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San Diego Whale Watching

How to Watch Whales Around San Diego, California

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The Tail.. of a Gray Whale

Tomcio at Flickr under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

During whale-watching season in San Diego, you'll find plenty of ways to see the migration. Trips are reasonably short and some companies guarantee a sighting - or you can go again for free.

Best Time for Whale Watching in San Diego

Whale watching season in San Diego runs from mid-December through April and migrating gray whales are the most common species. To see females with their calves, you should go late in the season as they take their babies back north with them.

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 from San Diego

You'll find plenty of ways to see the whales in San Diego. These are listed in rough order based on reader reviews online.
  • Flagship Cruises: Birch Aquarium Naturalists on board and they guarantee sighting or you go again for free. Their whale-watching cruise is one of the attractions offered on the Go San Diego Card, which may be your least-expensive way to go.

  • Next Level Sailing: This whale watch cruise comes with a bold guarantee: Not only will they take you out again if you don't see a whale, but they're so confident that you won't get seasick riding in their stable sailboat that they will provide a gift certificate to a local restaurant if your day is spoiled by motion sickness. They also have a slightly longer season than other whale-watching companies. Buy your tickets online

  • OEX La Jolla: You'll have to propel yourself - in a kayak - to take this tour, but organizers say it allows guests to paddle within 40 feet of gray whales, seals and sea lions. Buy your tickets online.

  • Xplore Offshore: This company uses a specially-built "ocean raft" that's closer to the water and goes faster than the bigger whale-watching boats - so you can go further from shore. One look at their videos and you may be hooked.

  • Hornblower San Diego: With naturalists from the Natural History Museum and stabilized boats that minimize seasickness, this is one of the most comfortable whale-watching options. Buy your tickets online.

  • San Diego Natural History Museum: The longest whale-watching cruise from San Diego takes you out for six hours, going south to the Coronado Islands Marine Sanctuary.

Whale Watching from the Shore Around San Diego

If you'd rather not go out in a bobbing boat to see the whales, you can take a look from the shoreline. Go from mid-December to mid February during the northward migration. Other times of year, the whales are usually too far from shore to see, even with binoculars.

A couple of the best whale-watching spots for landlubbers:

  • In La Jolla, try Scripps Park just above La Jolla Cove. the Birch Aquarium and Torrey Pines State Reserve
  • The heights around Whale Overlook and Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument are great spots to watch the migration

How to Enjoy San Diego Whale Watching

No matter where you watch the whales, the basics are the same. Get tips for picking the best cruise and ways to have the most enjoyable experience in the California Whale Watching Guide.

More things Whale-Related in San Diego

If you want to see orcas around San Diego, head for Sea World. While they are sometimes spotted off the California coast, their range doesn't extend quite that far south.

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