A Guide To San Diego Whale Watching

Zack Garhart
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A Guide to Whale Watching in San Diego

San Diego is special for many reasons. One reason people flock to the shores of San Diego is to see the maritime life and watch some of nature’s most majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Whale watching, in particular, is one of the treasured activities in San Diego. In this piece, we will touch on everything you need to know about how to partake in whale watching.

Best Seasons For Whale Watching in San Diego

There are two migration seasons in which you can catch these magical creatures. Winter season ranges from Mid December – April. This is the prime time to see Gray Whales. The Fall Season, from Mid June – September, is the best time to see Blue Whales. With the different seasonal patterns that whales follow during their migration, there are plenty of opportunities to catch them in action while you’re in San Diego.

Winter Season and Gray Whales

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Every year, anywhere from 15-20,000 gray whales make a 10,000-mile excursion from Alaska and even the Arctic Bering, all the way to the lagoons of Baja California. Of all the mammals on earth, the gray whales make the longest migration journey, up to 12,000 miles!

The purpose of this arduous journey is to give birth to their children (calves). Whales stay a few months so their offspring can become strong enough to make the journey back to Alaska in the spring. This makes San Diego, with about 75 miles of coast to offer, the perfect place to have a high chance of catching the gentle giants.

While the chances of catching them are especially high in San Diego, the frequency varies. Gray whales are known to travel in packs of 2-3, or sometimes even alone. Since there’s no telling when they’ll pop to the surface, you must keep your eyes peeled and be ready to zone in when they do.

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Spring Season and Blue Whales

Springtime is when the Blue whales take charge of the sea. Blue whales are the largest creatures on earth. But they’re also one of the most endangered species on the planet. You can find these massive wonders along the coast of San Diego from mid-June through October.

In fact, the largest gathering of blue whales in the world happens in San Diego during those months. Anywhere from 2,000 – 3,000 Blue whales come the eat, rest, and play, on our coastline during those summer months.

Changes in the weather and marine life has drawn more Blue Whales to the coastline and closer to San Diego to eat.

Even though San Diego has been attracting more blue whales of late, they still prefer to be further from the coastline and deeper into the ocean. Being that they can grow upwards to that of 100+ feet, this makes sense! However, blue whales give away their location by shooting out a 30-foot column of water in the air which can be seen from afar.

A pair of binoculars and a good sense of adventure are all you need! And if you’re looking to spot a killer whale, you’ll need to spend plenty of time scouting the seas. Spotting one of these creatures is rare, but certainly memorable!

Guided Tours for Whale Watching in San Diego

If you’re looking for a curated guide for seeing and watching whales, look no further than some of the organized guides that are given out in San Diego.

One option for whale watching tours is through Next Level Sailing. Rates will vary, depending on the time of the day and day of the week. With an experienced crew of captains and amazing Yachts, this company is one of our favorites in San Diego.

Another tour guide company is San Diego Whale Watch. Not only do you have the opportunity to see whales as they swim in the sea, but while you’re out on your tour you’re likely to see baby dolphins!

The San Diego Natural History Museum works with City Experiences to offer a unique whale-watching experience. Tickets for tours from City Experiences start at $63 and encompass 3.5 hours of sea time. With narration from naturalists from the Natural History Museum, this is a great option for those looking to learn more about whales and the ocean! These tours run on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only.

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Pro tip: if you’re not looking to book a tour, check out some spots in San Diego that offer views from land. Torrey Pines State Reserve is one place to catch glimpses of whales as they surge from the ocean. Torrey Pines has plenty of hiking trails that offer vantage points over the ocean, allowing you to see whales in their natural habitat while you cruise through nature.

Interested in seeing more of what a whale watching tour looks like? Watch this video!

Last Minute Tips

To wrap up, the best time to catch whales and go whale watching is in the morning. The seas are calmer and there are not as many people out. You also want to be quite conscious of the weather as well. Planning to ensure you have proper attire is always a great place to start. The weather can change from sea to land, so make sure you pack layers and weather-resistant jackets in case it starts to rain.

Here are some of the best-reported locations to catch our underwater friends: the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the Cabrillo National Monument, and Torrey Pines State Reserve where the hiking trails offer great views of the Pacific and the horizon.

We recommend staying at our ITH Adventure Hostel in downtown San Diego, which is within walking distance from where the whale-watching tours depart.

Also, be sure to sign up for our Traveler’s Club at ITH. This is a great way to save money on all future bookings with ITH!

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