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Whale Watching in San Diego

From December through April, San Diego visitors watch the migration of California gray whales from Alaskan to Baja California where they birth their young.

Whale watching season in San Diego has traditionally occurred from December through April when California gray whales journey from the chilly Alaskan seas to the warm water lagoons of Baja California. Recently, however, several whale watching companies have expanded the range of sea outings, and visitors to San Diego have the unique opportunity to glimpse marine life including several species of whales and dolphins year round on cruises out of San Diego's harbors.

The peak of whale watching season is still December through April when tens of thousands of California gray whales come within a few miles of the San Diego coast on their 5,000-mile southern voyage, the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis. Guests on a winter cruise can witness this passage as these "peaceful giants of the sea" swim to warmer climates to birth and rear their young, one of nature's most extraordinary events.

Whale watching excursions now tote the opportunity to see humpback, fin and minke whales in fall and summer, along with frequent year-round sightings of bottlenose, pacific white-sided and common dolphins. With 70 miles of coastline, San Diego makes an ideal location for viewing this impressive parade of marine life.


  • The Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla 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.
  • The 4th annual Big Bay Whale Days and Whale Festival on January 26, 2013 offers family fun and entertainment along San Diego Bay's downtown waterfront Embarcadero. Throughout the month of January, guests can also celebrate with "Whale of a Deal" packages that provide discounts and coupons for whale watching excursions, restaurants and museums located along the Embarcadero.
  • Cabrillo National Monument celebrates its centennial in 2013. Located on the panoramic Point Loma peninsula, the park offers a glass enclosed observatory for whale watching; guests 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, occuring 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on February 9-10, 2013, 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.


  • From December 17, 2012 through April 30, 2013, Next Level Sailing and the Maritime Museum of San Diego 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 Maritime Museum, located at the downtown waterfront along San Diego Bay. 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 price includes admission to the Maritime Museum, soft beverages, snacks and a narration about whale migration habits and the history of the America.
  • From December 26, 2012 through April 14, 2013, naturalists from the Birch Aquarium at Scripps partner with Flagship Cruises & Events to venture out on twice-daily public cruises from San Diego Bay to locate gray whales. Two 3.5-hour cruises depart daily at 9:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and Birch Aquarium naturalists narrate the tours while guests receive gray whale fact sheets. Indoor and outdoor seating is available, and a full galley is onboard. Ticket prices are $37 for adults on weekdays and $42 for adults on weekends, and $18.50 for children (4-12) on weekdays and $21 children on weekends. Reservations are recommended.
  • From December 8, 2012 through April 30, 2013, Hornblower Cruises and Events offers 3.5-hour deluxe whale watching adventure cruises in partnership with the San Diego Natural History Museum. 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 $37 for adults and $18.50 for children (4–12 years old) on weekdays and $42 for adults and $21 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.
  • Throughout the year, H&M Landing offers three whale-watching and marine-adventure excursions. During December through April, a three-hour grey whale watching cruise departs daily at 10 a.m.. Weekend prices are $40 for adults and juniors (13–17 years old), $38 for seniors and military and $20 for children (2–12 years old). Weekday prices are $35 for adults and juniors (13–17 years old), $33 for seniors and military and $18 for children (2–12 years old). During June through October, a six-hour whales-of-summer cruise departs from 10 a.m. on Thursday and Sunday. Prices are $80 for adults and $55 for children under 16 years old. During December through May, a six-hour marine-life adventure departs at 10 a.m. on Thursday through Sunday and takes sightseers out to the nine-mile bank north of the Mexican border to view diverse marine life. Prices are $50 for adults and $35 for children (4–12 years old). Each cruise includes informative narrations on marine wildlife, and the boats feature indoor and outdoor seating and a full-service galley with hot food and beverages. Special group rates are also available upon request for all trips. All H&M whale watchers receive an Official Whale Spotter Certificate, and H&M guarantees to take guests out to sea again for free if no whales are spotted.
  • San Diego Whale Watch offers year-round whale watching excursions boarding from Seaforth Landing aboard The Privateer, a unique boat built specifically for whale watching. Whale watching trips are 3 hours and offered daily, and a 1½-hour sunset cruise is also offered Thursday–Saturday evenings. Ticket prices are $44 for adults and $38 for children (3-17 years old) for both the whale watching and sunset cruise.
  • During December through April, Sail San Diego offers daily whale watching excursions aboard three sleek 40-ft. Catalina boats. Guests can take the helm of the boat or sit back and enjoy the sights and learn about marine life from captains who are trained naturalists. Tours are available for up to six passengers and 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. Groups of more than six can be accommodated, and private whale-watching charters are available.
  • During December 15, 2012 through March 15, 2013, OEX Dive & Kayak La Jolla offers a 2.5-hour whale watching kayak tour that allows guests to paddle within 40 feet of gray whales, seals and sea lions. The approximate one-mile paddle tour launches daily from La Jolla Shores; the cost is $69 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.
  • Guests can experience a thrilling whale and dolphin watching excursion year round aboard an authentic 25-ft. Navy SEAL Rigid Inflatable Boat (R.I.B.) with Adventure RIB Rides. Passengers enjoy a fast ride to the ocean and learn about the natural and migration habits of marine life 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. From December through April, public tours focusing on gray whale migration are offered daily from 9 a.m. until noon and 1 to 4 p.m.; ticket prices are $85 for adults and $70 for children (5–12 years old), plus tax.
  • During December through February, La Jolla Kayak provides close encounters with gray 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 $60 for a single kayak and $100 for a double kayak.
  • During December through March, Hike Bike Kayak offers 3-hour whale watching tours through the La Jolla Ecological Reserve near La Jolla Shores. A trained naturalist educates visitors about gray whales and the fascinating sea life that lives in the Reserve; the tour ends with complimentary tea and hot chocolate at the Hike Bike Kayak shop. Tours depart daily at 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. and cost $60 per person for a tandem kayak and $70 for a single. Kayaks, paddles, life jackets, wet suits and a guide are provided.

Happiness is calling in San Diego. For more information on San Diego's offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority's website at or call 619-236-1212.

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