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Is Whale Watching in San Diego Worth It?

This is our complete San Diego whale watching guide with tips for each season and month. San Diego one of the best locations on the West Coast of the U.S. for whale watching, as 70 miles of coastline in this area is directly in their migration path. Migrating whales can be found off shore year-round and, depending on the season, different types of whales are more prominent than others. Get up close and personal with these incredible creatures with a cruise that specializes in whale watching and knows where to go for the best chances of connecting with the whales.

 
Whale Watching Season | Overview


The image takes you to San Diego whale watching and other tours

The whale watching season in San Diego is split into two parts: You can spot gray whales in winter and spring. Usually from mid-December until late April. Blue whale sightings are possible in the summer from May to August. You can see Humpback whales, fin whales, and minke whales year-round.

The best time for whale watching in San Diego is in the morning. The sea is usually calmer compared to other times of the day. Also, perfect sea and weather conditions make it easier to spot whales from a greater distance. The season doesn’t matter so much, as whales can be spotted here at any time of the year.

Disclaimer: Although San Diego is one of the best areas for whale watching activities, we and the tour operators cannot guarantee stunnning whale sightings at certain times. Wildlife on our planet is not 100% predictable. However, tour operators usually offer a free voucher for another tour in the seldom case no sightings happened. 

Recommended Whale Watching Tour | Pre-Book
 

The image above takes you to our preferred tour! While almost every whale watching tour operator is great in San Diego, we prefer the Hornblower Tours for three reasons:

  1. They have the largest boat which makes it less likely to get seasick
  2. They probably have the most experienced captain
  3. Their staff is extremely professional, knowledgable and very friendly

Reserve a spot here: San Diego Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruises by Hornblower (via GetYourGuide with excellent service)Important: Pre-booking is highly recommended(!), as tours sell out quickly and you run the risk of not getting a spot. Read more details about the Hornblower Tour and other tour tips in our Whale Watching Tour Tips section below.

 

Monthly Reports | San Diego Whale Sightings and Weather
 

In January, you can spot gray whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and other whales. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 6 rainy days. Typical sightings: ‘A pair of gray whales popped up. They were surfacing for breathes and then went for deep dives. Fascinating! We also saw a pod of about 50 Risso Dolphins and over 200 common dolphins acting playful’

In February, you’ll most likely see gray whales and dolphins on a tour, maybe Humpback and others as well. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 7 rainy days. Typical sightings: ‘On the morning tour we encountered a total of 4 southbound gray whales, as well as a few Pacific White-Sided Dolphins and at least 20 common dolphins around our boat’

In March, gray whales are still migrating along the coast. Humpback whales, dolphins and other types of whales are possible. Weather: 67°F (average high) and 7 rainy days. Typical sightings: ‘We saw three northbound gray whales, two adults, and a calf. Throughout the day we encountered a total of 14 gray whales, at least 10 of them in close proximity to the boat. Unforgettable!’

In April, you usually have the last chance to see a gray whale on its migration. You may even spot a baby gray whale with its mother. Additionally, dolphins and perhaps Humpbacks or fin whales are possible, sometimes even a blue whale already (but, that’s kind of rare in April). Weather: 68°F (average high) and 4 rainy days. Typical sightings: ‘We spotted one northbound gray whale on its migration. It surfaced quite often. What a sight! On the way back we were accompanied by a pod of 100+ dolphins.’

In May, the blue whale season usually officially begins with many of them circling not too far from the San Diego coast. The largest creature ever existed on our planet! Weather: 70°F (average high) and 3 rainy days. Sighting Example: ‘On our morning trip we encountered a total of three blue whales and one fin whale, as well as a megapod of common dolphins. One of the blue whales seemed comfortable close to our boat which provided excellent looks and resulted in a great experience!’

June is another month with great opportunities for blue whale sightings, as it’s still their peak season. Weather: 72°F (average high) and 1 rainy day. Typical sighting: ‘We encountered one blue whale not too far from us. This one spent quite a while at the surface for excellent photo opportunities. And again, a pod of at least 50+ playful dolphins. A great trip!’

In July, you can not only see blue whales, it’s possible to spot fin whales and humpbacks in San Diego water. Weather: 75°F (average high) and 1 rainy day. Sighting report: ‘We came across three different whales: One humpback, one blue whale, and one Bryde’s whale! All three were amazing, but the highlight was the blue whale. It was so close and then even swam underneath our boat for 3(!) times. What an exciting close-up encounter!

August is the last month where you have a good chance to spot the incredible blue whales Other whale sightings are possible as well. Weather: 79°F (average high) and 1 rainy day. A sightings report from a day in August: ‘No signs of a blue whale today. However, we saw a minke whale and a humpback. The minke whale was really close to our boat and was even swimming belly-up! What an amazing experience to watch! We also saw two big pods of playful dolphins.’

In September, you might still see blue whales, but it’s not very likely to spot them on one single tour at this time of the year. Weather: 77°F (average high) and 1 rainy day. Sighting report from one tour: ‘Again a calm sea and great visibility on our morning tour. That’s why we could easily spot some spouts in a distance. Two humpback whales produced these. Both were later close enough to our vessel for stunning photos and an unforgettable sight. Additionally, we happened to come across a megapod of about 1000 common dolphins!’

In October, you may come across humpback whales and possibly some rare whale sightings, as well as pods of dolphins of course. Weather: 75°F (average high) and 3 rainy days. Sighting example: ‘A passenger spotted a spout in a greater distance. We identified a humpback whale which approached our boat later, providing a stunning sight! We also saw pods of dolphins and one hammerhead shark during our tour.’

November has a good chance of seeing humpback whales as they migrate south. While rare, it’s also possible to spot exotic species like killer whales. Weather: 70°F (average high) and 4 rainy days. Sightings report: ‘The weather and sea conditions, as well as the sightings, were spectacular today. We encountered a total of eight(!) humpback whales on our morning tour. We observed their mighty spouts and took some incredible photos!’

In December, you can spot gray whales again, as they leave their feeding area in Alaska waters, migrating to the south along the coast. To spot them join a tour from mid-December. Before that, it’s more likely to see a humpback whale. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 6 rainy days. Sighting report: ‘Besides pods of dolphins greeting us, we spotted two southbound gray whales on this tour right before Christmas. They didn’t get too close to our boat but we were able to take enough amazing photos!’

 

Winter and Spring Whale Watching


A gray whale in San Diego waters

  • Season/Months: Mid-December until late April
  • Whales: Gray Whale
  • Recent Sighting Record: It’s not uncommon that you may see a pair of gray whales. It gets even better: Recently in a January, the passengers on one tour spotted 20(!) gray whales. That’s absolutely breathtaking!

Every winter and into spring, the magnificent gray whale (up to 20,000 of them!) migrates south from Alaska down to Baja, California. That’s about 10,000 miles. The gray whale is huge – about the width of a basketball court (50 feet) and weighing up to 40 tons. To see them in the wild is truly a treat. Their goal is to reach the warmer waters so that the females can give birth to their calves. Then, when their offspring are strong enough, they head back north to Alaska around April.

San Diego whale watching in January is when things just start to heat up in the whale-watching world. A telltale sign that the Grey Whale is close by is the spout of water you will see off in the distance. The curious ones will come right up to the boat, and your heart wells with excitement to see such a humongous and mysterious creature so close in the flesh. Other Baleen whales and Toothed whales are also common sightings. And let’s not forget the harbor seals, green sea turtles and many species of birds that may choose to say “Hi!” to you along the way.

Further, in the winter season, the whale watching in March is when things start to slow down for gray whale sightings as they start their journey back up north. But that’s not to say that things cannot be any less exciting! You just never know when you will come across one or an entire pod of them. You might even see moms with their calves in April.

 

Summer and Fall Whale Watching


A nearby blue whale. Stunning!

  • Season/Months: May until August
  • Whales: Blue Whale [Fin Whale: Peak Season, Bryde’s Whale (rare) in July/August/September]

“Look! That blue whale just surfaced right beside us, so close to the boat! WOW!!” That’s what I said to my teammate when we went on a tour in August three years ago. It was so stunning!

Each summer the blue whale migration brings hundreds of blue whales near the coast of San Diego. You can spot blue whales usually from May until August. Sometimes they can even be seen as early as April or later in September when the blue whale season ends. Theoretically, you may also spot them at any other time of the year near San Diego, but that’s not very likely.

The blue whale is even larger than the gray whale. In fact, it’s the largest animal on earth and even larger than a dinosaur! San Diego sees the largest group of 2,000 to 3,000 blue whales feeding off the coast during the summer months. They can get as long as 100 feet and spout columns of water up to 30 feet. So, you can imagine that this is a great way to spot one, even from miles away! These guys will migrate from Antarctica to California. That means pods of blue whales pass by the coast of San Diego as they travel further north. Blue whales are usually found further out to sea, whereas the gray whale tends to keep closer into the shores of California.

 

Year-Round Whale Watching | + Dolphins


A humpback whale near San Diego

  • Whales: Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Minke Whale
  • Dolphins: Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Risso's Dolphins
  • Recent Sighting Record: Usually it’s possible to come across one, two or even three Humpbacks on a single tour. However, a recent record for humpback whales was 7 on a tour in December 2017. Once we saw a humpback breaching at least 10 times throughout the tour!
  • Recent Dolphin Sighting Record: Often you see dozens of dolphins. However, once there was megapod of about 1000 dolphins spotted on one tour!

Surfacing juvenile humpback whales are common during every season. They might even hang out in the same area of water for weeks. One of the glorious things to witness is a pod of dolphins feeding right alongside a whale or two. Humpbacks tend to move around the water a bit more than others, sometimes even zig-zagging close to your boat. Their spouting and particularly their breaching behavior are truly spectacular. Regardless if they are up close near the boat or in the distance. While you can spot humpbacks throughout the year, there is often a peak in March and April for them.

Minke whales are smaller and are able to swim underneath the boat as they are checking out the tourists (that is, if they are so inclined!) They have white sides and “Minke Mittens” which are white on its flippers.

Fin whales can be seen in San Diego waters especially in the summer months. They’re incredible it is the second-largest species on our planet after the blue whale! Its color is black or dark brownish-grey. However, the underside is white.

More ocean life: On a tour, you can experience even more fascinating ocean life such as White-sided Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, and the Common Dolphin. They are usually sighted on a boat tour every season. The only dolphins that are not all-year-round are the white-sided variety, which typically show up in the winter months. They migrate down here from the Pacific Northwest waters. Dolphins are very playful and eager to interact with the tour boats. Risso’s dolphins can also be found, although they are rarer in these waters. You may also witness sea lions, several species of sharks and many different sea birds. The Mola Mola fish, a species of ocean sunfish, is also spotted in summer off the shores of San Diego.

 

Rare Sightings | Orca (Killer Whale), False Killer Whale, Pilot Whale, etc.

On a San Diego whale watching tour you could even see some rare species. Some of them are spotted less than 6 times a year and some every other year only.

 

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Many trails lead to Alamere; these three hikes are the most common ones to get to the falls:

Several trails are leading to the Alamere Falls. We'd chosen the shortest one. Continue reading to get all necessary information for an awesome hike and waterfall experience. During summer from July to September, the Park is often covered in fog while the inland has sunshine and warm temps.

Summer Fog at Point Reyes

Avoiding Crowds

It is quite a popular park due to the close location to San Francisco. The Alamare Falls are much loved, and the Palomarin car park already fills up early morning at weekends. If possible hike to the falls mid-week. If you can’t get a parking space, you have to queue or leave. Shoulder parking is not permitted.

Best Time to Start the Hike

Mid-week start your hike to the Alamare Falls around two to three hours before low tide depending on the trail you choose. At weekends and in the summer months start early to get a parking lot. Tide times for the hike to the Alamere Falls or check at the Bear Valley Information Center

Tip for Photographers

Best light for a good shot of the falls is after midday.

Alamere Falls after Midday

If you do the hike on a hot summer day bring your bath cloth for swimming in the Pelican Lake, the last on the right on your way back.

Point Reyes Pelican Lake for swimming

Points of Interest Inside the Park

If hiking to the falls try to combine your visit with one of the other attractions depending on the day and month of your visit;

  • Point Reyes Lighthouse built in 1870
    300 steps leading down to the picturesque lighthouse with a spectacular view if it is not foggy. Unfortunately, only open from Friday to Monday.
     
  • Chimney Rock
    The overlook is close to the lighthouse to spot elephant seals while breeding during December to March. Many visitors want to observe the spectacle which causes much traffic and shuttle buses are offered.
     
  • Tule Elk Reserve on Tomales Point 
    These specific elks were reintroduced in 1978. It’s a more than 9 miles / 15 km hike on the peninsula to Tomales Bluff and back. A shorter option is the 2 miles / 3.2 km hike to Windy Gap and back where you may spot elks at a spring. The Tule Elk Rut Season from around August to late October/beginning of November is a spectacular time.
  • Migrating gray whales can be spotted around the lighthouse and Chimney Rock between January to April. Humpback whales  migrate past Point Reyes from November to March. 
Weather / Climate

Point Reyes has a coastal climate with dry summer and cool winter. Only very view rain occurs from mid-April to October. Most of the precipitation happens from December to March. It’s often windy at Point Reyes, and very strong winds are common in November and December. Fog occurs in summer mostly from July to September. If it’s hot in the backcountry, the fog might stay until the afternoon.

Where to Stay (bookmark the links)

We recommend spending minimum two days in the Point Reyes National Seashore. The park has so much to offer; outstanding nature, wildlife, several hiking trails, and coastline. We'd been here already twice and still haven't seen all of its beauty. Situated inside the park is the HI Point Reyes Hostel. Next to the park in Olema is the quiet and lovely The Lodge of Point Reyes with an excellent restaurant. Probably the best accommodation in this area. 

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The name originates from three bridges in the early 1900s. The inner and outer arch are collapsed and only the middle one remained which is an Arch Rock now.

Popular small beach frequently with lifeguard during the day in summer. Less busy and even more beautiful in the evening at sunset and low tide. Tide pooling during the day is much fun for the younger ones at low tide. The Natural Bridges State Beach is open from 8 a.m. until sunset. The visitor center is open from 10 am until 4 pm. The State Beach vehicle fee is 10 $ a day.

Parking

There is limited parking in front of the State Beach allowed for 20 minutes only. Plenty of parking lots close to the visitor center, shoulder parking direction the entrance kiosk, and outside the State Beach. Anyhow, on weekends in summer it gets quite busy.

Short Term Parking at Natural Bridges State Park and Beach

Highlights

Walking through the bridge is possible at spring tide only a couple of times a year. It occurs in spring and fall when the full or new moon is closest to the earth. Tide times Natural Bridges

Events

  • On the second Sunday in October the monarch butterfly is welcomed from 11 am until 4 pm. It's an amazing festival for the whole family. 
  • The second Saturday in February is dedicated to the whale migration. 
Winter

The park is a temporary home for thousands of Monarch Butterflies during the winter. They migrate from the cold Rockie Mountain Valleys. The mild climate and the eucalyptus trees provide a safe place for them. They feed on the nectar of the milkweed. The butterflies arrive around mid-October and stay until late January to mid- February. Guided Monarch Butterfly Tours are offered in fall and winter at 11 am and 2 pm.

Spring

During spring wildflowers are in bloom.

Weather and Water Temperature

During the summer from June to August, it's dry, and drought occurs. The average day temp is 17°C / 62°F, but 30°C / 86°F can happen as well. Water temp in summer around 16°C / 61°F only. Most precipitation in winter from December to February with its peak in February. Average day temps are around 10°C / 50°F.

Natural Bridges Park Map and Brochure including wheelchair accessibility

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Facts About Addo

Addo is a year-round destination. Best game viewing months are June to September. It is the drier season and elephants gather in numbers around the waterholes. During September and October, many animals give birth to their young ones. This causes an increase in predator activity and a higher chance of spotting.

Birding

From September onwards migratory birds arrive from the north like the European stork.
More information about birds in Addo.

Weather

It is hot in summer from November to February and cold in winter from June to August. Night temperature can be near freezing. Rain can always occur with two peaks in February/March and October/November. If it is rainy in summer game is not any longer hiding at midday. It is a semi-arid region with little rainfall in total. Best months are April/May and September with mild temperature, and it is mostly dry.

Crowds

It is a popular destination for tourists and residents. Peak season during summer, especially Christmas holiday and Eastern. Also busier during European summer holidays.

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La Palma is one of the few places in the world where you can spot Blainville's Beaked Whale. Other sightings on this trip included striped dolphins, pilot whales, sperm whales and more.

Many whales and dolphins are year round at the Canary Islands. Best weather from April to October, shoulder season April-June and September-October are less hot and crowded.

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Massachusetts is well known for a high concentration of humpback whales, finback whales, sometimes minke whales and dolphins, therefore, many agencies give a guarantee.

When is the best time? May, June, July, August, September and October are the months for whale watching from Boston with great sighthings. Each summer the whales migrate to Massachusetts and back to warmer water when the weather gets cold.

Make sure to check our 7 Top Tips for Whale Watching from Boston at the end of this article.
 

Time of Day

In terms of sightings there is no big difference between mornings or afternoon. Mornings are usually less crowded though. That's we recommend the first tour in the morning. From mid-June until early September the first one starts at 9 AM from Monday through Sunday. During other months it can be 10 AM or even later. Click on the tour link below and check available times. 
 

Weather and Sea

During the months of July, August and September the weather is generally more consistently pleasant. However, the whales even come out in the rain. If sea sickness is an issue for you check the weather forecast first to choose a calm day for whale watching. Marine Weather Boston Harbor
 

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