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Baywatch: Best Places to Go Whale Watching in California | USA

Everyone has their childhood obsessions. For Daniel, there was always something about whales. Hewas given a whale stuffed animal the day he was born, and it just so happened to spark a lifelong fascination. Growing up in Michigan, they never got to actually go whale watching, but David Attenborough documentaries did the trick for a time. Supposedly, his afternoons were spent reading the encyclopedia about various species, dreaming about becoming a marine biologist and reciting whale facts to anyone who would listen.

And after all these years, he never quite outgrew his interest in whales. I mean, he’s not completely ridiculous about it. He’s interested in Oregon sports, and film, and plenty of other things that make for better dinner party topics, but he is an adult that maintains an actual favorite animal.

After 4 years in San Francisco, I’d never even been whale watching in California. So when we planned our California road trip, complete with national parks, coastline, endless roads, and roadside attractions, a little whale watching was definitely in the cards. Are you thinking about going whale watching in California? Check out the best places for whale watching, when to go, and what to expect below!

Best Places to Go Whale Watching in California

Whale Watching in California: Daniel Whale Watching in MontereyCalifornia is undoubtedly one of the world’s best places for whale watching. Gray whales, orcas, humpbacks, minke, finback and blue whales migrate off the California coast throughout the year, so you’re sure to spot at least one species on a whale watching excursion. Here’s the lowdown on the best places for whale watching in California:

  • Monterey Bay: Monterey Bay is California’s hub for all things aquatic. You can go out for a whale watching excursion year-around and expect to see migrating whales, plus tons of resident marine life like turtles, sea lions, and sea otters. The best time to go whale watching in Monterey is mid-December through mid-April (gray whales, dolphins, and orcas) or mid-April through mid-December (humpbacks, blue whales, dolphins, and orcas).
  • Santa Barbara: With more than 27 species of whales and dolphins that visit every year, whale watching is an awesome way to spend your Santa Barbara vacation.  The best time to go whale watching in Santa Barbara is between mid-December and April (gray whales) to see gray whales making their northward migration, but you can also see whales between May and November (blue whales, finback whales and humpback whales).
  • Newport Beach: While Orange County may be best known for its TV namesakes, Newport Bay supports a thriving ecosystem with all kind of marine life. With permanently clear skies and waters, you can see the whales up close! The best time to go whale watching in Newport is similarly between December-March (gray whales) but you can also go between April-November.
  • San Diego: Just off the coast of San Diego, you’ll have remarkable opportunity to spot whales on the final stretch of their Alaska to Baja journey. Thebest time to go whale watching in San Diego isMid-December – April (gray whales) and mid-June to September (blue whales).

Whale Watching in Monterey

We got invited to visit Monterey and decided our California road trip would be the perfect chance for me to get some whale watching closure. Our experience in Monterey proved to be more awesome than I could’ve ever imagined.

We headed out on a morning departure and got tossed by the waves for about 90 minutes before getting to our whale watching spot – Submarine Canyon. The naturalist promised we would see whales, but when she pointed out the first blue whale, I still couldn’t believe it. Some ~82ft of giant coming up for air and dipping down beneath the water was incredible to watch. The blue whales were as majestic as I had hoped for, giant but at peace. And throughout the day, we saw plenty more blue whales, gray whales, and humpbacks.

We arranged our excursion with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. If you’re looking to do a whale watching trip yourself, below are a few important details:

  • When: Morning trips (9am-1pm), afternoon trips (2pm-5pm), evening trips (5:30pm-8:30pm) or all-day trips (8am-4pm). We’d recommend the morning trip!
  • Boat Type: A 65′ catamaran (125 passengers), a 70′ single hull vessel (69 passengers) with inside and outside, or a 55′ single hull vessel (48 passengers) .We rode on the catamaran but got lucky with a half full boat.
  • Cost: $41-$110/person. Discounts are common, so check for whale watching deals online before you go.
  • Tips: Dress warm and bring some Dramamine. Even the most seaworthy can get cold and nauseated out there.

Whale Watching in California: Monterey Bay Whale Watch DockWhale Watching in California: View from the Monterey Bay Whale Watch DockDaniel Whale Watching in MontereyWhale Watching in Monterey: Inside the Boat Whale Watching in Monterey: Blue Whale Sighting

CLOSED: Giveaway!

Hey, you! Are you planning a trip to California? See Monterey will be giving away (1) complete trip package, including:

  • 2 nights at Monterey Tides
  • 2 tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • A wine blending experience at Joullian Vineyards

To enter, all you have to do is hop over to See Monterey, and leave a comment below this blog post. Share what else you would like to do in Monterey if you won! See Monterey will be selecting one comment across the blogs on this campaign, so share your most compelling reason to visit.Whale Watching in Monterey: Taylor Looking for Whales

Heading to California? Check out our other post:

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There she blows! The best places to go whale watching in California and photos from whale watching in Monterey Bay.

Where do you think is the best place for whale watching? Thanks again to See Monterey for hosting our visit! Don’t forget to head over to to explore all there is to do in Monterey!


  • Reply
    Kerri Guisness
    October 1, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Awesome write up! I can hear the pacific mutual theme song in the background!

  • Reply
    October 27, 2016 at 12:57 am

    Wow! You did get lucky to see so many whales! I live in San Diego Diego and still have not seen one here! However, I haven’t taken a boat out because of our young daughter. I saw one once in Hawaii before our daughter was born on a boat to snorkel. It really was a n awe-inspiring experience. I felt very right-sized so close to such a giant.

    I’d love my daughter and husband to see the Aquarium and Cannery Row. There are some new restaurants I want to check out in Monterey, too.

    Thanks for the awesome chance!

    kcgmorris at gmail dot com

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      October 31, 2016 at 12:30 am

      It was amazing, Katy! I think Monterey would be an amazing place to travel with kids. Even we had an incredible time in the aquarium. Hope you guys win!

  • Reply
    Jasmine Katie
    April 24, 2019 at 6:39 pm

    You can also try Muir Woods and Napa Valley Tours. these are the awesome places for enjoyment while you are in California.

    • Reply
      April 25, 2019 at 3:17 pm

      Muir Woods is pretty incredible! We went a few times while living in SF. Thanks for the recommendation, Jasmine.

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