36 West Coast Whale Watching Hot Spots

Buying a ticket to a whale cruise is not a requirement to see whales. There are dozens of fantastic areas on land to spot whales from San Diego, Monterey Bay, and San Francisco, all the way up to the Oregon coast and Seattle. We’ve done the research and created a gallery of 36 of the best west coast whale watching tours and viewing locations.  We hope it inspires you to plan your next trip.  Enjoy!

San Diego Whale Watching

San Diego is home to 70 miles of coastline directly in the migration routes of Baleen Gray whales, and the magnificent great Blue Whales. The peak times to see these animals are from November to March for Gray whales, and May through October for Blue whales. Throughout the spring and summer months you can also get lucky and see Orcas and Humpbacks.

1. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Reserve

The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve lies within the city limits of San Diego, yet boasts unspoiled cliffs and rocky outcroppings to view the annual whale migrations. Grab your binoculars and a rain jacket and hike your way down to the area known as Flat Rock for some excellent views of the Pacific Ocean. Image Credit

2. Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument Whale

On the southernmost tip of Loma Point, you will find the Cabrillo National Monument. Hike approximately 100 yards south of the lighthouse to find yourself at the Whale Overlook, a public viewing spot for watching the Pacifica Gray Whale migration. If you are in town in January, there is the Whale Watch Weekend where you can take advantage of Park Ranger led tours of the point. Image Credit

3. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium Scripps

From mid-December through April, the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography operates daily whale excursions in conjunction with Flagship San Diego Cruises. Cruises travel down the coast of San Diego down to the Baja California where many whales breed. Image Credit

4. Next Level Sailing Cruise

Next Level Sailing

Next Level Sailing offers a truly unique whale trip on the famous ‘America’ racing yacht. The yacht is a true sailing ship, with no diesel engines, and they offer a “no seas sickness guarantee”. Gray whale trips run December to April, and Blue whale trips run from June to October. Image Credit

5. Hornblower Cruises

Hornblower Cruises SD

The Adventure Hornblower is a larger ship with comfortable, enclosed decks, if that suits you better. The Hornblower whale cruises are narrated by the Captain and Naturalists from the San Diego Natural History Museum. Not only will you have a great chance at seeing whales, but the cruise also includes San Diego landmark sightseeing right from the water. Image Credit

6. Everday California Ocean Kayak Tours

Kayak Tours Everyday California

If you’re feeling brave and seek a more intimate experience, look no further than the ocean kayak tours at Everyday California. Paddling amongst breaching gray whales and leaping pods of bottle nosed dolphins is an experience you will never forget. Image Credit (license)

7. San Diego Whale Watch Cruises

SD Whale Watch Privateer

Set out for some excellent whale watching on The Privateer, winner of a 2013 and 2014 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence award. San Diego Whale Watch runs the only year round whale cruises in the area. As an added bonus, each trip is guided and narrated by a certified Marine Biologist. Image Credit

Monterey Bay Whale Watching

Monterey Bay, California is one of the best places to see Humpback whales in the country, thanks to the Monterey Submarine Canyon that attracts them close to shore for feeding. All along the coast you have the chance of spotting these beautiful animals with the unaided eye or a good set of binoculars. You can also expect to see killer whales, blue, and gray whales all year long.

8. Point Lobos State Marine Reserve

Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos contains numerous Oceanside hiking trails providing outstanding views of the state marine preserve. The reserve is rich in whale history, which includes a whaling museum, and Whaler’s Cabin located on the largest cove in the reserve, aptly named Whaler’s Cove. Image Credit

9. Old Lighthouse Point, Santa Cruz

Old Lighthouse Point Santa Cruz

The Point Loma peninsula outside the city of Santa Cruz, juts out towards Monterey Bay, providing keen vantage points for viewing whales as they feed and migrate up the coast. There are also numerous whale watching tours departing from the point. Image Credit

10. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center

Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a huge swath of federally protected Pacific Ocean stretching from south of Monterey Bay up to the San Francisco Bay area. The Exploration Center is just off the Santa Cruz Wharf, and they can direct you to spots to view whale activity as well as the cruises and tours operating nearby. Image Credit

11. Monterey Bay Harbor Whale Tours

Monterey Bay Whale Watching Tours

The harbor in Monterey Bay houses several popular whale tours. Look for the Monterey Bay Whale Watch, Princess Monterey, Blue Ocean Whale Watch, Randy’s Fishing Trips, and Sanctuary Cruises to name only a few. Image Credit

12. Moss Landing Whale Watching Tours

Moss Landing Whale Watching Tours

The Moss Landing harbor is also nearby and houses multiple tour options. Check out Santa Cruz Whale Watching, Whisper Charters, Elkhorn Slough Nature Tours, and the Kayak Connection for some ocean touring and up close whale sightings. Image Credit

13. Santa Cruz Bay

Santa Cruz Bay Whale Watching

Santa Cruz bay is yet another hotspot of whale cruises. They have everything from sailing charters on the Chardonnay II, O’Neill Yacht catamarans, standup paddle boarding at Venture Quest Kayaking, to traditional boat tours Stagnaro Whale Trips. Image Credit

14. Point Reyes Lighthouse, Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Reserve

Point Reyes lies north of the San Francisco Bay area, and is a designated protected seashore. The lighthouse sits on the rocky outcropping on the very tip of the point. From the steps above the lighthouse, you have an excellent viewpoint on the ocean to spot whales. Image Credit

Seattle Whale Watching

Whale watching is popular in the Seattle area, particularly around the San Juan Islands, from April through September. A number of charter boat companies offer tours ranging from a couple of hours to all day that allow you to get a closer look at these fascinating creatures, as well as other wildlife.

15. La Push

La Push Olympic Peninsula

Located at the mouth of the Quileute River and surrounded by the lush Olympic Peninsula forest, La Push is home to the Quileute tribe. Known for its pristine environment, it offers jaw draw dropping vistas, as well as excellent opportunities for whale watching and ocean fishing. Image Credit

16. Rialto Beach

Rialto Beach Olympic Peninsula

Due to its easy accessibility, Rialto Beach is popular with tourists. It’s not unusual to spot a pelican or bald eagle soaring overhead, while you search the crashing waves for the whales making their way through the cold water. Image Credit

17. Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery

Known for turbulent waters, strong currents, and swift breezes, Cape Flattery is a prime example of natural beauty due to the numerous cliffs that resemble fortresses, protected coves, and tidal pools in the area. Whales can often be spotted, as well as seabirds, sea otters, and sea lions. Image Credit

18. Sekiu Overlook

Sekiu Overlook, Jaun de Fuca Strait

Part of the Whale Trail viewing site, an area that overlooks the Clallam Bay, the Sekiu Overlook is the perfect place to pullover for a quick look at the beautiful scenery. It also offers the chance to catch a look at the whales migrating through the area. Image Credit

19. Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Port Townsend Orca

Located in Fort Worden State Park, the Marine Science Center is an educational, yet fun experience. In addition to the full skeleton of an orca whale, there are plenty of interactive exhibits that focus on wildlife in the area, as well as the effects of pollution on the area. Image Credit

20. Alki Beach Park

Alki Beach Park, Puget Sound

Directly across from Seattle’s center, the beach offers outstanding views of the city from an entirely different perspective. It is also a great place to spot migrating orcas during the winter and fall. You may also see gray whales during the spring. You will likely be shocked by how close they come to the shore. Image Credit

21. San Juan Island Tours

San Juan Island National Historic Park

There are a number tours leaving from San Juan Island that allow you to get up close and personal with the orcas that frequent the area, as well as minke whales and porpoises. In addition, humpback whales are increasingly being spotted in the area, as well as the occasional killer whale. Image Credit

22. Orcas Island Tours

Orcas Island Tours

Sightseeing and kayaking tours, as well as fishing charters, can be found on Orcas Islands. The boat captains are usually able to take you right to a pod of orcas that enjoy swimming around and under the boat. Minke whales, sea lions, bald eagles, and plenty of other wildlife are often spotted, so you can expect a memorable and exciting time. Image Credit

23. Port Townsend

Port Townsend Tours

Port Townsend is home to a great port where you can easily hop on board a vessel for an outstanding whale watching experience. Orcas, along with the occasional minke and gray whale, frolic in these waters, alongside harbor porpoises, sea lions, seals, and more. Image Credit

24. Patos Island Lighthouse

Patos Island Lighthouse

Built in 1893, this picturesque lighthouse sits 38 feet off the ground and offers gorgeous views of the rocky shoreline, corals, and churning water below. On occasion, you can catch a glimpse of whales passing through the area, where the tides can rise by as much as 14 feet.

Oregon Coast – Rugged Beauty

The whale watching opportunities are plentiful in Oregon, but you’ll need to hop in the car and bring your hiking boots and a spotting scope. The Oregon coast is littered with rugged and scenic viewpoints from which to set up shop and watch for whales.

25. Battle Rock Wayside

Battle Rock Wayside

Hike up to the hilltop for a fantastic view of the Oregon coast to look for whales.  Then soak up the history of the park, where in 1851, the Qua-to-Mah Native Americans battled with the forces of Captain William Tichenor. Image Credit

26. Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint

Face Rock Scenic Wayside

Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint provides jaw dropping seascape views, as well as plenty of opportunities for beachcombing, fishing, hiking, and view the marine life and more than 300 different species of birds. As a non-commercialized beach, you can expect to hear only the sounds of the water crashing and seagulls overhead as you watch for whales. Image Credit

27. Shore Acres State Park

Shore Acres State Park

Touted as the Best Storm Watching Location on the West Coast, Shore Acres State Park provides exquisite views of the gorgeous all season gardens and the crashing waves that reach up to 120 feet high. It is also the perfect place to see the more than 18,000 gray whales as they migrate toward Alaska each spring. Image Credit

28. Cook’s Chasm Turnout & Cape Perpetua

Cape Perpetua Cooks Chasm

As the highest point on the Oregon Coast, Cook’s Chasm allows you to see clear views for miles, as well as up close views of the frothy surf that constantly crashes upon the jagged shores. After whale watching, you can easily spend hours hiking the trails that through the lush forests. Image Credit

29. Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Yaquina Head

The 93 foot high Yaquina Head Lighthouse provides the perfect opportunity to catch glimpses of the whales playing in the surf below. To learn about the area’s history, including the local marine live, tidal pools, and the lighthouse, visit the Interpretive Center. Image Credit

30. Devil’s Punchbowl State Park

Devils Punchbowl State Park

A popular spot for whale watching, Devil’s Punchbowl State Park is also known for its unique geology, rocky shoreline, and more. Be sure to visit the collapsed sea cave for which the area is named during low tight, but be sure to take safety precautions. Image Credit

31. Rocky Creek Scenic Viewpoint

Rocky Creek Scenic Viewpoint

With minimal cell phone reception, Rocky Creek is the perfect place to relax and disconnect while getting a look at the gorgeous Oregon coastline and the gray whales that love to frolic in the cold waters below. It also is a great spot for catching spectacular photos of the crashing waves and the numerous harbor seals and sea lions that call this area home. Image Credit

32. Boiler Bay Scenic Viewpoint

Boiler Bay

Boiler Bay is an ideal place for watching the wild surf below, which is home to plenty of gray whales year round. It is also one of the best places in Oregon to see a number of ocean loving birds, including pelicans, albatrosses, loons, shearwaters, and more. At low tide, look for the J.Marhoffer’s ship boiler, an explosion in 1910 sank the ship. Image Credit

33. Cape Kiwanda Natural Area

Cape Kiwanda

Cape Kiwanda offers a high vantage point that is ideal for catching a look at the gray whales as they burst up to 12 feet out of the churning Pacific. Kiwanda is also a great place for kite flying and hang gliding. Image Credit

34. Cape Lookout State Park

Cape Lookout State Park

Hike the rugged terrain to the top of the cliff for spectacular views of the coastline below. Peaceful and quiet, you can enjoy the sounds of the seals playing in the water below while looking out for the gray whales that frequent the area. Image Credit

35. Ecola State Park

Ecola State Park Haystack Rock

With nine miles of the Pacific shoreline, Ecola State Park is home to plenty of wildlife, birds, and migrating gray whales. Whale watching programs are available during the migration season to help you spot the majestic creatures as they make their way to Alaska. Image Credit

36. Cape Meares Lighthouse

Cape Mears

With no charge for admission, the Cape Meares Lighthouse is a nice place to spot migrating whales, native birds, and great photos of the breathtaking scenery. The Interpretive Gift Shop is located within the lighthouse and has souvenirs that are a great way to commemorate your visit. Image Credit

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