Whale Watching in San Diego

Pods of whales are spotted in the San Diego area every year. Whale watching tours are a great way to experience the beauty of these majestic creatures.
Whale Watching in San Diego
The Beauty of Whales
When to Go
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What to Expect
Best Place to Go
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Discover the Beauty of Whales with Epic Whale Watching Tours

Every year, whale pods migrate up and down the Pacific coast, passing through the San Diego area as they glide through the Pacific Ocean. Whales are beautiful, majestic creatures - although they are large, they are very gentle and charming. A whale watch will take you from the San Diego coastline out onto the ocean, where you’ll get to experience the joy of these animals up close and personal.

San Diego is one of the best cities for whale watching because you can see whales all year round. Many different species of whales pass through San Diego, including gray whales, blue whales, orcas, fin whales, and much more. You may even see other stunning marine wildlife, such as dolphins or sea lions.

During your tour, you’ll learn all about whales and their migration patterns from expert marine biologists. Whale watching tours also offer incredible views of the San Diego skyline. Many providers even offer dinner cruises, where you can watch the sunset and enjoy some food and drinks in addition to watching the whales!

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Best Time of Year to Go Whale Watching in San Diego

One of the most unique things about San Diego is that you can go whale watching at virtually any time of year. This is because both gray whales and blue whales pass through San Diego as part of their migration patterns, but they pass through at different times. There are also many other species of whales that live in the San Diego area year round.

The biggest whale watching season in San Diego is from December to April. This is when gray whales pass through the area. Blue whales migrate at the opposite time of year, from mid-June through September, so this can also be a good time of year to go whale watching. In the spring, you may even see whale calves swimming next to their mothers.

No matter when you visit San Diego, there’s always excellent marine wildlife to see. Humpback whales, fin whales, and minke whales all live in San Diego throughout the year. Orcas, dolphins and sea lions are also frequently sighted in the area.

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Gray Whale during Whale Watching Tour in San Diego
Half Day Whale Watching Tour
Enjoy a 4-hour expert led tour departing from beautiful San Diego Bay on a two-story whale watching yacht. Take in the views, enjoy the marine life & marvel at the majestic gray whales as they migrate along the coast.
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What You Will See on a San Diego Whale Watching Tour

While you can see whales from certain points on the San Diego coastline, you’ll need to take a whale watching tour to experience the full range of marine wildlife in the San Diego area. Whales prefer the open ocean to the choppier waters near the shore, so you’ll need to be on a boat to see them up close. Here’s what you can expect to see on a San Diego whale watching tour.

Gray Whales

Gray whales are the type of whale that is most commonly found in the San Diego area. As the name implies, gray whales are gray with light white patches. Gray whales also like to swim closer to the shore than their blue counterparts, so they are often easier to spot.

Gray whales spend their winter months near southern California and migrate north for the summer. The gray whale’s migration pattern is one of the longest of any animal on earth.

Blue Whales

Blue whales are another species of whale that pass through the San Diego area, usually in the summer. Blue whales are currently highly endangered, with only a few thousand left in the world. However, they like to migrate through the San Diego area because the area is full of krill.

Blue whales are extremely large - they typically weigh between 100,000 and 300,000 pounds and can be up to 100 feet in length. Their migration patterns can vary and are sometimes difficult to track, but they migrate south to the tropics in the winter and north to the Arctic in the summer. It’s during the transitional migration period that they pass through San Diego.

Humpback Whales

The humpback whale is a unique species that is known for their distinct shape. Their heads have a grooved, bumpy texture, and they are a deep blue color with white markings on their stomachs. Humpback whales are also known for jumping out of the water and are more likely to do this than other whale species.

Groups of humpback whales pass through the San Diego area during their migration process. Humpbacks spend their winters in the tropics, where they have their calves, and their summers in the Arctic, where they feed on krill and other prey in the area.

Fin Whale

The fin whale is another whale species that is found in San Diego throughout the year. They are the second largest whale in the world, after the blue whale.

Fin whales are very sleek and are also capable of traveling very fast, sometimes as quickly as 30 miles per hour. They are also known for their unique coloring, which is white on one side of the jaw and black on the other.

Minke Whale

Minke whales are rare in San Diego, but there is a small group that occasionally passes through the area. They are small and relatively fast, and are typically found on their own. They have a dark gray and white color pattern.

Orca

Orcas are often known as killer whales and are known for their distinct black and white color pattern. They have large teeth and are known to occasionally attack calves of other whale species. However, they are not dangerous to humans. Although they are called killer whales, orcas are actually part of the dolphin family.

Orcas tend to live in groups and are very social, developing close bonds with their families. Orca sightings in San Diego are incredibly rare, but they do happen a few times per year.

Dolphins

There are a number of dolphin species that live in the San Diego area. Some of the species you may see on a San Diego whale watch include the bottlenose dolphin, the common dolphin, and Pacific white sided dolphin.

Dolphins are very social, so you’ll typically see them in a large pod. These pods can sometimes have hundreds of dolphins in them. They use echolocation to find their prey, which normally consists of fish.

Dolphin species can swim very quickly, often reaching speeds well over 30 miles per hour. If you’re lucky, you may even see a dolphin jump out of the water! Many dolphin species live in the San Diego area year-round, but some migrate here during the winter because of relatively warm water temperatures.

Sea Lion

While not as majestic as whales, sea lions are still an integral part of San Diego’s marine wildlife. You’ll typically see them laying out in the sun at La Jolla Cove, but you may also see them swimming and playing in the water.

Sea lions are very social and like to spend their time in large groups. When they do decide to swim, they can dive as far as 900 feet underwater. They are very vocal and tend to have charming and friendly personalities.

Leopard Sharks

San Diego has a huge population of leopard sharks, a species of mid-sized fish that are known for their spots. Their name is somewhat of a misnomer - they are actually harmless to humans and will hide from loud noises. While you’ll typically need to go snorkeling to see leopard sharks, you may see them on a whale watch if they’re swimming in a large group.

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Best Place to Go on A Whale Watching Tour

There are many different companies that offer whale watching tours in San Diego. Most whale watching tours leave near Downtown San Diego or Point Loma, but some tours leave from Mission Bay. Tours can also be found to the north off the coast of Oceanside.

The right whale watching tour for you will depend on your personal priorities. You may want a tour that focuses entirely on education and conservation, or you may prefer a high-energy cruise that combines whale watching and a sunset dinner. Most whale watching tours are already family friendly, but some offer specific tours catered to kids.

Local Tips
Pack your Patience
You’ve planned your vacation to San Diego during peak migration season. But it’s not always that easy. Whale migration, while fairly predictable, isn’t an exact science and you may not see the animal you seek right away during your whale watching expedition.

Some of the most popular providers for whale watching tours include Hornblower Cruises and Newport Landing, both of which are included with the Go San Diego Card. The Go San Diego Card also includes smaller group charters from Pacifica Yachts.

The Go San Diego Card is one of the best ways to see everything America’s Finest City has to offer! Choose an All-Inclusive Pass for entry to their full range of attractions, or Build Your Own pass for exclusive discounts. We offer a bonus discount on the Go San Diego Card on top of their already discounted prices, so be sure to pick one up before you visit for incredible savings.

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Who can use a Go San Diego Pass?

Adults and children (ages 3 to 12) can use the Go San Diego Pass – All-Inclusive, Explorer or Build Your Own - to visit the area’s top attractions and activities.

Tips for The Best San Diego Whale Watching Experience

Since San Diego is one of the best places for whale watching in the world, here are some tips to help you make the most of your whale watching experience.

Choose a Tour Led by an Expert

When choosing a whale watching cruise, look for options that are Coast Guard certified and are run by marine biologists or another type of marine expert. These tours will provide the most detailed and interesting information about the area wildlife.

Locating Whales

Before booking a tour, find out how the tour company locates their whales. They should use a whale sighting network to increase your chances of seeing a whale, dolphins, or other exciting wildlife on the tour.

Trips without Seeing Whales

While there is a high chance of seeing a whale in San Diego, find out how the company handles trips without any whale sightings. In many cases, they will reimburse you for a future tour if you don’t see a whale.

Weather and What to Wear

Temperatures out on the water are typically much cooler than they are on land, and there’s also a chance that you could get wet during your tour. Make sure to wear a waterproof jacket and closed-toed shoes. In the winter, you’ll want to wear long pants and gloves.

Although the temperatures might be cooler, the weather can still be very sunny in San Diego. Make sure you wear sunscreen on any exposed part of your body, and bring sunglasses or a hat.

Bring Water and Snacks

Whale watching tours can be several hours long. Some tour operators provide food on board, but many don’t. Bring a snack and a bottle of water along just in case.

Views of the San Diego Skyline & More

In addition to whale sightings, these whale watching tours also offer some of the best views of the San Diego skyline and the area’s notoriously stunning sunsets. Make sure to turn around and snap a pic of these incredible views.

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