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Wondering where you can find the best place for whale watching in California? The entire coast teems with marine life ripe for our viewing enjoyment. From San Diego all the way up to Mendocino, California’s coast has so many scenic spots to catch gigantic tales emerge from the ocean you may have a hard time deciding where to go.
While you can see whales all year around in California, the best time for a tour is December through April. March and April tend to offer the most idyllic weather for outdoor adventure in California. You don’t even need a boat to engage in whale watching activities. You’ll need to be armed and ready with a quality pair of binoculars, otherwise you may not get a clear view when the whales surface, or you might mistake an inconsistency in the water as marine life. Make sure to bundle up while on the coast or on the water.
You can spy various kinds of whales during these winter and spring months, but you’re most likely to pick out a gray whale frolicking in the waves. They have the largest migration, grow up to 45 feet and they surface to blow a few times before diving back down to the depths of the water. They get their name from their gray color with a smattering of white. Gray whales may travel solo or in a small pod of up to 10 buddies.
If your eyes long to catch a glimpse of the largest animal to walk or swim the earth, then seek out some blue whales. They measure up to 100 feet in length. Be mindful of the endangered state of these whales – only around 10,000 remain. If you use them for visual entertainment, you should do your part to protect these majestic creatures. Check out the Pacific Whale Foundation for more information.
If Netflix takes up a decent portion of your screen time, it’s probable that you’ve seen or at least heard of the documentary “Blackfish,” an expose on Sea World and the inhumanity of orcas in captivity. Instead of handing over your money and your support to a company founded on animal cruelty, choose to invest in an eco-friendly boat tour to see orcas in the wild. Their ominous epithet Killer Whale only applies to humans when they’re put in a cage and forced to entertain crowds. You may also see some humpback whales (also an endangered species), finback whales and minke whales. Read on for a list of best places for California whale watching.
Why wouldn’t you visit the stunning surf city of San Diego? The whales are just another perk to the city. December to March is the best time of year to catch sight of a slew of gray whales migrating from Alaska to the warm waters of Baja California, but in the middle of January you can still spy around eight to ten whales an hour. If you can’t make it at that time of year, you can see blue whales from June through September. The best part about San Diego whale watching is the ample area for prime viewing. La Jolla, the jewel of SoCal, has incredible elevations for coastal sightings, while Point Loma and more specifically Cabrillo National Monument have panoramic views of the ocean and the city.
This picturesque beach town rests only a few hours north of San Francisco. It’s the best place for whale watching in California and a weekend escape. If you end up planning a Mendocino getaway, go in March to take part in the Mendocino Whale Festival full of beer, wine, creamy chowder and whale watching. Nearby town Fort Bragg also hosts similar festivities. The high elevation coastal viewpoints have the perfect vantage point to sit by and watch for whales breaching the surface.
The Farallon Islands
This spot requires a boat, since you’ll find these uninhabited islands almost 30 miles off the shore of San Francisco. They host the feeding ground of humpback whales, orcas, blue whales and sperm whales. Book a tour for the best chance of seeing the most whales.
Another spot in NorCal, Point Reyes always has a bunch of gray whales pass it by in winter and early spring. You might also see humpback whales in this spot. If you need more than one reason to visit Point Reyes, it has incredible hiking like Tomales Point Trail, a tunnel of Cypress trees, safari tours and more.
While you won’t necessarily think of whales when you envision the quirk and fun of Santa Cruz, Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz has some spectacular views of whale-filled waters. Plus, the shoreline often hosts other marine life like dolphins, seals and sea otters all year around. If it’s the right time of year, you may evening see a monarch butterfly migration.
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