San Diego, known for its beautiful coastline and diverse marine life, offers an incredible opportunity for whale watching enthusiasts. Whether you're a seasoned whale watcher or a first-timer, San Diego's whale watching season is a must-see experience. In this guide, we will explore the best time to visit for whale watching, the top places to spot these magnificent creatures, and some useful tips to enhance your whale watching adventure.

Whale Watching Season in San Diego

The whale watching season in San Diego typically runs from December to April, with peak sightings occurring between January and March. During this time, thousands of gray whales migrate from their feeding grounds in the Arctic to the warm waters of Baja California, passing through the coastal waters of San Diego. These gentle giants can often be seen breaching, spouting, and fluking, providing an awe-inspiring spectacle for visitors.

Types of Whales to Spot in San Diego

San Diego's whale watching season provides an excellent opportunity to encounter various species of whales as they pass through the coastal waters. While the most common sightings are of gray whales, there is a chance of meeting other magnificent species as well. Here are some of the whales you might come across during your whale watching adventure:

Gray Whales - Gray whales are the stars of the show during the whale watching season in San Diego. These gentle giants embark on one of the longest migrations of any mammal, travelling from the cold feeding grounds in the Arctic to the warm breeding lagoons of Baja California. Known for their friendly nature and impressive breaching displays, gray whales are a delight to watch.

Humpback Whales - Humpback whales are another common sight during the whale watching season. These majestic creatures are known for their acrobatic behaviours, including breaching, tail-slapping, and bubble-net feeding. With their distinctive knobby heads and long pectoral fins, humpback whales are a favorite among whale watchers.

Blue Whales - The blue whale, the largest animal on Earth, occasionally graces the waters of San Diego. Spotting a blue whale is an awe-inspiring experience, as they can reach lengths of up to 100 feet. Known for their magnificent blue-gray colour and blow that can shoot water up to 30 feet into the air, encountering a blue whale is a rare and unforgettable sight.

Fin Whales - Fin whales, also known as finback whales, are the second-largest whales after the blue whale. They have sleek bodies, with a distinctive ridge along their backs, and can reach impressive speeds. Although somewhat elusive, lucky whale watchers might catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures as they glide through the ocean waters.

Orcas (Killer Whales) - While not as common as other whale species, orcas, or killer whales, can occasionally be spotted off the coast of San Diego. Orcas are highly intelligent and are known for their cooperative hunting techniques and distinctive black and white markings. Witnessing a pod of orcas in action is a rare and thrilling experience.

Remember that whale sightings are dependent on several factors, including weather conditions and the whales' migration patterns. While gray whales are the most reliable sightings, encountering other species is a bonus that adds excitement to your whale watching adventure.

Make sure to bring your binoculars and keep a keen eye on the water, as you never know which magnificent creature might appear next during your whale watching expedition in San Diego.

Best Places for Whale Watching

Hornblower Cruises & Events

Hornblower Cruises & Events offers a variety of whale watching tours departing from San Diego Harbor. Their knowledgeable guides provide fascinating insights into the behavior and biology of whales, making it an educational and memorable experience.

Flagship Cruises & Events

Flagship Cruises & Events provides excellent whale watching excursions that allow you to witness these magnificent creatures up close. Their experienced crew ensures a comfortable journey while sharing interesting facts about the marine life of San Diego.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

If you prefer a land-based whale watching experience, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the place to go. Located in La Jolla, this renowned aquarium offers panoramic ocean views and educational exhibits that highlight the marine biodiversity of the region.

Point Loma

Point Loma, situated on the tip of a peninsula, provides excellent vantage points for whale watching. Cabrillo National Monument, located at Point Loma, offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and is a popular spot for observing the annual gray whale migration.

Business NameWebsiteContact Info
Hornblower Cruises & Eventshornblower.comPhone: (888) 467-6256
Flagship Cruises & Eventsflagshipsd.comPhone: (619) 234-4111
Birch Aquarium at Scrippsaquarium.ucsd.eduPhone: (858) 534-3474
Point (619) 557-5450

Tips for an Unforgettable Whale Watching Experience

  • Dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes, as the weather can change quickly and you may need to move around the vessel.
  • Bring binoculars to get a closer look at the whales and other marine life from a distance.
  • Don't forget your camera to capture the breathtaking moments during the tour.
  • Listen to the instructions provided by the crew to ensure your safety and the well-being of the whales.
  • Consider taking motion sickness medication if you're prone to seasickness.
  • Be patient and keep a keen eye on the water; spotting whales can sometimes require a bit of luck.


Whale watching season in San Diego is a truly remarkable experience that allows you to witness the awe-inspiring journey of these magnificent creatures. From December to April, you have the opportunity to observe gray whales as they migrate along the coast. Whether you choose a boat tour or prefer to stay on land, San Diego offers several excellent vantage points for spotting whales. Make sure to follow the tips provided to enhance your adventure and create memories that will last a lifetime.