With 70 miles of coastline along whales’ migratory path, San Diego is a wonderful destination for those looking to spot these magnificent creatures. Want to go whale watching in San Diego on a boat tour? We’ve answered some of the most common questions we see about planning to go whale watching in San Diego.
What is the best time of year to go whale watching in San Diego?
San Diego isn’t just a great year-round destination for travelers – it’s also a prime spot to see whales all throughout the year. January is the best month to see gray whales, but they can be spotted between December and April. Other times of the year, you’ll see blue whales and fin whales during the fall months.
What is the best time of day to go whale watching?
One question we see often is whether to book a morning whale watching tour or an afternoon one, and it actually doesn’t matter. Your chances of seeing a whale are the same.
However, it tends to be a little less windy or crowded in the mornings, so that may help sway your decision.
What types of whales will I see?
Pacific gray whales can be seen during the winter months, December through April. Gray whales migrate from Alaska to Baja California, where female whales give birth and then migrate back to Alaska in the springtime.
Blue whales are generally spotted during the summer months, June through September. Also known as the world’s largest animals, blue whales typically pass through the Pacific waters near San Diego in the summer months. They’re known for their tall spouts, sometimes reaching as many as 40 feet high. Blue whales are best seen by boat than shore since they tend to stay further out in the water than gray whales.
Finback whales – the second largest whale after the blue whale – are also commonly seen. Humpbacks are spotted occasionally between January and March.
What can I expect on a San Diego whale watching tour?
If you’re hoping to spot blue whales, expect to spend a little more time on the water since blue whales’ migratory path takes place further out in the Pacific. You’ll likely pass by both active and retired military watercraft along with historical monuments like the Cabrillo National Monument.
Gray whale tours may be a bit shorter since gray whales do come closer to shore. You can also occasionally spot gray whales from onshore.
What other types of animals will I see in San Diego?
San Diego is rich in animal life, and you’ll probably spot dolphins, harbor seals, elephant seals, and sea lions as well as whales. Ocean sunfish, sharks, and seabirds are also quite common. Wildlife tours in San Diego are a fantastic way to connect with the nature of this beautiful coastal city in Southern California.
Near the San Diego Bay and in local wildlife refuges, you’ll also be able to spot the endangered Eastern Pacific green sea turtle. They typically migrate to lay their eggs in Baja California over the summer months.
What should I pack?
It might be tempting to pack a pair of sunglasses and a cover-up over your swimsuit, but the reality is that whale watching tours tend to be chilly – even in Southern California. Boat tours will take you to areas that are generally at least 10 degrees cooler and windy. We suggest bringing a warm sweatshirt or hoodie and a water-resistant light jacket to layer up. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a UV-blocking hat are also important since the sun is reflected by the ocean waves.
Also, don’t forget to pack your camera or binoculars so you can get the full experience of seeing the whales. We recommend a waterproof camera or water-resistant smartphone case too.
What should I wear to go whale watching in San Diego?
It can be up to 15 degrees cooler on board a boat when it’s moving, so we suggest wearing layers that are easy to take on and off. Light, water-resistant jackets are a great choice. You should also wear comfortable, sturdy closed-toed shoes with non-marking soles.
Is there a tipping policy for whale watching?
There’s no pressure to tip for most tours, but gratuity is always greatly appreciated. Check specific GetMyBoat listings to see if gratuity or tip is specified.
Will I get seasick?
If you’re worried about getting seasick, there are a few things you can do to prepare or alleviate the symptoms.
- Take Dramamine if you’re really worried or prone to seasickness – but only before you leave (it’s not effective to take once you’re already seasick)
- Keep your eyes on the horizon ahead and try not to look behind you
- Don’t go below deck if you don’t need to – fresh air is better when you’re seasick
- Pack some crackers or ginger chews to help with nausea
- Avoid drinking alcohol before or during the tour
- Stay hydrated
Other things to do in San Diego
San Diego is known for its beautiful weather, sandy beaches, food and restaurant scene, and of course, the Pacific Ocean. When you aren't out whale watching, here are some other great things to consider – on the water and onshore.
- Book a yacht charter or boat rental to hang out for a more leisurely day on the water – and you’ll likely still spot some whales. Start your search for the perfect San Diego boat rental.
- Experience more of San Diego’s natural beauty – go for a hike along the bluffs or wander into meadows. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Park is a popular spot for great ocean views.
- Try something new like snorkeling, shark diving, surfing, or sea kayaking for a memorable trip full of adventure.
- Visit the famed San Diego Zoo, known for its open-air exhibits, koalas, elephants, giant pandas, and polar bears (more information about animals to check out at the zoo here).
- Go fishing. San Diego is a terrific spot for avid anglers with access to both freshwater and saltwater fishing. For saltwater fishing, you can find mahi-mahi, marlin, albacore, bluefin, yellowfin, yellowtail offshore and halibut, calico bass, rockfish, white seabass, and corbina inshore. There are also lakes and reservoirs for fishing catfish, carp, sturgeon, crappie, trout, and largemouth bass. Note that if you are 16 years of age or older, you’ll need to secure a sport fishing license to fish the Pacific Ocean or on a lake. Full details on California wildlife licenses available on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.