There are many beautiful marine animals off the California coast, include sea lions, sea otters, and lots of birdlife.
But for many tourists who make the trip to this beautiful coastline, it’s all about the whales.
There are numerous species of whales in California, as well as many companies that offer whale watching tours in the state.
It’s a great way to see the local wildlife, capture some fantastic images, and create memorable moments.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at whale watching tours in California, showing you what to look for and where to go.
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Are There Whales in California?
Gray whales are a very common sight off the coast of California.
These creatures can weigh over 30 tons and span over 45 feet in length.
Every year, grey whales migrate over 10,000 miles and this migration brings them past the Californian coast.
They don’t stop to enjoy the scenery, but you can see them passing if you visit at the right time.
Blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales, orcas, and dolphins are also commonly sighted off the coast of California and can be seen during many whale watching trips.
What is the Best Month for Whale Watching in California?
If you want to see the grey whales, look for whale watching trips that take place from December to May.
You may also encounter orcas during this time.
For blue whales, look for trips between July and October.
For humpback whales, May to November is the best time for whale watching tours.
What is the Best Time of Day for Whale Watching in California?
Morning is often the best time for whale watching in California.
There is less wind and smoother seas, and these conditions make for a smoother ride.
How Much Does a Whale Watch Trip Cost?
The cost of the trip will depend on its location, length, the size of the boat, and a few other factors.
Generally, however, you can expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $100 per person for a whale watching excursion in California.
What are the Best Places for Whale Watching in California?
There are many places on the California coast where you can take whale watching tours.
Some of the best locations include:
Mendocino is easily one of the best places for whale watching in California.
This beautiful coastal town is famous for its wine and whales, and it’s also the place to be if you want to see those gray whales making their migration journey.
While you’re in town, be sure to check out the many festivals and events, as well as some of the local wine.
You don’t even need to take a whale watching trip—just find a point with high elevation and enjoy the views.
The Farallon Islands
There are regular guided tours to the Farallon Islands, a group of remote islands that are home to orcas, blue whales, sperm whales, and humpback whales.
The Oceanic Society offers guided tours to the islands, and these tours leave from Pier 39 in San Francisco.
You can take a whale watching tour all year long at Monterey Bay, and there are lots of migrating whales, dolphins, sea lions, and sea turtles to see.
There are a few companies offering whale watching tours in Monterey Bay, including Monterey Bay Whale Watch, Chris’ Fishing and Whale Watching, and Santa Cruz Whale Watching.
There are a lot of gray whales and humpback whales swimming past Point Reyes, and you don’t need to book a whale watching excursion to see them.
It’s roughly an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, and in addition to the whale watching, there are lots of great hiking trails and some fresh oyster farms.
If you visit Santa Barbara between mid-December and April, there’s a good chance you will see the gray whales as they migrate north.
Alternatively, visit between May and November to see humpback whales, finback whales, and blue whales.