Seeing whales while vacationing California sounds like a fun idea, but what if your visit doesn’t coincide with the typical whale watching tour season? San Diego Whale Watching has you covered, with the only year round whale watching tours available. Read on to learn what to bring, when to go, and what you can expect to see when you are out on the grand Pacific Ocean.
San Diego, California, is a fantastic place to whale watch, and it was at the top of my family’s must-do list for our recent visit to California. Our trip was in June, but what I didn’t realize was that this did *not* fall within the traditional whale watching months.
We also had a daily commute involved in our San Diego area touring. So we were not anxious to add to our travel time by heading even further north up to Newport, where many of the whale watching tours depart from.
All of this lead me to finding San Diego Whale Watching, and I’m so glad I did. They offer the only year-round whale watching tours in San Diego. San Diego Whale Watching departs from a marina in Mission Bay, just across from SeaWorld San Diego.
Heading After Mighty Blue Whales
Grey whales are prolific along the California coast, often coming closest to shore. They are easy game for whale watching tours; however, they typically pass through in December through April. If your visit does not fall during those months, you’d normally be out of luck.
Fortunately, San Diego Whale Watching maintains their boat tours in all seasons. Visiting in mid June, we were grateful to have this option. There is still marine life to see, including dolphins, the occasional humpback, and perhaps even a blue whale.
That’s right, the largest of all whales does cruise along the California coastline in summer… the mighty blue whale! Although they are further from shore and more challenging to “go after” (whale tour operator speak), San Diego Whale Watching does offer to take you out far enough to search for blue whales. Branching out in this manner has allowed them to offer year round tours from San Diego.
What Did We See?
While still near the docks, a friendly sea lion followed our gentle wake and barked a farewell greeting. Sea birds and even local SUP’ers (stand up paddle boarders) with their dogs were spotted as we made our way out of the marina bay.
Once we made it about 20 minutes from shore, we started to see some dolphins. At least two different types made an appearance. Their playful jumps and antics near the boat are always such a happy sight to see. These incredibly fast swimmers have no trouble gliding right alongside us for a mile or two.
It’s a heartwarming experience to see marine life in the wild. No pesky feelings of guilt over visiting an animal in captivity at an aquarium, zoo, or park. Just pure joy at getting to witness them enjoy what is truly their natural habitat.
But the headliner for us that day was a humpback whale. He joined us for a nice portion of the trip (I guess the reality is that we hung around him). They are notorious for their impressive breech jumps, and we got to witness this marvelous feat twice. What a fantastic finale to an enjoyable tour!
Obviously, every tour will be different. Note that if a whale such as this makes an appearance, your boat captain will likely not head out farther in search of a blue whale on that particular trip.
Good to Know: Temperatures, Schedule, Boat Layout, & Snacks
The Privateer is a mid-sized tour vessel, which holds around 140 passengers and offers a variety of options for seating and viewing. A typical summer whale watching tour involves a 3 hour ride, with your choice of either morning or afternoon.
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Temperatures in San Diego on the day of our tour were around 80 degrees, with temps on the water being about 10-15 degrees cooler. We took a morning tour, and each had a pullover hoodie. My 5 year old son got a little cold wearing shorts, but otherwise we were all very comfortable.
There is an inside area with seating, in case you need a break from the wind or chilly sea air. If the waters are calm and you’re not feeling seasick, visit the galley where snacks and drinks are available for purchase.
There are two levels on this boat, and you are free to roam about during the ride. I spent the first half of the tour quite content on the lower level right side, enjoying being so close to the water. What I didn’t realize is that the upper level, although a bit windier, offers better photo opportunities.
By hanging out on the boat’s upper deck, you won’t be restricted by which side of the boat a whale makes its appearance. And you just may be able to grab a shot like the photo my husband took of the breaching humpback whale.
At least one crew member was visiting with the guests during the tour, answering questions about whales and their behaviors. This was a nice touch, and although I didn’t dominate any of his time I enjoyed eavesdropping on all the whale information and history he was relaying to my fellow guests.
Prices & When to Go
I love being out on the water so much, that even if it were just a boat ride on the Pacific Ocean, you could count me in! We went out on a breezy day with lots of waves, so the ride was extra exciting.
The crew actually warned us before boarding of the extra swells and cross wind that day. I was worried she was going to tell us the tour was cancelled, but the message was to be sure and take any sea sickness medicine ahead of time, if you were so inclined. My heart went out to the 2 or 3 unfortunate souls who spent the tour hanging over the railing that day.
Prices are reasonable, and they offer a half price deal on Tuesdays and Thursdays for $24. A nice way to save money, but be aware those days may feature higher crowds. We went on a Tuesday, and the boat was fairly full.
I appreciated the San Diego Whale Watching website chart of every date, every scheduled tour, and how many available seats are left. This allows you to keep an eye on how full your preferred tour times are. Then you can watch the weather while you are there, and select an optimal tour to go on. Either book ahead online or purchase tickets right at the marina store.
My family highly recommends this experience! We will definitely return the next time we are in San Diego.