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Whale Watching in San Diego 2012

January 10, 2012

(Courtesy Photo)

California Gray Whales make their annual trip from the Bering Sea to Baja California in the winter. San Diego is strategically located along the migration route of the magnificent California Gray Whale. Not surprisingly, San Diego has whale watching tour operators that know just where to spot the migrating Gray Whales.

Starting in late December and ending in mid-April, about 26,000 gray whales make the heroic journey from the cold and volatile waters of Arctic Sea to the warm and gentle waters of Baja California. How heroic? It is a 10,000-mile round-trip journey.

The Port of San Diego gets in on the act with the San Diego Whale Festival which celebrates the seasonal whale watching season on Saturday, January 21, 2012 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier, 1000 North Harbor Drive. The exact location is at the foot of Broadway as it intersects North Harbor Drive.

Back to the tours. Thousands of San Diegans and visitors, both young and old, board chartered boats to greet the Gray Whales as they make their trek south to the protected lagoons of Baja California. California Gray Whales are pretty easy to spot because of their size – a length of 52 feet!

These gentle giants get their name because of their gray color and the gray-white patterns left by parasites. If you have never seen a California Gray Whale, strongly consider taking a half-day, whale watching trip – it is an amazing experience. Most of the major tour companies also offer a “whale-sighting guarantee” so if the whales aren’t found, the next trip is free.

All the tours and charters have trained observers who teach everyone on board where and how to look for signs of whales. Two tours feature naturalists from the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Birch Aquarium that provide additional educational information about whales and marine life.

Best of all, you don’t have to go on a whale watching cruise to see the whales – San Diego also has some great vantage points that won’t cost you a penny.

Whale watching is a wonderful way to spend a winter’s day in San Diego. Ahoy!

San Diego Travel Tips’ Whale Watching Tips:

  • Dress warmly. It gets cold on the water and it is gets VERY windy out in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Look for water spouts! Whales travel at about 6mph, dive to a depth of about 100 feet for 3-5 minutes, surface and
    blow, followed by a series of three to five shallow dives and blows before they dive deeply
  • Don’t leave the binoculars behind and, while you are at it, don’t forget your camera. While you’re at it, don’t drop your Nikon or your Bushnell’s.
  • Don’t miss the boat! Once the boat leaves the dock, that’s it. You cannot catch up to a boat that
    has already left. Plan ahead.
  • Are you sure your child or children can handle being out on the open ocean for the trek? The ocean is not always calm and tummies can get upset or worse yet, boredom can set in. You know the dreaded question: “Are we there yet?”

Where to Watch the Whales for Free

There really isn’t a more beautiful spot in San Diego to watch whales than Point Loma and, specifically, the view from the Cabrillo Monument. Another great place to go whale-spotting is in La Jolla/Del Mar at Torrey Pines State Reserve. From high atop those two shoreline perches, you can look for the whale pods. You might need to make several attempts through their migration period to try to catch them as they ease on down the coastline. Even if you don’t see the whales, it will do you good to get out and look at the vast Pacific Ocean.

A Few Whale Watching Boating Tours in San Diego

Birch Aquarium/Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UC San Diego and San Diego Harbor Excursion – San Diego’s own Birch Aquarium at the world-famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of San Diego, California has collaborated with San Diego Harbor Excursion to offer daily local whale watching cruises featuring Scripps naturalists. These daily tours will conclude on April 15, 2012.

The great thing about these tours is that knowledgeable naturalists share information about the whales, as well as ecological and historical information about San Diego Bay and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This is not just a whale watching cruise, this is also a seminar on whales and ocean life.

The tours last for three-and-a-half hours, which allow the skipper to search the Pacific Ocean west of San Diego Bay for the Gray Whales. While you are out on the boats scanning the horizon for whale spouts, be sure to enjoy the incredible ocean and harbor views. While you are moving through the harbor, do not miss seeing the adorable sea lions take naps on the harbor buoys. Be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins and sea birds as well.

Please note that reservations are strongly recommended if you don’t want to miss the boat. Please call San Diego Harbor Excursion at (619) 234-4111.

San Diego Hornblower and San Diego Natural History Museum
– Like the Birch Aquarium, the San Diego Natural History Museum provides an education on whales and marine life as you sail the ocean blue. The Natural History Museum has partnered with San Diego Hornblower to provide three-and-a- half-hour education whale watching cruises that allow passengers plenty of time to get out into the ocean to see the Gray Whales, sea lions, dolphins, and marine birds.

Tours are offered daily until mid-April every year.

Reservations can be made online with Hornblower. Please note that Hornblower is unable to take online reservations within 5 hours of a scheduled cruise. If you would like to make reservations for a cruise and it is within the 5 hour limit, please make your reservations by calling: 1-888-HORNBLOWER.

H&M Landing Whale-Watching
One of San Diego sports fishing’s leaders, H&M Landing, provides daily offshore cruises to view the California Gray Whales. Like the aforementioned tour operators, H&M provides informative narration on whales, their migration and the other marine life and sights as passengers cruise. This is one of those great tour companies that guarantees whale sightings. If, for any reason, whales are not sighted during your cruise, H&M will issue you a pass to come out again.

H&M has two trip options available: daily 3-hour cruises and 6-hour cruises. The 6-hour cruise includes a trip into Mexican waters for a thorough viewing of the Coronado Islands. Adults should be prepared to have their photo I.D. with them because the tour goes into Mexican waters. If you are carrying a cellphone with you, it will alert you with a text welcoming you to Mexico.

Reservations can be made at (619) 222-1144.

Do you have a favorite whale watching company that we have not included? Please leave a comment for us and let us know which one and what makes them special.

Would you like our latest edition to land in your inbox? All you need to do is subscribe. To subscribe to the blog, look for the SUBSCRIBE button just below the photo on the upper right-hand corner. If you want to find out about things to do in San Diego, go to San Diego Travel We can be reached at: sdtips @  For even more information, follow us on Twitter!
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