San Diego Whale Watching

Whale Watching Tours and Cruises

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San Diego whale watching is exhilarating when you see these large marine mammals surface and blow a spout of water into the air before diving down. Fortunately for whale watching tour visitors, these cetacean behemoths migrate nearby the coastline as they travel from the feeding grounds in the cold waters around the Arctic Circle, then travel south to the warm waters of Baja California, Mexico.

San Diego whale watching Tours and Cruises

San Diego whale watching is especially wonderful because whales travel close enough to shore that you can watch them from land or from a chartered boat tour or even from a kayak.

There are a number of recreational San Diego whale watching cruises and tours based in the San Diego Harbor and Mission Bay. As you shop around, I suggest finding a whale watching tour with a naturalist on board to explain the wildlife sightings.

San Diego whale watching cruises and tours vary in distance and time. A few of the tours will travel to the Coronado Islands, a group of four wildlife preserve islands located off the northwest coast of the Mexican state of Baja California, about 15 miles from San Diego. Most San Diego whale watching tours stay closer to shore.

I also recommend that you check the weather and ocean conditions. Ideal whale watching conditions include good atmospheric visibility and a calm ocean with small waves.

Wear a hat and sunglasses. The glare bouncing off of the ocean can be bright.

Bring or rent binoculars for each member of your family or group of friends. When you suddenly start to see wildlife, you want to have your own set of binoculars and not miss the moment.

San Diego whale watching season is December through mid April for the Gray Whales. Blue Whale watching is different. In the past year, Blue Whales have been sighted off the San Diego coastline in August. See my story below about Blue Whale watching from La Jolla Goldfish Point.

San Diego Whale watching from shore

My Top five San Diego whale watching spots.

When you are on shore, you want to be high up on a cliff to gain a better view. Here are some of the best places to look for whales in La Jolla:

View from Tidepool Plaza, Birch Aquarium

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1. Tide Pool Plaza, Scripps Birch Aquarium, 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037. This Plaza faces the Pacific Ocean and the Scripps pier. One day I watched about half a dozen whales spouting and breaking the surface from that Plaza. There is a public telescope on the Plaza, but I suggest bringing your own binoculars. Birch Aquarium admissions and hours can be found at http://aquarium.ucsd.edu/

View from La Jolla Coast Walk

2. La Jolla Coast Walk trail, starting at the Cave Store, 1325 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla, CA 92037. There is a very scenic coastal trail that runs from the Cave Store north to the Torrey Pines Road. As the trail follows along some cliffs, you will find some benches to sit and enjoy the view. Birders and photographers can enjoy Cormorants, Ospreys, and even the occasional Stellar Sea Eagle sighting.

One winter day a friend and I were walking along the trail and suddenly we saw a whale spout just beyond the point of La Jolla Cove. We were on a hike and suddenly, there it was!

3. Goldfish Point Café, 1255 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla, CA 92037. This Cafe is perched on the Coast Boulevard bluff just a hundred yards or so from La Jolla Cove . This Cafe has one of the best views of La Jolla Cove and the Pacific Ocean.

View from La Jolla Goldfish Point

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One day in August, while sipping a cup of tea and reading, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I looked up again and sure enough, it was a whale spout. But then I reminded myself-it was August, not December. Gray Whales migrate up and down the La Jolla and San Diego coastline December through March, not in the summer. I grabbed my binoculars out of the car and I saw a small, hooked dorsal fin on one of the surfacing whales and guessed that it was a Blue Whale. While sipping our tea and coffee, my friends and I were Blue Whale watching for about an hour, from the comfort of the shore. Later, when I asked the lifeguards, they confirmed that they were indeed Blue Whales that were feeding on large amounts of krill which are thumb-size, shrimp-like crustacean.

4. Torrey Pines Glider Port, 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037. The Glider Port is located on high cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach. Voted one of the best views in San Diego, you can also grab a bite to eat at the Cliffhanger Café while taking in the breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean which is 320 feet below. As whales and dolphins surface, they are visible from this height.

View from Torrey Pines State Park, Guy Fleming Trail

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5. Torrey Pines State Park, 12600 North Torrey Pines Road, San Diego CA 92037. One of my favorite hikes in San Diego is to start at the Park entrance near the beach, then hike up the drier, protected Torrey Pines Grade, then hike down one of the rustic, wind-swept paths to the beach and end with the final stretch along the sandy beach during low tide. On this loop, you will pass through three different ecozones with different trees and plants and sceneries. During whale watching season, there's a good chance you will catch views of whale spouts while hiking on one of the paths facing the Pacific Ocean.

Whale Watching in San Diego

Kayaking

Just this past December, I saw a whale spout while kayaking about 1 mile off shore from La Jolla Cove. I had joined a Whale Watching tour with OEX Dive and Kayak in La Jolla Shores. During this whale watching tour we also saw about 100 sea lions swimming and jumping. When I first saw the sea lions in the distance, I thought it was a boil of fish feeding at the surface. As we paddled closer, we realized they were a group of sea lions.

Sea Lion Sunbathing, La Jolla

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My friends who launch kayaks regularly from La Jolla Shores beach just reported seeing a pair of Gray whales. They said they saw an adult Gray Whale, probably the mother, spyhop within a few hundred yards. Then the smaller Gray Whale, probably the juvenile, broke the surface and released a water spout to breathe.

(When a whale swims with speed toward the surface and breaks the water at a vertical, naturalists call this spyhopping. Some scientists speculate that this behavior gives the whales enough height to look around, or spy around.)

The first time you see a whale break the surface and blow a spout is pretty thrilling. I can guarantee that you'll point, jump and scream with excitement, no matter how reserved your personality. In fact, if you see people jumping up and down and pointing toward the ocean during whale watching season, they probably spied some of these cetacean behemoths.



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