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    Where to spot whales in California: tours and best spots along the coast

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    Martí Micolau

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    If you are planning a California itinerary you will be faced with the possibility of countless experiences. Having the opportunity to meet whale specimens up close is not an everyday thing, so you should consider adding a cruise or excursion to a viewpoint suitable for whale watching.

    Let's find out what are the best times and ways to whale watching in California, both through guided tours and independently.


    • When to see whales in California? The best time
      • San Francisco area
      • Monterey Bay area 
      • Zona di Los Angeles e Orange County
      • San Diego area
    • Whale Watching Cruises on the California coast
      • Whale Watching a San Francisco
      • Whale Watching a Monterey
      • Whale Watching a Los Angeles e Orange County
      • Whale Watching in and around San Diego
      • Some recommendations on cruises
    • How to watch whales from the mainland
      • Where to see whales in San Francisco
      • Where to see whales in Monterey and Santa Cruz
      • Where to see whales in Los Angeles
      • Where to see whales in San Diego nearby

    When to see whales in California? The best time

    Thanks to the fact that they are divided into many different species, it is possible to observe the movements of whales near the Californian coast practically during most of the year.

    San Francisco area

    • da May to November: megattere
    • da December to May: gray whales, sperm whales and killer whales
    • da July to October: blue whales

    The only time when there is less chance of whale watching is in the mid to November and mid-December when the migratory season of the humpback whales ends and that of the second group begins.

    If you visit San Francisco during this period and do not want to give up a whale hunting cruise, many companies, given the low season, offer a second tour included in the price of the first (in case you fail to spot specimens at the first opportunity). So be careful to check the presence of this policy.

    Monterey Bay area 

    This is known to be one of the better areas of California for whale watching. Monterey Bay, which extends as far as Santa Cruz, has in fact the distinction of hosting a large amount of plankton, squid and small crustaceans which are the food they eat.

    The season for whale watching is therefore one of the largest in the state as it lasts practically all year round. In particular, humpback whales and blue whales will become almost permanent in this area for the period from May to mid-December, remaining even for whole days in the usual spot and thus favoring the sighting both with cruises and from the mainland.

    Zona di Los Angeles e Orange County

    • May through November is the best time to spot blue whales
    • from November until April the gray whales

    In addition, consider that the annual whale festival that takes place in Dana Point generally held in March for two full weekends.

    San Diego area

    The best season for whale watching in San Diego is from mid-December until April, and the most present species will be that of gray whales.

    Whale Watching Cruises on the California coast

    Here are some of the best whale watching cruises off the California coast by zone.

    Whale Watching a San Francisco

    • Gray Whale Watching Tour: Three and a half hour tour operating only during the month of March.
    • San Francisco Golden Gate Whale Watching Tour - Approximately two and a half hours tour operating from April to October.

    Whale Watching a Monterey

    • Monterey Bay: Whale Watching Tour: 3-hour excursion.
    • Half day whale watching tour: more complete excursion than the previous one for those who have the opportunity to dedicate 4 hours to this activity.

    Whale Watching a Los Angeles e Orange County

    • 2 Hour Whale Watching Boat Cruise: Departing from Newport Beach.
    • Whale Watching Excursion: 2 hour excursion departing from Dana Point.
    • Whale Watching Tour: 2 hour cruise departing from Oceanside.

    Whale Watching in and around San Diego

    • San Diego: Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise: Three and a half to four hour excursion.
    • Whale Watching Cruise and Maritime Museum in San Diego - Four-and-a-half-hour tour aboard a beautiful sailboat

    Some recommendations on cruises

    Is it worth taking a whale watching cruise? Anyone who has taken a tour of this type and actually managed to spot whales would surely answer affirmatively to this question. But success it is never guaranteed, even in the most propitious months.

    So, also seen that you will have to take approx half day for this activity, before booking a cruise make sure you are clear about these aspects:

    • in case you can't spot the whales, try to enjoy the cruise along the beautiful and rugged coast of California.
    • bring suitable clothing with you. The climate off the ocean is colder than on the coast. The advice is therefore to dress in layers and still follow the advice of the tour operator.
    • bring sunglasses (on a good day the reflection of the sun in the water can be a bit annoying in the long run), sunscreen (even if the weather is cloudy) and a raincoat (if it doesn't rain it could be however useful for sheltering from any splashes of water).
    • forget about the binoculars. Whales are best observed with the naked eye, also because you will have to look around very often and they will disappear and reappear quickly, making the use of binoculars in most cases more of a nuisance than anything else.

    How to watch whales from the mainland

    Those who do not want to further affect their budget, can definitely consider the cheaper option of trying to spot whales directly from Californian coast. You probably can't hope to see much more than a puff of water in the distance, but it will still be an exciting experience. So here are the best observation points for whale watching.

    Where to see whales in San Francisco

    Most whales don't pass very close to the coast, however, if you still want to try your luck, here are the best areas in San Francisco for whale watching from north to south.

    • Point Reyes National Seashore: it is a very large area and, if you have little time, I invite you to opt for the characteristic lighthouse Point Reyes Lighthouse and the viewpoint of Chimney Rock, reachable after a short trail, certainly two of the best observation points in the area.
    • Marin Headlands: this area is home to some of the most scenic cliffs in San Francisco. In particular I suggest you to visit Rodeo Beach and the Point Bonita Lighthouse which are worthwhile regardless of whether or not you should spot whales.
    • Point Montara Lighthouse: in addition to being a very beautiful area, there is also a well maintained hostel which is ideal if you want to spend a night with the sound of the ocean waves in the background.
    • Pigeon Point Lighthouse: it is one of the most photographed lighthouses on the Californian coast as well as being one of the highest.
    • New Years State Park: Although this area is renowned for the possibility of seeing many sea lions, many also recommend it for the opportunity to see the whale puffing on the surface of the water in the distance.

    Where to see whales in Monterey and Santa Cruz

    Although Monterey Bay is very wide, the best spots for whale watching are:

    • Moss Landing State Beach: it is located practically halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey and is a beautiful and wide beach with a view of the bay. Also ideal for enjoying a little relaxation during your on the road.
    • Lover’s Point: The Pacific Grove lookout point known as a popular tourist destination with sweeping views of the bay.
    • The beautiful park of Point Lobos State Book. In particular, you can consider heading directly to the Pinnacle Point and South Point areas, walking along the scenic Cypress Grove Trail.

    Where to see whales in Los Angeles

    • The stretch of coast that goes from Point Fermin Lighthouse al Point Vicente Lighthouse it is particularly suitable for whale watching.
    • In the Malibu area, the Leo Carrillo State Park, especially in the months of April and May when events entirely dedicated to whale watching are held, e Point Dume a Big Dume Beach; the characteristic crescent beach with its suggestive headlands and rocky coves.

    Where to see whales in San Diego nearby

    Here are some of the most suitable areas for whale watching:

    • La jolla cove, especially Ellen Browning Scripps Park.
    • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: it would be worth coming here to admire the splendid cliffs, as well as to try to spot some whales in the distance.
    • Cabrillo national monument: in particular the viewpoints of Old Point Loma Lighthouse and Whale Overlook (as the name suggests).
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