San Diego Whale Watching

You can get up close to these impressive creatures with whale watching cruises, attend a festival, or observe the whales from land.

Cruises range from popular guided tours in comfortable ships to more intimate and adventurous tours in vessels ranging from beautiful sailboats to kayaks. Some companies also offer more extended excursions, lasting from several days to over a week.

Photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium
Gray Whale Spyhopping
Gray Whale Migration, San Diego whale watching cruise

Some tours offer a guarantee of whale sightings, or you'll receive a rain check. At any rate, you're likely to see a variety of wildlife, including dolphins, sea lions, seals, and sea birds. The dolphins alone are well worth getting out on the water to see; they're such a joy to watch. You may also spot other kinds of whales, such as humpback whales and orcas.

For the budget conscious, the least expensive tours are offered by Hornblower Cruises. Some companies also offer reduced prices for weekdays.

San Diego Whale Watching
Cruises and Excursions

Photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium
San Diego whale watching cruise with Birch Aquarium guide

  • Hornblower Cruises and Events offers 3.5 hour whale watching cruises aboard a luxury yacht, which features climate-controlled indoor seating, spacious outdoor sundecks, an onboard whale museum, educational videos, and a snack bar.

    Hornblower has partnered with the San Diego Natural History Museum to provide expert narration with naturalists on every tour.

San Diego Whale Watching Aboard Sailboats

  • Sail San Diego offers twice daily whale watching cruises aboard one of their 40 foot Catalina sailboats. Tours are intimate, with only 6-10 guests aboard. The crew includes trained naturalists on every trip.

    Complimentary snacks and beverages are provided, as well as extra jackets, blankets, foul weather gear and other amenities, including two heads (restrooms). The company has over 20 years of experience.

San Diego Whale Watching Adventure Tours

  • Western Prince Whale and Wildlife Tours offers twice daily tours aboard the "Western Explorer," a 27 foot rigid hull inflatable boat (RIB). The boat was designed specifically for eco-tours and carries only 15 passengers.

    Tours last for 3 - 3.5 hours and usually focus on the Coronado Islands off of Baja California. Tours are led by experienced captains and naturalists. Western Prince has 24 years of experience running tours in Washington State, and now in San Diego.

  • Adventure R.I.B Rides offers daily San Diego whale watching trips aboard a U.S. Navy SEAL Deployment Rigid Inflatable Boat (R.I.B.), a very fast and maneuverable craft.

    With a limit of 6 passengers, these tours offer an intimate view of whales, dolphins, and other wildlife. The experienced captains also serve as naturalists. The company offers custom excursions and private charters as well.

San Diego Whale Watching Kayak Tours

  • La Jolla Kayak offers 2.5 hour guided tours that take you about a mile off the La Jolla coastline. You'll also explore reefs, spectacular cliffs and the seven La Jolla sea caves.
  • Tours include rental and transportation to the beach of a double or single kayak complete with paddle, life vest, and wet suit. There's a mandatory 5 minute training session, and facilities include restrooms, changing facilities, and lockers.

    No experience is necessary, and children over 6 are welcome with adult supervision.

  • Hike Bike Kayak Sports offers 3 hour guided tours from La Jolla Shores. Tours include a one or two-person kayak, paddles, wetsuits, life jackets, and a brief instruction and safety talk. Warm drinks and snacks are provided after the tour.
  • No experience is necessary, and children 8 years and up are welcome, but must be able to swim.

  • San Diego Bike and Kayak Tours offers guided tours at La Jolla Shores. Tours go a mile or more offshore, and also explore the seacliffs and La Jolla sea caves. Tours include kayak rental and transportation to and from the beach, paddle, and life vest. Wet suits can also be rented.

    Children ages 6 and up are welcome, and no experience is necessary.

San Diego Whale Watching from Land
Festivals and Events

Map courtesy of National Park Service
Cabrillo National Monument
map of Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego whale watching overlook

  • The Big Bay Whale Days takes place during the month of January, when special discounts are offered at San Diego's waterfront and other attractions. There's also an annual Big Bay Whale Festival day, with special events, attractions, and discounts.
  • Cabrillo National Monument is a great spot for observing the gray whale migration from land. The whale overlook near the Old Point Loma Lighthouse offers an excellent vantage point, and if you have binoculars, all the better. A limited number of binoculars are also available at the Visitor Center during whale watching season.

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