Having a Whale of a Good Time in San Diego

Whale watching
Whale watching

There are three things to put into mind when thinking about a whale watching experience in San Diego, California. Winter and Spring Gray Whale watching(viewings are seasonal), Summer and Fall Blue Whale watching(viewings are seasonal), and if you want to see them by land or by sea. I reccomend that you give it try by sea. Set Sail with the Whales! There is two options by sea kayak or boat. Even if your not big ocean person, face your fears and tackle the ocean to get the true experience of the whale life! Think about this whales tend to be further out to sea so the best viewings are from the ocean. A whale watching trip is a great way to experience the ocean and see San Diego’s beautiful skyline from a different point of view. Many of the tour operators have extensive knowledge of the whales and their migration habits and will happily share this information during the tour. This is definitely a recommended activity for all ages and a great addition to your San Diego itinerary.

There are three ways by land to whale watch, and many by sea scroll down to view options.

Adventure Rib is the best boat tour for whale citing. The small boats let you have the best view’s, there are no crowds to fight for peak.


Whale Seasons

Winter & Spring Gray Whale Watching

Migration Period: Mid-December – April

More than 20,000 gray whales make a 10,000 mile round-trip journey from Alaska to the lagoons of Baja California, where the females give birth to their calves. They typically spend several months in the warm Baja California waters, time for their young to grow strong enough to make the journey home, before making their way back north again in the Spring. It is the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis and is truly an extraordinary spectacle to observe. With 70 miles of coastline directly in the migration path, San Diego is an ideal destination to see this impressive parade of gentle giants. According to the Birch Aquarium in San Diego, gray

whales generally travel alone or in pods of two or three but more may be seen traveling together during peak migration season. These giants are roughly the width of a basketball court and cruise at an average speed of five knots (about six miles per hour).

Summer & Fall Blue Whale Watching

Migration Period: Mid-June – September

Blue whales, the largest creatures on earth reaching lengths of nearly 100 feet and thought to be among the most endangered of the great whales, may be found in San Diego mid-June through September.During the summer and fall months, blue whales migrate from their southern tropical breeding grounds to the cooler waters of the North Pacific to feed on the area’s rich supply of krill. Luckily, these pods of blue whales pass by San Diego as they travel thousands of miles north. The largest group of blue whales in the world, 2,000 to 3,000, feed off the California coast during the summer months. These magnificent mammals give away their location by spouting a 30 foot column of water in the air that can be seen from miles away Blue whales have also been observed acting more like dolphins than whales, rolling over on their to look up at spectators. Changes in ocean temperatures and the abundance of krill over the past few years have attracted far more blue whales to San Diego’s coast than in the past. Blue whales tend to be found further out to sea than their grey whale cousins so it’s recommend to book one of sightseeing excursions specializing in whales sightings in order to catch a glimpse of a blue whale.

Sea tours

What To Expect

  • Most whale watching tours start in San Diego’s Big Bay and since the migration takes place out in the deep waters of the Pacific, Blue Whale Watching cruises can last up to four hours they tend to be further out then there gray whale cousins.
  •  When exiting the bay, most cruises pass massive active and retired military vessels like the USS Midway Museum, and historic landmarks that dot the bayfront like the lighthouse at the Cabrillo National Monument.
  • In terms of wildlife, expect to see plenty of blue whales, finback whales (the world’s second largest whale), humpback whales, dolphins and sea lions.
  • To help you identify the amazing fauna you will encounter, many cruise companies provide printed information guides and some even have naturalists from local museums like the San Diego Natural History Museum or the Birch Aquarium at Scripps to narrate the cruise. Crew members will also be on the look out for spouts to make sure you don’t miss anything.

What to Bring

      • Make sure to bring a camera, preferably one with a zoom lens to capture close up shots of a blue whale as it breaches the water.
      • Clothing wise, it is wise to bring sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen and a light jacket to put on as the weather cools farther out onto the water.

Don’t worry about packing any food. Most tour companies will provide either complimentary or for-purchase snacks and drinks onboard.

Flagship Cruises & Events

990 N Harbor Dr
San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 234-4111
View Website Region: Downtown

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Fun Cat Sailing Catamaran Adventures
(619) 866-7245

Spring is in the air and “catamarans are more fun.”  We now have two really fun big catamarans for you to come out and Sail.  One of our…

A Private Yacht for Charter, The Inspiration

1380 Harbor Island Drive
San Diego, CA 92101
(800) 817-9175 (Toll-Free)

(800) 817-9175
View WebsiteRegion: Downtown

A Private Yacht for Charter, The Inspiration

Adventure RIB Rides

1380 Harbor Island Dr
San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 808-2822
View Website Region: Point Loma PeninsulaHours of Operation:8:00 AM to 6:00 PM

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By Land

A couple of great spots to view the grey whale migration from shore include the

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

2300 Expedition Way
La Jolla, CA 92093-0207

(858) 534-FISH
View Website Region: La Jolla

Hours of Operation:Daily: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Current Exhibits

  • Hall of Fishes
  • ElasmoBeach
  • Boundless Energy outdoor playground
  • There’s Something About Seahorses
  • Feeling the Heat: the Climate Challenge
  • Living touch tide pools
  • 70,000-gallon live kelp forest tank

What To Know:

  • Parking is free for three hours
  • We offer outdoor excursions year-round (whale watching, grunion runs, etc.)
  • Special admission pricing for Military, Seniors, and Students
  • Membership offers great benefits starting at $55
  • Gift shop features unique ocean-themed gifts, books, and more
  • There are kids camps

Don’t Miss:

  • Stunning variety of marine life in the Hall of Fishes
  • There’s Something About Seahorses exhibit & ElasmoBeach shark experience
  • The incredible ocean view off the Tide-Pool Plaza
  • Daily feeding presentations
  • Two-story, 70,000 gallon kelp forest exhibit

Birch Aquarium is the public exploration center for world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

Cabrillo National Monument

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr
San Diego, CA 92106
(619) 557-5450
View Website

Region: Point Loma Peninsula

Cabrillo National Monument

A visit to San Diego’s “only” National Park offers tremendous views of the San Diego region and excellent opportunities to explore the natural, historical and cultural history of the area. The Visitors Center is a good place to start your exploration of the park. The “Age of Exploration” exhibit, films, and ranger-guided programs present interesting insights into the history of Cabrillo. A short walk leads to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. This picturesque structure is restored to its 1880’s appearance and presents life as it was for the light keepers and their families. In the adjacent Assistant Keeper’s Quarters, interactive exhibits tell the story of the Lighthouses of Point Loma. In a nearby historic Military building, the exhibit “They Stood the Watch” presents the history of Fort Rosecrans. The bayside trail begins near the lighthouse and offers breathtaking views of the harbor and the city of San Diego. South of the Lighthouse is the Whale Overlook. This vantage point offers pleasant views of the Pacific Ocean and the New Point Loma Lighthouse. Whales are often seen from here in January and February . On the western side of Point Loma lies the rocky intertidal zone, a window into the ocean ecosystem that lies along of San Diego’s coast. During periods of low tide, pools form along this shore in rocky depressions. In them you may see flowery anemones, elusive octopi, spongy deadman’s fingers, and a myriad of other creatures.

The Cabrillo Store

Looking for a book about Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, Tidepools or the Military of Point Loma? NPS Junior Ranger gear or Cabrillo logo hats, t-shirts and hoodies? A unique one of a kind gift idea is surely to be found in The Cabrillo Store, located inside the Cabrillo Visitors Center. The Cabrillo Store offers a wide variety of items to help memorialize your 1st or 100th visit to Cabrillo National Monument Park! The non-profit Cabrillo National Monument Foundation operates the Cabrillo Store.

Plan Your Cabrillo Visit:

  • Hiking: The two-mile Bayside Trail affords spectacular views of San Diego Bay
  • The tidepool area offers a unique opportunity to view near shore creatures
  • The lighthouse was built in 1855 as one of the first of 8 on the west coast
  • The military history exhibit explains the role Pt Loma played in WWI and WWII
  • The whale watch overlook is the perfect place to spot Gray Whales migrating

Visitor Programs & Store Hours:

  • Cabrillo Visitor Center & Store Open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • In Search of Cabrillo film shown at 10:00 AM, 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM
  • On the Edge of Land and Sea film shown at 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM
  • First Breath: Gray Whales film shown at 12:00 PM and 3:00 PM
  Torrey Pines State Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, located on the cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach, is a 1,750 acre reserve dedicated to preserving its namesake, the Torrey Pine tree and other indigenous wildlife in its native environment. A coastal wilderness of pine forests and sandstone canyons, the park offers a collection of trails which winds its way along the cliffs offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. With both easy, family-friendly paths and more advanced trails, the park provides a great hiking experience for all levels.

Virtually everything in Torrey Pines is protected, from the Penasquitos river valley on the east side of the highway, to the Natural Reserve lands on the west, to the Underwater Ecological Reserve offshore. The world famous Torrey Pines Golf Course helps to safeguard the southern end of the bluffs from development while the rugged cliffs do their part to discourage access (and crowds).Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to approximately 3,000 of our nation’s rarest pine tree – Pinus torreyana. It grows only here and on Santa Rosa Island off the coast near Santa Barbara. The park preserves not only the trees, but also one of the last salt marshes and waterfowl refuges in Southern California.


Eight miles of trails offer a variety of distances and different experiences. Here are a few popular trails:

  • Guy Fleming Trail – This 0.7 mile loop is the easiest trail in the park and affords stunning ocean views. Two overlooks offer differing experiences: the North Overlook provides the opportunity to inspect the Torrey pines up close and view the Peñasquitos Marsh, while the South Overlook features views of La Jolla to the south, San Clemente to the north and perhaps as far out to sea as the Santa Catalina Islands. Spring rains bring abundant wildflowers and in winter, views of gray whales migrating up and down the coastline.
  • Razor Point Trail – Although there are fewer Torrey pines along this 1.4 mile round-trip trail, it offers dramatic views of ravines and badlands and ends at an ocean lookout. The trail meets up with other trails along the way so an alternate path back is possible.
  • Beach Trail – As the name implies, this 3/4 mile trail takes you down to Torrey Pines State Beach. The trail is steep and less scenic than others, but it is still very popular for providing the opportunity to picnic and sunbathe on a wide, flat beach.

Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during summer daylight saving time and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during winter standard time. Commissioned in 1922 by Ellen Browning Scripps, this pueblo-style structure was originally a restaurant called Torrey Pines Lodge.

Guided tours for the general public leave from the Visitor Center weekends and holidays at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and last approximately 1 hour. Please note: the guided tours are not available for groups to join; they are limited to about 10 persons.

What to Know

  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a day-use park only.
  • Some of the trails at the park are quite strenuous – ask the park ranger for advice on which trails are right for your group.
  • There is no place to buy food or drinks. Visitors are advised to bring and carry drinking water on the trails – especially in the summertime.
  • No alcohol or pets (even in a vehicle) are allowed in the park and food may only be consumed on the beach – not on any trails.
  • Rattlesnakes have been spotted at the park – be sure to stay on the trails and never try and touch a snake or any other wildlife.

Directions & Parking

From Interstate 5, exit Carmel Valley Road west to Torrey Pines Road south (aka Highway 101 or Pacific Coast Highway). There are two parking options within the State Park at the south end of the beach. An entrance fee ($10.00 per vehicle) is collected at the gate which is open from 8:00 a.m. until sunset daily. The lower, beach level lot is directly beyond the gate, with additional parking around the park headquarters and trailheads at the top end of the road. You may also find free parking along Hwy 101. The lower parking lot and free parking along Hwy 101 provide a great workout from the walk up the steep hill to the start of the hiking trails.



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