Whale watching tours from San Diego offer a truly spectacular view of the ocean. From Canada all the way down the Pacific coast of North America, you’ll find majestic sea creatures piercing the waves as they leap. Many whales live off the coast of San Diego – you can usually see killer whales, minke whales, fin whales and the occasional humpback whale in their ocean habitat year-round – while both gray and blue whales can be spotted on their migration to give birth, feed or mating. Whales tend to congregate in large numbers along this vast coastline, and this is one of the few destinations.
Note, however, that while whale watching tours in San Diego officially operate year-round, the best time to see this natural phenomenon is during the official migration season. For gray whales, this runs from December to April, while mid-June to September is the time to see the largest mammal on the planet, the blue whale. More than 20,000 greys and about 2,000 blues (which far outnumber the endangered species) make this long journey through San Diego each year. The whale watching trips from San Diego are numerous and competitive. Here are our five favorite tours when taking into account many variables such as price, duration and safety.
San Diego Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise
From: $45 per person
At 3.5 hours, this great value cruise is more than just whale watching. While this is undoubtedly the biggest draw, the whales wouldn’t exist if the rest of the food chain that supports them didn’t thrive. Therefore, your captain will be on the lookout for larger fish like sea lions and tilapia, as well as some of the more notable seabirds like pelicans. However, the dolphin population is not to be ignored, and there are at least four species of dolphins in the California Pacific. Better yet, if you don’t see at least one whale or dolphin during your cruise, you’ll get a free pass to come back and try again.
San Diego Whale Watching Tour
From $50 per person
Another longtime popular whale watching tour in San Diego is this one, which heads out on a two-story yacht that offers excellent viewing of the water. These four-hour-long voyages are either in the morning or in the afternoon and are led by marine experts who not only have a sixth sense for the creatures you hope to see, but also unlock the intricacies of these beautiful marine ecosystems. As with all of the trips on this list, those prone to seasickness may struggle with the duration of these trips, especially in rough seas.
Whale Watching San Diego
From $30 per person
The least expensive tour on this list uses a smaller yacht than some of the larger cruise ships, the Associated. There are pros and cons to this, such as a more personalized tour experience, although the lack of a second deck and being closer to the water means it’s harder to see what’s in the distance. On the plus side, it’s even more exciting if the up-close sightings happen. As with all the trips on this list, there’s no way to plan for the randomness of nature, so each trip will have a different sighting. This trip lasts about three hours.
Whale Watching in Mishen Bay
From $52 per person
Gray whales, blue whales, minke whales, they’re all hard to identify to the untrained eye. That’s why it’s handy to have a marine biologist on your whale-watching tour, not only to spot and distinguish species, but also to learn more about their lives and habits. This three-hour tour begins at Mission Bay, which offers faster access to the open ocean than many other tours that begin at San Diego Bay Marina. Mission Bay is located north of San Diego, toward La Jolla. Like most of the tours on this list, the departure point is best done using your own vehicle.
La Jolla Kayak Whale Watching Tour
From $71 per person
Continue north to La Jolla and you’ll find the stunning cliff front La Jolla Bay, whose underwater park attracts divers and whale watchers. What better way to immerse yourself in the laid-back atmosphere of the San Diego region than to avoid motorized vehicles altogether and take a kayak trip to the Pacific Ocean? Not only is it more environmentally friendly, but it’s probably the most intimate way to interact with the whales. Guided tours lead the way to ensure your safety as you leave the coast. While whale sightings are not guaranteed, dolphins and sea lions are common sightings and boating with them is equally impressive.