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Whale Watching in Southern California

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If you are visiting Southern California, don’t miss the opportunity to go whale watching!

Collage of different things you can see while on a whale watching tour in Southern California

One of my favorite things to do when I am near the sea is to go Whale Watching. Whales are magnificent creatures and nothing beats seeing one up close in their nature habitat.

When I found out that there are whales year-round in Southern California, I just had to visit Newport Beach to see them.

Newport Beach street in Southern California

I’ve been fortunate to have seen whales off the coast of Brazil, Maine, Hawaii and even at high-sea during a cruise to the Caribbean; but a sighting of these beautiful creatures always makes me so happy.

And as much as I love whales, my spirit animal is a dolphin and as it happens dolphins are pretty fond of whale watching tour boats and really abundant in SoCal as well!

Whale Watching in Southern California

Grey whale breach migrating in Southern California spotted from a whale watching tour boat

California is a migratory route for several species of whale as well as home to seals, sea lions, and dolphins year-round.

It wasn’t long after we pulled out the harbor until we spotted a juvenile grey whale. We were able to see him breach several times.

Once the whale was gone, the captain of the whale watching tour boat, sped the boat up so that the dolphins could ride our waves. A large pod of dolphins stuck around our boat for a good 20 mins.

Dolphins riding the waves of a whale watching tour boat

Where can you go Whale Watching in California?

There are several places along the coast of California that offer whale watching tours: Mendocino, San Diego, Point Reyes, Monterey, Channel Islands and off course Orange County where Newport Beach is located.

What is the best time of the year to go whale watching in Southern California?

In Southern California, there are whales year-round. From December-April is grey whale season and from May-October is blue whale season. Humpback whales are also spotted.

Dolphins and seals are plenty on the shores of California, so you will likely see them everywhere.

A large pod of common dolphins in Newport Beach, Socal

Where can I see whales from the shore in California?

A paid binocular at Newport Beach pier in Southern California.

In Newport Beach you can spot whales from the beach close to harbor with binoculars, but if you want to get up and close, take the whale watching tour.

What whale watching tour operator should I choose?

Davey's Locker whale watching Tour boat

We chose Davey’s Locker for our trip. They have a 95% rate of sightings and offer several tours a day. The crew was knowledgeable and the boat was comfortable. The tour lasted 1hr, in which we spent about 45 mins spotting whales and the remaining time watching the dolphins ride the waves around our boat. We also saw plenty of seals and sea lions.

Sea lions and seals sunning in Southern California

There are several other operators in the area and my criteria for choosing one is usually based on the size of boats, attitude of the company and experience.

Good tour operators will be knowledgeable about the marine life and have a strong sense of stewardship towards nature and the way they make their living. They won’t sacrifice the safety of passengers for a quick buck either.

A note about wildlife protection

Some people rent boats for fishing and jet skis around the same area as the whale watching tours are happening. And of course, when they see the whales breach, they also want to get up close.

However, if you do rent a boat or jet ski, please be mindful that whales don’t eat while migrating so if you pull up in front of a whale in route or try to approach too closely, you will be affecting that whale’s chance to make it to its final destination and you might also be subject to a fine.

The whale watching boat operators know the rules and only go slowly behind the whales at a large distance so they can continue to migrate with no interruption.

What should I take on the boat?

As with any activity on the water and in the sun, I highly recommend that you bring sun protection and water.

In addition, unless you have a good zoom in your camera, it might be hard to spot the whales without binoculars, so pack a small pair with you.

Lastly, if you suffer from motion sickness like I do, it’s wise to prepare for the journey with your favorite sea sickness medication or coping method. Whatever you choose, the only thing to remember is to put whale watching in your bucket list when visiting Southern California.

Have you gone whale watching before? How was your experience?

For more things to do in California, check out these travel guides:

Whale and pier binoculars in Newport Beach California
Dolphins and whales in Southern California


  1. Rosana
    September 25, 2019 / 8:08 am

    Great memories!!!!

    • Jana
      November 1, 2019 / 5:47 pm

      For sure!

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