From December through April, visitors to San Diego have the unique opportunity to glimpse one of nature’s most extraordinary events—the migration of California gray whales from the chilly Alaskan seas to the warm water lagoons of Baja California where they birth and rear their young.
Each winter, tens of thousands of these “peaceful giants of the sea” come within a few miles of the San Diego coast on their 5,000-mile southern journey, the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis. With 70 miles of coastline, San Diego makes an ideal location for viewing this impressive parade. During the peak migration season in mid-January, as many as 200 whales per day have been counted off of San Diego’s shores.
WHALE WATCHING FOR "LAND-LUBBERS"
During late December through March, the Birch Aquarium at Scripps celebrates the gray whale season with educational activities and whale exhibits. The aquarium's outdoor tide-pool plaza, overlooking La Jolla's shoreline and the Pacific Ocean, offers an excellent vantage point for viewing the gray whale's epic journey. www.aquarium.ucsd.edu
The 3rd annual Big Bay Whale Days celebration on January 22, 2011 offers family fun and entertainment along San Diego Bay’s downtown waterfront Embarcadero. Throughout the month of January, guests can celebrate with “Whale of a Deal" packages that provide discounts and coupons for whale watching excursions, restaurants and museums located along the Embarcadero. www.whaledays.com
Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego's picturesque national park on the panoramic Point Loma peninsula, offers a glass enclosed observatory for whale watching. Visitors can also explore whale exhibits and listen to a taped narration describing characteristics of these popular animals. Cabrillo's annual Whale Watch Weekend and Intertidal Life Festival from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on January 15 – 16 features presentations, exhibits and films. Rangers are also on hand throughout the weekend to assist visitors in spotting whales in the ocean and explore the park’s magnificent tide pools. Admission is $5 per private vehicle. www.nps.gov/cabr
WHALE WATCHING DAY EXCURSIONS
Starting December 18 and occurring through April, Dennis Conner's America's Cup Experience and the San Diego Maritime Museum are offering a unique whale watching experience aboard the America, a historic replica of the world’s first America’s Cup winner. The 139-ft. long sailing yacht is perfectly suited for whale watching due to its low sleek lines, deep keel for stability and the ability to quietly approach the whales under sail without using noisy engine power. The 4-hour whale watching excursion departs daily at 11 a.m. from the San Diego Maritime Museum, located at the downtown waterfront along San Diego Bay, and guests are welcomed to bring their own lunch and adult beverages for a picnic at sea. Excursions cost $65 for adults and $34 for children (ages 12 years old and under) on weekdays and $85 for adults and $44 for children (ages 12 years old and under) on weekends. The cost of the excursion includes complimentary admission into the San Diego Maritime Museum, soft beverages, snacks, a narration about whale migration habits and a history of the America. www.stars-stripes.com
Starting December 26 and occurring through March, the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and San Diego Harbor Excursion team up for narrated, 3.5-hour whale watching cruises out of San Diego Bay; two cruises depart daily, at 9:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Birch Aquarium naturalists narrate the tours, and guests receive gray whale fact sheets. New for this season is state-of-the-art research equipment onboard, so guests can detect and list to whale and dolphin sounds. Indoor and outdoor seating is available as well as a full galley onboard. Reservations are recommended. Ticket prices are $30 for adults on Monday – Friday, $35 for adults on weekends and $15 for children daily. www.sdhe.com, www.aquarium.ucsd.edu
Hornblower Cruises and Events offers 3.5-hour deluxe whale watching adventure cruises in partnership with the San Diego Natural History Museum starting December 11 and lasting through April. Passengers receive a professional narration on the whales’ migration and other marine life, and the boat features snack bars, binocular rentals, climate-controlled indoor seating and a museum-curated whale exhibit with fossils and video. Expeditions depart daily at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.; ticket prices are $34 for adults and $17 for children (4–12 years old) on Monday – Friday, and $39 for adults and $19.50 for children (4–12 years old) on weekends. Discounts are available for seniors, groups and military personnel. Hornblower guarantees to take guests out to sea again for free if no whales are spotted. www.hornblower.com
H&M Landing offers 3-hour whale watching cruises December through April, and 6-hour cruises December through June. All cruises include informative narrations on the California Gray whale and other marine wildlife seen on these cruises. Boats feature indoor and outdoor seating and a full service galley with hot food and beverages. Daily departure times for the 3-hour tours are 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.; ticket prices are $25 for adults, $20 for juniors (13–17 years old) and $17.50 for children (2–12 years old). The 6-hour tours depart at 10 a.m. on Thursday – Sunday and take sightseers into Mexican waters to the wildlife sanctuary of the Coronado Islands. Full narration includes a history of the islands and interpretation of the island’s wildlife. Ticket prices are $50 for adults and $40 for juniors and children. Special group rates are available upon request. All H&M whale watchers receive an Official Whale Spotter Certificate. H&M guarantees to take guests out to sea again for free if, in the unlikely circumstance, no whales are spotted on their trips. www.hmlanding.com
During December through April, Sail San Diego offers daily whale watching excursions aboard sleek 40' Catalina boats. Visitors can take the helm of the boat or sit back and enjoy the sights, including up-close views of dolphins, sea lions and gray whales. Tours are available for up to six passengers to provide a comfortable and intimate whale watching experience accompanied by soft drinks, hot chocolate, wine, beer and snacks. The 3.5 hour tours depart daily at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and cost $85 per person. Private whale-watching charters are also available. www.sailsandiego.com
OEX Dive & Kayak Centers offers visitors a 2.5-hour Whale Watching Kayak Tour during December through March. The approximate one-mile paddle tour launches at 1 p.m. from La Jolla Shores; the cost is $60 for a single kayak and $110 for a double kayak. Prices include transportation of the kayak to and from the beach, kayak rental, guided tour, life vest, paddle and wetsuit. www.oexcalifornia.com
During December through April, San Diego visitors can experience a thrilling whale watching excursion aboard an authentic 30’ Navy SEAL Rigid Inflatable Boat (R.I.B.) with Adventure RIB Rides. Passengers enjoy a fast ride to the ocean, where they can see dolphins, gray whales, humpback whales and fin whales, and learn about the natural and migration habits of the whales from a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain, who also serves as the on-board naturalist. Groups up to six passengers can charter the entire boat for $175 per hour, plus tax. Public tours are offered daily from 9 a.m. until noon; ticket prices are $85 for adults and $70 for children (5–12 years old), plus tax. www.adventureribrides.com
During December through February, La Jolla Kayak provides close encounters with grey whales and other marine life including sea lions, garibaldi and leopard sharks. The 2.5-hour tours take guests along the La Jolla coastline and through La Jolla’s incredible Sea Caves. Tours depart daily at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and cost $65 for a single kayak and $110 for a double kayak; the cost of wetsuits is included. www.lajollakayak.com
During December through April, Hike Bike Kayak offers three-hour whale watching tours through the La Jolla Ecological Reserve in La Jolla Shores. A trained naturalist educates visitors about gray whales and the fascinating sea life that lives in the Ecological Reserve; the tour ends with complimentary tea and hot chocolate at the Hike Bike Kayak shop. Tours depart daily at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and costs $60 per person or $55 per person for a tandem kayak. Kayaks, paddles, life jackets, wet suits and a guide are provided. www.hikebikekayak.com
Happy happens in San Diego. For more information on San Diego offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau's Web site, www.sandiego.org, or call (619) 236-1212. In San Diego, visit the International Visitor Information Center, located along the Embarcadero at the corner of West Broadway and Harbor Drive in downtown; the La Jolla Visitor Center, located at the corner of Herschel Avenue and Prospect Street in La Jolla; or the California Welcome Center, located at the Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine.
# # #