturalist grabs her binoculars and begins to slowly scan the waters, left to right, for the handful (about 10-12) of gray whales who feed off the population of ghost shrimp at the south end of Camano and Whidbey islands. Our naturalist squints back across the waters, watching along the shallow, muddy shoreline where the whales are frequently seen feeding.

The silence is broken by a loud “whoosh” as the massive, 10-foot-long tail fluke of a gray whale emerges from the water. A few seconds later, the powerful tail crashes against the water with a sharp, resounding “flap!” as the mighty beast propels itself deep beneath the water.

Our naturalist maintains a close eye on the waters, mentioning another good way to spot the whales is to look for the heart-shaped jet of the whale’s blow when they come to the surface. Using her tips, we continue to search the horizon, until we arrive at the dock at Langley.

12 p.m. –  Lunch at Useless Bay Coffee Co.

We amble off the San Juan Clipper into the waterfront village of Langley, a place where it is not unusual to be greeted by the locals as you walk down the street. We grab lunch at Useless Bay Coffee Co. My travel companion orders up the classic bacon cheeseburger, while I, a sucker for anything spicy that comes with avocado, go with the Southwest chicken sandwich. Served on fresh-baked bread and featuring house-made ingredients, both meals are equally delicious.

Enjoy a warm beverage and treat at Useless Bay Coffee Company in Langley.
Enjoy a warm beverage and treat at Useless Bay Coffee Company in Langley.

12:45 p.m. – Stop in Langley Whale Center

Curious to learn more about the magnificent gray whales, we make our way inside the quaint Langley Whale Center. The space is filled with everything from posters of various whales to harbor porpoise skeletons and allows us to get an up-close view of the creatures that call the Salish Sea home.

1:15 p.m. – First & Second street boutique shopping

With less than an hour left in town, we do a quick tour of Langley’s famous galleries and eclectic shops. Meandering down Second Street, we duck inside Callahan’s Firehouse Studio & Gallery, where expert glassblowers twist and turn vibrantly colored orbs of molten glass in a 2100-degree kiln to form an array of tumblers, bowls and sculptures.

As the last stop of the day, we make our way to the bright, airy edit, which brims with an excellent selection of handmade housewares, knits and candles produced by 60 artisans on Whidbey, in the U.S. and beyond. I select a pair of coffee mugs and we are on our way.

Check out glassblowing at Callahan’s Firehouse Studio and Gallery in Langley.
Check out glassblowing at Callahan’s Firehouse Studio and Gallery in Langley.

2:30 p.m. – Cruise back to Seattle

After a wonderful day full of awe-inspiring sights and sounds, we settle in for the ride home. As the sleek Clipper catamaran slices through the waters, we slow down as we pass by a navigational maker where sea lions are out of the water, basking in the sun. Later I pull out my camera and browse through my photos and reflect on the day’s spectacular adventures.

Ready to plan your gray whale-watching adventure direct from Seattle? Book today at clippervacations.com.