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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 (visiting beaches is tough work) to find the best places to look for these massive mammals without a boat. See the full list below!

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. 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.

Adding these migration periods together, 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.

California’s Fishing Piers are excellent too as they get you farther out into the ocean, but they are not as high above the waterline as the bluffs are.

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