Believe it or not, winter is actually a wonderful time to go whale watching on the coast. Every year, around 20,000 gray whales make a 6,000 mile journey from Alaska to Mexico and back again. The best time to get a good glimpse of a whale is typically from mid-December to mid-April.
If you’re lucky, you can spot one of these magnificent mammals from the beach any time of year. But if you’re hoping to do some serious whale watching, head to one of these areas.
Just about any elevated location along the shore in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County will get you a good view out into the ocean. Headlands and other points that stick out into the ocean are your best bet for seeing whales. Check out this list of beaches and parks that offer the best places for whale watching from shore in Southern California. If you want to see whales up close then search for tour operators based in almost all of the Southern California harbors.
Not surprisingly, the many fishing piers on the California Coast get you closer to migrating whales than you could get standing on the adjacent beach. Most piers are quite long, and some will get you 1000 feet or more out into the ocean. It’s much easier to spot spouting whales when you’re out over the water.
San Diego is definitely one of California’s best areas for whale watching, especially La Jolla. Using binoculars, you can spot whales from Whale Overlook and other locations on Point Loma in Cabrillo National Monument or from the high bluffs at Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla. For a closer look, book a whale watching cruise with San Diego Whale Watch. If you don’t see any whales on your journey with the company, they let you cruise again for free.
There are several great places in Orange County to spot whales. Newport Landing Whale Watching in Newport Harbor offers cruises year round, and you may even see some bottlenose dolphins while you’re out. The 200 foot cliffs at Dana Point are great for scanning the horizon for whales, or you can get a closer look on Dana Point’s Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale-Watching Safari. You can usually spot them from the shores of Laguna Beach during their prime migrating season.
The Channel Islands
Whale watching charter boats that run between the Ventura Coast and the Channel Islands are practically guaranteed to be successful. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is a beautiful place where 29 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been seen.
San Francisco Bay Area
January is the most popular months to spot whales near San Francisco. Head to the tip of Point Reyes and watch 1,000 whales pass the point every day. You can also spot them from the shores of Half Moon Bay or Montara, each a 45 minute drive south from San Francisco.
Whales and other mammals thrive in the Monterey area because of the cold mile-deep Monterey submarine canyon just offshore. For the best whale watching from land, drive south along the Big Sur coast and camp out on a high point along Highway One.
Whales usually swim right by the Mendocino Coast on their journey. Several companies offer charter tours so you can see them up close. High vantage points along the coast are also good spots for seeing whales, especially at Mendocino State Park and Point Arena Lighthouse. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can rent a kayak.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the best time of year for whale watching on the California coast? The best time for whale watching on the California coast is typically between December and April, when gray whales migrate south from Alaska to Mexico. However, other species of whales can be seen throughout the year.
- What types of whales can be seen on the California coast? In addition to gray whales, visitors to the California coast may also see humpback whales, blue whales, fin whales, minke whales, orcas, and several species of dolphins.
- What is the best location for whale watching on the California coast? Some of the best locations for whale watching on the California coast include Monterey Bay, Channel Islands National Park, and Point Reyes National Seashore. See this extensive list of whale watching spots in Southern California.
- What should I bring on a whale watching trip? Visitors should bring warm clothing, including a jacket or sweater, and comfortable shoes. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are also recommended, as well as a camera and binoculars. Polarized sunglasses help with glare on the ocean when looking for whales.
- How long do whale watching trips typically last? Whale watching trips typically last between two and four hours, depending on the tour operator and the location.
- Is it possible to see other marine life besides whales on a whale watching trip? Yes, visitors may also see dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, seals, and various species of seabirds on a whale watching trip.
- What is the average cost of a whale watching tour on the California coast? The average cost of a whale watching tour on the California coast is between $50 and $150 per person, depending on the location and tour operator.
- Are there any age restrictions for whale watching tours? Age restrictions may vary by tour operator, but many whale watching tours allow children as young as three years old to participate.
- What happens if I don’t see any whales on my tour? Some tour operators offer a guarantee that visitors will see whales on their tour, and will offer a refund or a free ticket for a future trip if no whales are seen.
- Is it safe to be on a boat for whale watching? Yes, whale watching tours are generally safe, as tour operators follow strict safety guidelines and regulations. However, visitors should follow the instructions of the crew and wear a life jacket if provided. If you are sensitive to motion sickness you might want to take over the counter pills before your trip begins.
- How far in advance should I book a whale watching tour? It is recommended to book a whale watching tour in advance, especially during peak season, as tours can fill up quickly. Booking at least a few weeks in advance is recommended.