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A Guide to San Diego Whale Watching Season

San Diego, California, boasts a stunning coastline and is renowned for its exceptional whale-watching opportunities. From majestic gray whales to playful bottlenose dolphins, the San Diego waters are teeming with marine wildlife. Let this article serve as your guide to whale watching season in San Diego.

Below we’ll cover the kinds of whales that you can expect to see, optimal times, and essential tips for an unforgettable experience.

We had the pleasure of joining San Diego Whale Watch for their Dolphin & Whale Watching Sunset Cruise. We sat on the top deck of the boat with our eyes locked on the water’s surface, eagerly waiting for that first splash. We had hardly left the dock when we spotted sea lions bathing in the sun and dolphins playing in the waves.

We cruised along the coast chasing the sunset, while a certified marine biologist shared all there is to know about whale watching in San Diego. Here’s what we learned.

sea lions in san diego

When is Whale Watching Season in San Diego?

We were surprised to learn that whale watching is a year-round activity in this part of California. Depending on the time of year, you can expect to see different varieties of whale species making their way through the waters.

Summer (June to October)

  • Blue Whales – Blue whales are the largest animals on Earth, reaching lengths of up to 100 feet. They tend to be more solitary than other whale species, however, there are always exceptions. According to San Diego Whale Watch’s marine biologist Vanessa James “When the food is good, everyone shows up to the party!” She reported over 27 Blue Whales sighted during one tour alone.
  • Humpback Whales – Humpback whales are famous for their lively displays, often breaching and slapping their fins on the water’s surface. They are known also for their distinctive vocalizations and songs.
  • Fin Whales – Fin Whales are the second largest mammals in the world after the Blue Whale. Sightings of Fin Whales are more rare given that they prefer deeper waters.
whale watching at sunset

Winter (December to April)

  • Gray Whales – Gray whales are known for their friendly and inquisitive behavior. Between December and April, Gray whales take part in one of the longest migrations by any mammal in the world. They can travel 10 – 12 thousand miles round trip traveling from the Arctic to the warmer waters of Baja California. During their journey, they pass along the San Diego coastline offering the opportunity to witness these colossal creatures as they breach and play in the water.
grey whale migration in San Diego

Year Round

  • Orcas (Killer Whales) – Orcas are apex predators known for their intelligence, complex social structures, and distinctive black-and-white coloration. Despite the “killer whale” moniker, orcas are not a threat to humans and exhibit diverse dietary preferences, including fish, seals, and even other whale species.
  • Minke Whales – Minke whales are the smallest of the baleen whales. Despite their relative abundance, these elusive whales are known for their shy nature and can be challenging to spot during whale-watching excursions.

Beyond whales, other animals frequently spotted on San Diego whale tours include dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds. While far less common, Whale Sharks have also been seen in these waters.

mom and baby on san diego whale watching tour

Frequently Asked Questions about Whale Watching in San Diego

What is the Best Time of the day to go Whale Watching?

According to San Diego Whale Watch, there is no best time of the day to see whales. Whales are natural creatures that roam through the waters at their will. They are always moving. Sometimes they may stop to feed and other times they are just passing through.

Can I see whales from the land?

Taking a whale watching tour greatly increases your chances of seeing these creatures up close. If you prefer to stay on land, Cabrillo National Monument is one of the best locations in San Diego for spotting whales from the land.

Aside from San Diego, where are the best places in California for whale watching?

California is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. The best places for spotting whales along the California coast include San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Channel Islands, Los Angeles, and San Diego

What should I bring on a whale watching tour?

In my opinion, one of the most important things to bring on a whale watching tour is motion sickness medicine. Luckily our tour sold Dramamine on the boat, otherwise, I would have been utterly miserable.

Appropriate clothing is also essential. Even though temperatures might be warm on land, it can be about 10-15 degrees colder on the water. Bring a windproof jacket, and additional layers to ensure that you are comfortable. You’ll be on a moving boat so non-slip shoes are a must.

Lastly, don’t forget to bring binoculars and cameras for capturing those breathtaking moments at sea.

whale watching tour san diego

Conclusion: San Diego Whale Watching Season

Whale watching is a magical experience. The beauty of whale watching in San Diego is that it is a year-long activity.

If you are traveling to San Diego during the summer months, you might expect to see giant Blue Whales or playful Humpback Whales breaching in the water. If you are traveling during the winter months, you are likely to catch the great Gray Whale migration. Visit any time in between and you might spot Orcas, Fin whales, or Minke whales.

If the healthy whale population in San Diego isn’t impressive enough, there are about 6 different types of dolphins that can be seen throughout the year. If you are lucky, you might encounter a Megapod consisting of 1,000 dolphins!

No matter what time of year you visit, you are sure to have a magical experience when you book a whale watching tour in San Diego.