In San Diego, one of the most popular attractions many tourists and locals look forward is whale watching during their migration period. Every year, thousands of giant whales, as big as full-sized basketball courts, make a long journey from Alaska to California, and even all the way to Costa Rica. They typically spend a few months in the warm waters of California for females to give birth to their calves, before making their way back north in the wintertime. As this journey totals to about 10,000 miles, it’s a truly extraordinary spectacle to witness. Luckily for San Diego, its long stretches of coastline are directly part of their migration path, making it an incredibly good place to witness one of nature’s greatest migration stories.
Best Time for Whale Watching in San Diego
Whale watching season in San Diego generally lasts all year long, as there are two waves of migrating whales calling their warm waters home before making their journeys up north and further south.
Mid-December to April
If you want to see migrating gray whales, it is best to go to San Diego during the months of December to April. Many recommend going later in the season, so you could witness female whales with their calves coasting through the waters in tandem.
Mid-June to September
If you are interested in seeing the largest creatures on earth, you can spot blue whales in San Diego during the months of June to September. About 2,000 of them feed off the coast of San Diego during the summer months, due to the changes in ocean temperatures and the abundance of krill over the last few years. They tend to be found further out to sea than gray migrating whales, so it’s recommended that you do a multi-day sightseeing excursion specifically for blue whale sightings.
Best Spots for Whale Watching in San Diego
With San Diego being a hot spot for whale watching in California, there are a number of ways to enjoy whale watching while you’re in town:
You can view the whale migration from the shore by going to popular spots such as Birch Aquarium, the Torrey Pines State Reserve and the Cabrillo National Monument. However, as there is really nothing like seeing them in their natural habitat, many people still prefer to do one-day or multi-day excursions.
You can also join private sightseeing excursions organized by independent tour operators. Not only is this the best way to see a blue whale as they tend to stay farther out to sea, it’s also a unique experience in itself to be at sea and see San Diego’s skyline from a different vantage point. Plus, as many tour operators are extremely knowledgeable about whale migration patterns, it’s definitely going to be a more educational experience for you and your family, too.
Tips for Whale Watching in San Diego
Since whale watching is a seasonal activity, it is not enough that you come to San Diego and ask for a tour operating company to promise you a great experience. It is also important that you come prepared to make the most out of your trip. If you’re joining a whale watching excursion at sea, here are some tips to ensure you make the most out of this magnificent experience:
It is important to dress appropriately for the weather. It can get chilly out at sea, even if the temperatures are mild and the skies are clear. It is recommended that you dress in layers, take a rain jacket with you and wear rubber shoes. Showers can happen during the trip, and you’re better safe than sorry.
Make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat. Without sun protection, you can get severely sunburned, even during a half-day trip. It also helps to bring your sunglasses with you, as well, to protect your eyes from the glare.
Boarding times differ per tour operating company, so it is best to adhere to your preferred company’s guidelines and ensure you don’t get left behind. You don’t want to miss your chance in seeing a whale up close and personal, do you? Plus, no one would like to start their adventure feeling all stressed and panicky due to last-minute arrangements.
As you’ll be exposed to the sun for a long period of time, it is best to drink lots of water, ginger ale or sports drinks to prevent dehydration. It is uncomfortable enough already to be out sailing at sea, and you don’t want to aggravate the situation by feeling parched and weak. Make sure to avoid drinks that are high in sugars.
Note that most tour operating companies will allow you to bring your own food and beverage on board, but they have strict rules on whether glass bottles and alcoholic beverages are allowable. Even if all you want to do is enjoy a nice glass of wine while experiencing this spectacle, check with the company beforehand before you risk getting the bottle confiscated.
If you’re prone to motion sickness, it helps to take medication along with you. Many whale watching excursions are several hours long, and you don’t want to feel ill all throughout the journey. Just remember to take motion sickness medicine before you board, that way it could kick in before you start feeling sick. Best to take the non-drowsy version so you don’t end up falling asleep on the trip.
As this amazing spectacle deserves to be captured, recorded and remembered, take a good camera along with you. Your smartphone may come in handy, but it might not deliver on the aperture and speed needed to take high-quality photos. Don’t forget to charge your batteries and bring a spacious memory card with you.
When it comes to whale watching, every trip is different. Even if the migration patterns remain the same every year, it is highly unlikely that you’ll see the same tandems or groups out at sea twice. If you’re not happy with your whale sighting the first time around, try again another day or another year.