Saturday , June 12 2021

42 Locations to Go Whale Watching in California: The Final Information

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Ah, whales: these majestic, huge marine mammals have been immortalized in our tradition in every part to Moby Dick to Discovering Nemo. There was as soon as a complete business dedicated to murdering them; now there’s a motion dedicated to saving them. Any approach you have a look at it, we’ve been obsessive about whales, for like, a actually very long time.

California is the perfect whale watching vacation spot in america, and it’s additionally the primary: whale watching as an organized exercise dates again to 1950 when the Cabrillo Nationwide Monument in San Diego was declared a public spot for the commentary of Grey Whales.

Annually, about 20,000 grey whales make an epic 12,000-mile spherical journey journey from the Bering Sea all the way in which down the Pacific coast to Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

This annual swim makes your complete California coast an ideal place to witness some of the wonderful wildlife migrations on the planet. And on this publish, you’ll uncover the perfect locations for whale watching in California, plus every part you have to know to plan your journey!

Psst: Planning a California coast highway journey? We’ve acquired a couple of different posts you’ll need to try, or click here to see all of our California journey guides.

We’ve additionally created a free, printable Freeway One highway journey itinerary! A lot of the greatest locations to go whale watching are additionally some. of the perfect locations to cease alongside the Pacific Coast Freeway. Tie all of them collectively in a single epic journey with this itinerary!

Printable Freeway One Itinerary

This FREE printable Freeway One itinerary will assist information you in your highway journey! Plus, we have included our San Francisco strolling tour, and we’ll ship you some useful tricks to plan your journey.

We even have a Highway One podcast episode! A humanist cult, a Danish hideaway, a gravitational anomaly, towering timber, a spoiled wealthy child’s fort, clothing-optional scorching springs, and the cutest (and weirdest) animals conceivable: on this episode, we cowl every part you have to plan your journey up the California Coast – and all of the bizarre historical past you by no means knew alongside the way in which.

Pay attention under or just click here! Oh, and don’t neglect to subscribe so that you don’t miss new episodes.

Humpback Whale in Monterey Bay, California.
Humpback Whale in Monterey Bay, California. You may see a number of sorts of whales in California, together with humpbacks!

California Whale Watching FAQ’s

Earlier than you pack your binoculars and head out searching for whales, you might need a couple of questions on whale watching in California. We’ve lined every part you’ll must know earlier than your journey!

Which sorts of whales may be seen in California?

There are all kinds of whales that make their well beyond the California coast on their annual journey! Listed here are a few of the large sea puppies you would possibly see paddling their well beyond you in your whale watching tour:

The biggest migration and mostly noticed whale in California, Grey Whales can attain lengths of 45′ and are grey with white mottling. They migrate slowly and blow 3-5 occasions earlier than fluking up and diving for 2-7 minutes – which makes them simple to identify!

Grey whales might journey alone or in pods with as much as 10 whale buddies. Grey whales begin swimming north from Mexico in January, typically passing the coast off of San Diego in February and March once they return to their summer time house. You’ll spot them closest to the shore when touring south, specifically between Monterey and San Diego.

The unbelievable Blue Whale is the biggest animal ever to dwell on earth – EVER – reaching lengths of 80 to 100′ with a blow of as much as 30′.  Sadly, Blue Whales are endangered with solely about 10,000 present on this planet – 2,200 of which may be seen in California.

To see a Blue whale, wait till spring and summer time between July and October, when a number of hundred Blue whales migrate into southern California waters to feed – not not like my household descending upon our favourite Indian Buffet on our annual journey to my spouse’s hometown.

These lovely black-and-white pandas of the ocean are a uncommon sight, as solely about 200 Orcas have been recognized off the coast of California. You’ll sometimes see Orcas in pods of 8-20, or probably as much as 100.

By the way in which, don’t let their nickname scare you – though they might hunt Grey Whales, California Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, and Elephant Seals, they’re in all probability not going to harm you until you seize them, hold them locked in a cage, and drive them to carry out for crowds of individuals (ahem).

Though they’re an endangered species because of being hunted to close extinction, the Humpback whale can nonetheless be seen off the coast of central California between Might and November.

We’ve heard studies of curious, pleasant Humpback whales approaching a ship to circle and rub up in opposition to it, spyhop inside a number of ft of the boat, roll on its facet and prolong a flipper towards the boat, and even tilt its head with a watch open to throw a suspicious have a look at everybody on board. To which I say, I’d actually die, that’s the cutest factor I’ve ever heard.

A quick-travelling whale that may sometimes solely be seen far offshore, the Fin whale is the second-largest species on Earth – after the majestic Blue Whale, Queen of Whales – reaching lengths of as much as 85′.

Generally known as the Greyhound of whales, their slender physique is constructed like a racing yacht and may surpass the velocity of the quickest ocean steamship. So don’t blink, otherwise you would possibly miss one zooming by!

A relatively small baleen whale reaching solely 30′ in size (“small“), Minke Whales don’t have a visual blow and normally exhibit erratic surfacing patterns, making them tougher to identify with out the assistance of a information. When you do see one, they’re may be recognized by their giant dorsal fin and darkish physique.

Street art in Morro Bay, California.
Whale mural at Otter Rock Cafe in Morro Bay, California

When is California whale watching season?

Whale watching is a year-round exercise in California – it doesn’t matter what time of 12 months you intend your journey, your possibilities of recognizing a whale are excessive!

Nonetheless, timing your go to to overlap with seasonal whale migration durations will provide you with the perfect alternatives for viewing these large creatures.

Within the winter, round December, grey whales, humpback whales, and orcas head south searching for hotter water. After which throughout the spring, they arrive again north once more to benefit from the heat climate. Not not like roughly half the inhabitants of Florida.

What meaning is that you just’ll get the perfect alternative for seeing migrating grey whales, orcas, and humpback whales in California between December and April.

When you go to between Might and September, you’ll get an opportunity to see blue whales and finback whales; and minke whales may be seen from October by way of December.

  • California Journey Tip: For my part as a born-and-raised Californian, the perfect time to take a California highway journey is in February & March! The winter rains filter and provides approach to nice heat climate, wildflower season, vibrantly inexperienced hills, gushing waterfalls, and each the annual Monarch butterfly migration in addition to elephant seal pupping season that simply occurs to overlap with the seasonal whale migration in each location & time of 12 months! You’ll be capable to see all three of those California wildlife stars in lots of the locations included under.
Whale watching tour in California
You don’t want a ship or a whale watching tour to identify whales in California, however we do advocate them if you wish to see them up shut. Original photo credit

Do I want a ship to go whale watching in California?

Completely not! You’ll be capable to spot whales spouting, breaching, and typically even fluking from land even at a far distance. And for those who’ve acquired a good pair of binoculars like these, chances are you’ll even be capable to establish the kind of whale – right here’s a information on how to identify whales.

That mentioned, the perfect whale watching expertise by far is up shut and private, with a information who can assist you establish whales and may safely take you shut sufficient to see the whale intimately.

We’ve included choices for each land and boat-based whale looking forward to every vacation spot under.

What ought to I put on whale watching in California?

When you’re planning to go whale watching on land, you don’t want something particular aside from a good pair of binoculars!

However for those who go on a whale watching tour, there are some things that may make your expertise much more pleasant:

  • Heat Layers: Not solely is way of the California Coast notoriously chilly, however the Pacific Ocean is a freezing chilly abyss of pure ice, and its ocean spray is … not nice. Assume that it’s going to really feel 10 levels colder and far windier out on the ocean. Carry a warm layer and a rain jacket to stop your self from being chilled to the bone – and perhaps even a heat hat or gloves, simply in case.
  • Solar Safety: You’ll be spending time outdoor with all types of UV rays bouncing off the water, so that you’ll wish to load up on solar safety! Carry a pair of sun shades that received’t fall off your face once you peer over the boat, a hat with a string in case of wind, and a biodegradable mineral sunscreen, as a result of if nothing else, your whale watching expertise will hopefully improve your enthusiasm for ocean conservation.
  • Nausea Medication: One phrase: DRAMAMINE. Truly, 3 phrases: Non-Drowsy Dramamine. It’s a LIFESAVER, whether or not you’re susceptible to seasickness or not!
  • Binoculars: We can not overstate the significance of bringing binoculars to enhance your whale watching expertise! As a result of by the point somebody passes you theirs to have a look, that big majestic beast can have in all probability already disappeared again into the depths.
  • Waterproof Camera: Certain, perhaps your cellphone will work simply positive, however perhaps you’re too clumsy to be trusted with not dropping an costly tiny laptop into the ocean (lookin’ at you, my darling spouse). This waterproof action camera is approach cheaper than a GoPro or cellphone and, most significantly, comes with a wristband.

What’s the greatest time of day to go Whale Watching?

You’ll be capable to see whales all day lengthy, however the clearest climate and greatest whale sightings normally happen throughout morning hours.

How a lot do whale watching excursions price?

In California, whale watching excursions vary from about $20 per particular person as much as round $100, relying on what’s included, the scale of the boat, and the way lengthy your tour lasts.

Personally, we want smaller, conservation-focused eco-friendly excursions that embrace a snack, so we’ve accomplished the analysis to search out a couple of good choices at every of the spots advisable under.

And on that observe…

The place to go Whale Watching in California

Listed here are the perfect locations for whale watching in California. We’ve included strategies for each Northern California whale watching and whale watching in Southern California!

Point Arena Lighthouse, one of the best Pacific Coast Highway stops on a California Road Trip and an excellent place for whale watching in California.
Behind me is Level Area Lighthouse, top-of-the-line Pacific Coast Freeway stops on a California Highway Journey and a wonderful place for whale watching in California.


Take the Pacific Coast Freeway all the way in which up north, and some hours previous San Francisco you’ll arrive in Mendocino, a fantastic coastal city and one in every of California’s greatest wine nations! That is one in every of our favourite locations to take a weekend getaway, in addition to top-of-the-line locations to go whale watching in California.

Alongside the way in which from Baja to Alaska, the whales do a swim-by off the Mendocino Coast, providing unforgettable alternatives to see them spouting, breaching, and diving as they make their annual journey north.

  • Journey Tip: Plan your journey round March to benefit from the Mendocino Whale Festivals! The cities of Mendocino, Little River, and Fort Bragg all host particular occasions, together with walks, talks, and particular boat charters.

Excessive elevation vantage factors alongside the coast are good spots to view whales, notably on calm mornings. Favourite spots close to city embrace coast-hugging trails in Mendocino Headlands State Park, and on the scenic Point Arena Lighthouse.

Listed here are. a couple of extra spots to go whale watching in Mendocino:

Journey Tip: To take full benefit of the gorgeous Mendocino shoreline, we advocate reserving an AirBnB with beautiful coastal views. You may stroll to Mendocino Headlands State Park proper from this budget-friendly cottage, or simply keep in and whale-watch from virtually each room on this beautiful oceanfront cottage! Take a look at our Mendocino weekend getaway guide to profit from your journey.

Whale watching in San Francisco, California
You’re unlikely to see a whale swim beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, but it surely’s not unprecedented. (Psst: this phenomenal view, excluding my lovely spouse, may be seen at Battery Spencer!)

San Francisco & the Bay Space

Yep, you may go whale watching within the San Francisco Bay Space – proper close to the place we dwell (in Oakland)! Though the occasional whale finds its approach proper underneath the Golden Gate Bridge into the San Francisco Bay, the perfect whale watching close to San Francisco is definitely outdoors of town.

The Farallon Islands

In the course of the summer time and fall seasons, you may e book a guided tour to the Farallon Islands, a bunch of distant uninhabited islands 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco the place humpbacks, blue whales, sperm whales, and orcas feed.

You may e book a guided tour with the Oceanic Society. Whale watching cruises to the Farallon Islands sometimes depart San Francisco’s Pier 39 at 8 a.m. and return by mid-afternoon.

Along with whales, you’ll have an opportunity to see many different marine critters, together with endangered and threatened species, within the islands and surrounding waters.

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