Monterey whale-watching season is the longest in California, more or less lasting all year long. No matter what time of year you go, you're likely to see one or more whale species, either migrating through the area or feeding in the Monterey Bay.
An underwater canyon and the protection of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary combine to make this one of the best places in California - or perhaps in the world - to watch the whales and other marine life. This little piece of ocean is also rich with the things whales like to eat, including plankton, krill, squid and anchovies - all carried to the surface by a rare confluence of wind, angle of the coastline, and the earth's rotation.
Best Time for Whale Watching in Monterey Bay
Humpback whales and blue whales can be seen year round in Monterey Bay and it's not unusual to see a fin or minke whale. On rare occasions, a beaked whale or sperm whale is also sighted.
Migrating gray whales pass through the Monterey Bay from mid-December to April, when they're sighted all along the California coast. What's unique about them around Monterey is the whales' encounters with killer whales (orcas). As the gray whales cross the submarine Monterey Canyon, killer whales wait for - and prey on - them. You can see an encounter between a mother gray whale, her calf a pack of killer whales in this National Geographic video.
From May through mid-December, humpback whales and blue whales feed on anchovies and krill in the Monterey Bay, often feeding for several days in the same spot. Not only does that make them easier to find, but the spend a lot of time near the surface, giving you a better look at them than you'll get from a migrating whale.
Besides the whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso's dolphins and Dall's porpoises are common and tour operators say it's not unusual to see a thousand or more dolphins at once.
To find out what all those wonderful creatures look like up close (and what they look like when you seen them from a whale watching boat), check out the California Whale Watching Guide.
Whale Watching Cruises in Monterey BayThe Monterey Bay makes a wide, sweeping arc along the coast, between the towns of Monterey and Santa Cruz, with Moss Landing in the middle. You can go whale watching anywhere along its shores.
In Monterey, Princess Monterey Whale Watching is the most reviewed and best rated whale-watching cruise by users at Yelp. Visit their website
Also well rated is Sanctuary Cruises, always sailing with an expert marine biologist on board. They depart from Moss Landing at the end of the submarine Monterey Canyon, which allows them to reach deep water where the whales are very quickly.
From Santa Cruz, try Santa Cruz Whale Watching.
Whale Watching from the Shore Around Monterey Bay
The best places for Monterey area whale watching from land aren't in the bay but south of Carmel along the coast. Try Point Lobos State Reserve where they pass close to the point. You may also see humpback whales offshore near CA Hwy One between Nepenthe Restaurant and the town of Big Sur - and from the bench at the end of Overlook Trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.