San Diego Whale Watching: In-Depth Guide to Seasons, Locations, and Tours

Laid-back west coast charm, spotless sandy beaches, and a plethora of water sports make America’s Finest City a go-to destination year-round. Add an extra splash of H20 adventure to your next SoCal getaway, when you schedule a San Diego whale watch.

Follow along to learn everything you need to know about the best whale watching in San Diego.

Fortunately for visitors, Southern California is a mecca for all types of marine life. From Mission Bay to La Jolla, intrepid animal lovers can discover sea lions, whales, and dolphins.

Whether you are yearning to spot a humpback whale from Cabrillo or catch a glimpse of the gray whale migration in San Diego, our aquatic escapes offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get closer than ever to these majestic mammals.

Ready to dive into San Diego whale watching? Read on…

When is Whale Watching Season in San Diego?

Gray whales, blue whales, minke whales, and fin whales, oh my! Gaze upon pods of such giant beasts when you take to the sea (or land) in San Diego. Lovers of these aquatic animals can take pleasure in pursuing humpback, minke, and fin whales off the coast all year round.

Wondering about the rest of the San Diego whale-watching season? Blue Whale season in San Diego takes place during the summer months, usually lasting from May through August. However, for those fiending to see the wondrous migration of Grey whales, winter is the best bet. To catch these creatures on their annual journey from Alaska to Mexico, plan your whale watching in San Diego from mid-December to mid-March.

Every year 20,000 gray whales make the trip to the warm lagoons of Baja to give birth to their calves. After nursing and gaining strength, they return with their mothers to the North. The Gray Whale migration is the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis. San Diego’s stunning coast sits directly in the path of these traveling pods, making it the ideal place to observe this unique phenomenon.

Tequila, tombstones, brothels, and booze, oh my! Switch up your San Diego sightseeing when you book a San Diego Walking Tour.

Whale tale in ocean with crowd of people on cruise boat watching in San Diego, California, USASan Diego Whale Watching Tours

Witnessing tail slaps and breaches at golden hour, fascinating marine biologist narration, and a multitude of photo ops. Whale-watching excursions in San Diego offer up a bounty of surprises and unforgettable sights:

Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari

Ahoy, Captain Dave! Dive into Southern California’s abundance of marine life when you step aboard any of the Captain’s precious vessels. Choose to seek out sea lions, whales, dolphins, sharks, and more on Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari. Opt for the classic bigger group experience on the Manute’a, or keep things intimate on the Zodiac Safari.

The Manute’a is a high-speed catamaran that promises some of the world’s most unique dolphin and whale-watching experiences. Immerse yourself in the whale’s watery world with Dave’s exclusive Eye-to-Eye Underwater Viewing Pods. These ingenious tools allow you to feel what it’s like to swim underwater with these curious creatures sans a single splash!

In addition, the catamaran contains a hydrophone that allows guests to listen along to enchanting whale and dolphin vocalizations. Check out the micro museum, learn fascinating animal facts, and chow down on Mrs. Capt. Dave’s world-famous Triple Fudge Brownies.

Whale and Dolphin Watching Tour

More than 50 years of experience plus a guarantee of marine mammal life? Yes, please! Put your whale-watching tour in the very capable hands of Dana Wharf Whale Watching when you reserve a Whale and Dolphin Watching Adventure Tour. Your 2-hour excursion will feature close-ups of a variety of seasonal whale life. During the winter and spring, gaze at Gray Whales, while in summer and fall, seek out the mammoth Blue whales.

Don’t forget to spot Flipper, as bottlenose dolphins love to frolic in these Pacific waters year round. In addition, it is not uncommon on your voyage to catch sight of sea lions, sharks, fins, minke, and humpback whales. Savor scenic views as you are regaled by expert narrations straight from your accomplished marine naturalist captain.

Two whales peaking their heads out from the water on a sunny day in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: San Diego Whale Watch via Facebook

Whale Watching Tour

Feast your eyes on fin slaps while you appreciate the luxury and comfort of a two-story yacht on your Flagship Cruises Whale Watching Tour. Take in spellbinding 360-degree views as you train your eyes to spot gray whales, humpbacks, and more. Especially enjoyable during winter, this 3.5-hour San Diego boat tour is the ideal way to catch the gray whale migration from the Bering Sea to the lagoons of Baja, California, and back again.

Equal parts education and natural entertainment, guests of all ages will be wowed by the informative live commentary and up-close sights of sea creatures. Explore the fascinating ocean ecosystem of San Diego as you snap photo after photo of whales, sea lions, and sea birds.

Dolphin & Whale Sunset Cruise

Let the magic of a red, gold, and orange sunset set the stage for an evening of ocean-worthy excitement as you cruise through Mission Bay. Round up your group, or spoil your significant other with a Dolphin and Whale Sunset Cruise. An exemplary way to enjoy the Bay’s beautiful waters, your 2.5-hour sightseeing trip combines sublime scenery by Mother Nature with the awesome appeal of whale watching.

Settle in for certified marine biologist narration and snacks available for purchase. Depending on the date you book, you can expect to encounter Grey whales, blue whales, humpbacks, fins, and more. Dashing species of dolphins are also known to frequent these waters, and in addition to bottlenose, you can often find common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and seasonally Pacific white-sided Dolphins.

white whale watch touring boat full of people sailing at sunset with orange sky in background
Photo Credit: San Diego Whale Watch via Facebook

Whale Watching from Land

Does the motion of the ocean make you a bit queasy? Put down the Dramamine and instead scout out these gentle giants from various land lookout points:

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve – grab those hiking boots and hit the trails at Torrey Pines. This coastal wilderness reserve of pine forests and sandstone canyons contains many winding cliff paths that provide perfect Pacific Ocean views of the gray whale’s migration.

Cabrillo National Monument – no vacation to San Diego is complete without a stop at their stunning National Park. Let little ones splash around in tidepools before seeking out Whale Watch Overlook.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps – this La Jolla gem not only delivers awesome shore whale viewing but also houses a giant two-story kelp forest, Leopard sharks, and Little Blue Penguins.

Take advantage of even more beautiful Bay views with the complete line of Flagship Cruises. From brunch buffets to dinner beer pairings, every voyage perfectly marries scenic vistas, San Diego sights, and sublime food.

view of beach from Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve & State Beach via Facebook

After a day of cuddly pandas and USS Midway history, you may think you’ve covered all there is to do in America’s Finest City. However, this beacon of California cool contains an entire world of underwater wonder.

Submerge yourself in one of the natural world’s most breathtaking journeys when you sign up for whale watching in San Diego.

Whether you opt to observe mama whales making their way to Baja from the Birch Aquarium or decide to step aboard an iconic Flagship Cruise, whale tours in San Diego are designed to put you in the middle of the action.

Savor the otherworldly sounds of humpbacks and dolphins. Meanwhile, coo at sea lions and snack on deliciously decadent brownies direct from Mrs. Captain Dave.

Can’t wait to see some cetaceans? Book your San Diego Whale Watch Tour today!

Tell us, What Whales Are You Hoping to See in San Diego?

Did we miss any of your favorite whale-watching spots?

Leave us a comment below!

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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