Published: Oct 28 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.