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Taking a whale watching cruise off the coast of Southern California is exhilarating and gives you a high likelihood of seeing gray whales up close, but it’s fun to watch them from shore too. We did some research to find the best places to look for these massive mammals without a boat.

During the winter months of December, January, and February the grays migrate south from the Arctic to their preferred “vacation spots” on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Actually their Baja meeting places are for mating and birthing, not margaritas and sunbathing.

Eventually the moms and babies migrate back northward for summer feeding in the Arctic and pass by the Southern California Coast in March, April, and May. During this migration they tend to hug the coast which is safer for them and better for us to observe them.

The peak times for spotting whales offshore in Southern California is late November through mid May. During this time you can see them breaching and spouting not far from shore. The best places to see them from are viewpoints that are high on bluffs especially at points that stick out into the ocean. Piers can be good too, but they are not as high above the waterline.

Here is our list of the top whale watching spots in Southern California. These are listed in order from south to north.


Beaches on this list

  • Cabrillo National Monument

    There are only a few beach access points in Cabrillo National Monument near San Diego, but this park is loaded with things to see. Point Loma, the peninsula where the […]

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  • Sunset Cliffs Natural Park – Garbage Beach

    Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a steep hillside park between Point Loma Nazarene University and the ocean. There are boot-beaten footpaths all over the hillside here to explore. The beach […]

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  • Boomer Beach

    Boomer Beach is located on the exposed western side of Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla. Because of exposure to the strong ocean waves it is less popular than […]

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  • Black’s Beach

    Black’s Beach is a famous clothing-optional beach below a “gliderport” parking area on Torrey Pines Mesa. Blacks is a combo of Torrey Pines City Beach and Torrey Pines State Beach […]

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  • Torrey Pines State Beach – South Beach

    South Beach at Torrey Pines State Beach is just south of the creek mouth that flows from Los Penasquitos Marsh Natural Preserve in north La Jolla. There is a large […]

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  • Del Mar City Beach

    The Main Beach of Del Mar City Beach starts at Powerhouse Park and goes north all the way to the lagoon entrance at the San Dieguito River. On the other […]

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  • Fletcher Cove Beach (Pillbox)

    Fletcher Cove is Solana Beach’s main central beach park located a couple blocks west of the intersection of Highway 101 and Loma Santa Fe Drive. The cove is also known […]

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  • Swami’s Beach

    Swami’s Surf Beach is a famous surfing mecca at the south end of Encinitas, CA. The park at Swami’s Beach is a great vantage point for watching surfers and has […]

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  • South Ponto Beach

    South Ponto Beach is a day-use area at the south end of South Carlsbad State Beach at the city border of Encinitas and Carlsbad. This prime location and the size […]

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  • San Onofre State Beach – Bluffs Beaches

    San Onofre State Beach is located between Oceanside and San Clemente, CA. The main area of this state park, which is called “Bluffs Beach,” has a long continuous parking lot […]

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  • Goff Cove Beach

    Goff Cove Beach is a south-facing beach below the bluff that is west of the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, CA. Goff Cove is protected by a tall pyramid-shaped rock […]

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  • Picnic Beach at Heisler Park

    Picnic Beach is the northern beach of Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA. The park above the beach offers grassy areas to spread out on and many picnic tables as […]

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  • Crystal Cove State Park – Pelican Point Beach

    Pelican Point Beach in Crystal Cove State Park has a broad beach between Pelican Point and the park’s Historic District at Los Trancos Beach. The beach slopes gradually so it’s […]

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  • Crystal Cove State Park – Reef Point Beach

    Reef Point in Crystal Cove State Park has a large day-use parking area at Reef Point Drive and Pacific Coast Highway. This large state park offers 3.5 miles of beaches […]

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  • Point Fermin Park Beach

    Point Fermin Beach is below the steep bluffs of Point Fermin Park and Lighthouse in the San Pedro District of Los Angeles. The beach here isn’t sandy, but the rocky […]

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  • White Point Beach

    White Point Beach is below the steep bluffs at what is officially named “Whites Point” in the San Pedro District of LA. This small beach isn’t for sunbathing. It’s very […]

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  • Abalone Cove Beach

    Abalone Cove Beach can be discovered below the parking lot at Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes. The bluffs in the park are protected in […]

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  • Sacred Cove Beach

    Sacred Cove Beach is part of Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes. This deep cove is bookended by two prominent points, Portuguese Point and Inspiration […]

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  • Point Vicente Park and Lighthouse

    Point Vicente Park is a nice place to visit, but there is no easy beach access from the bluff. The Seascape Trail heads north from the park and follows the […]

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  • Santa Cruz Island – Prisoners Harbor

    Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands can be visited as a day trip or an overnight camping stop. There is a small campground, Del Norte Backcountry […]

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  • Santa Cruz Island – Scorpion Anchrage

    Santa Cruz Island is the largest and tallest of the islands in Channel Islands National Park. Only about one quarter of this mountainous island is part of the national park […]

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  • Anacapa Island – East Isle

    Anacapa Island in Ventura County is part of Channel Islands National Park. It has three small islands (East, West and Middle) but access is mainly to East Anacapa Island. There […]

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Related Attractions

  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

    Ever wanted to see a famous Torrey Pine in its natural state? Well there are just a few areas that is possible. This beautiful tree grows in the La Jolla […]

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  • Seagrove Park

    Seagrove Park is a small grassy park on the bluff just steps from downtown Del Mar. This beautifully landscaped park has benches with unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean, which […]

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  • Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center

    The Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center is located on the Dana Point Headlands overlooking the harbor. This center is an educational facility with information on the local flora and fauna […]

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  • Heisler Park

    Heisler Park is walking distance from the heart of Laguna Beach, CA. This lovely park has gorgeous landscaping, many places to enjoy ocean views, and access to some hidden beaches […]

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  • Crescent Bay Point Park

    Crescent Bay Point Park is a small grass park high on the bluff above Crescent Bay. Views are of the ocean and the southern Orange County shoreline including Crescent Bay […]

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