Located just a couple of hours south of San Francisco and San Jose, Monterey is a beautiful coastal city with incredible history eternalized in John Steinbeck’s novels. It’s also home to dozens of marine animals and wildlife, and a prime destination for whale watching fans.

Whale Watching in Monterey Bay

What is the best time of year to go whale watching in Monterey?

The Pacific Coast is a perfect destination for whale watchers, and Monterey is fortunate to have year-round whale watching available. If you’re hoping to spot gray whales, you may want to look for a trip between December and March. Blue whales and humpback whales are typically spotted during the months of April through December.

What is the best time of day to go whale watching in Monterey?

Whales are just as likely to be visible in the afternoon as they are in the morning, so fortunately there’s not really a best time of day to whale watch in Monterey Bay. However, conditions are generally calmer in the morning so that may make it a more enjoyable experience for you.

What types of whales will I see in Monterey Bay?

From about December through March, you’ll see gray whales as they migrate south. Blue whales can be spotted from Monterey Bay from about April to December.

Humpback whales tend to pass through Monterey Bay from January through November, spending the coldest months in the warmer waters near Costa Rica.

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.

What other types of animals will I see in Monterey Bay?

Besides whales, you’ll be amazed by the diverse wildlife found in Monterey. Dolphins and killer whales are spotted all year-round, and there are tons of other marine life who live on the bay. Sea otters are rather adorable critters, often seen floating along the water or looking for food, and they’re around all year. You might spot elephant seals in the wintertime, and Monterey Bay is also home to adult white sharks in late summer and early fall.

As for bird life, there are 94 kinds of marine birds locally, so keep an eye out for brown pelicans, sooty shearwaters, gulls, and cormorants.

Monterey Bay Whale Watching Tours

What should I pack?

Monterey weather ranges from about 48 degrees Fahrenheit (annual low temperature) to 63 degrees Fahrenheit (annual high temperature). Since it can be anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees cooler out on the water, we highly recommend wearing layers that are easy to put on or remove depending on the conditions. A base layer, warm sweater or sweatshirt, and a water-resistant medium-weight jacket are recommended. You should also bring sunglasses and sunscreen to prevent sun damage.

Don’t forget a camera or binoculars to get a better glimpse of Monterey’s incredible whales.

What should I wear to go whale watching in Monterey?

Whale watching is not a great time to be decked out in your finest clothing. Wear something you don’t mind getting wet; though it’s unlikely that you’ll get wet, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Since it can get pretty chilly in Monterey, we’d recommend long pants, a base layer, a mid-weight layer, a sweatshirt, and a jacket. The last thing you want is to be cold or uncomfortable out on the water!

Is gratuity required for whale watching tours?

Gratuity is always appreciated but not required by any means. You’re welcome to tip if you’d like!

I’m worried about getting seasick. What should I do?

If you’re worried about getting seasick, there are a few things you can do to prepare or alleviate the symptoms.

Don’t worry – seasickness is fairly uncommon, but there are some things you can do to prepare.

First, you may want to book a morning whale watching tour since the waters are typically calmer then.

Next, you may want to take Dramamine if you’re not used to boating or if you’re prone to seasickness. If you take Dramamine, it’s most effective if you take it an hour or so before boating.

We’d also suggest packing some crackers or ginger ale in case you experience nausea, keeping your gaze focused on the horizon ahead, and staying hydrated.

Other things to do in Monterey Bay and surrounding areas

In addition to whale watching and coastal views, Monterey is home to Pebble Beach and is well-known as a top golfing destination. It makes for a great weekend getaway for locals or part of a longer trip for visitors. Here are some of the other things we’d recommend checking out while you’re here in the Monterey Bay.

  • Check out the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium to learn more about the incredible wildlife you’ve seen on your whale watching tour. Tickets are a bit expensive – $49.95 for adults and $29.95 for children ages 3 to 12 – but the things you’ll see and learn are amazing. You can look for hotels that offer ticket packages or purchase a membership to make it a bit more cost effective.
  • Walk down Cannery Row, immortalized in a novel by John Steinbeck of the same name. There you’ll find great wine tasting, shopping, and more.
  • Go kayaking to see the flora and fauna close up. Just be careful not to get too close to any wildlife, because you’ll disrupt them and potentially endanger them.
  • Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea (just a 15-minute drive off Highway 1). This quaint town is very unique; there are no street addresses (which requires residents to convene at the Post Office to pick up mail), there’s a municipal code that prohibits heels taller than 2 inches or with a base of less than 1 square inch, and chain restaurants are banned. Explore the boutiques and delicious restaurants.
  • Hike Point Lobos State Natural Reserve for breathtaking views of the ocean and cliffs. You’ll also get a chance to see the Monterey cypress in its native environment. There are easy and challenging trails for every kind of adventurer.
  • Take a drive down to Big Sur and snap a photo of the Bixby Bridge.