The best whale watching tours in San Diego

By: Ella Buchan

January 20, 2016

San Diego‘s 70 miles of rugged, golden coastline isn’t just for sunbathing and hiking. This stretch is also one of the world’s prime spots for witnessing the longest annual migration of any living mammal – the 12,000 mile round trip of the gray whale.


From mid-December to April, more than 20,000 of these graceful leviathans cruise from Alaska to the warm lagoons of Baja California, Mexico, where they can safely give birth before heading back north with their calves. The length of an Olympic swimming pool, weighing up to 36 tons and with an average speed of six miles per hour, the gentle giants can frequently be spotted slicing through this section of the Pacific Ocean. Here are some of the best whale watching tours in San Diego.

The best whale watching tours in San Diego

Get close to these majestic giants © San Diego CVB

Maritime Museum


Just stepping aboard America, a replica of the world’s first ever America’s Cup winner, is a special experience. The sleek 139ft yacht was made for stylish cruising, while the spacious viewing platform and quiet approach means more chance of spotting magnificent marine mammals. The four-hour tours depart daily at 11am from the Maritime Museum at the downtown Embarcadero, priced from £53 adults and £26 children, including admission to the museum.

The best whale watching tours in San Diego

Whale Watching aboard the America © Joanne DiBona

Flagship Cruises


This partnership between Birch Aquarium at Scripps and Flagship Cruises is great for those who want to gain in-depth knowledge about gray whales and their migration habits. Naturalists from the aquarium provide detailed, engaging narration throughout the twice-daily cruises (adults £26, children £13.50). Guests are also given fact sheets, so they can swot while they spot from the 360-degree viewing platform. For a bigger thrill, Flagship runs shorter weekend trips on its high-speed jet boat (adults £37, children £30).

The best whale watching tours in San Diego

Birch Aquarium runs educational tours © San Diego CVB

Everyday California


Get even closer to the marine life by paddling along the migration path in a kayak. This two-hour adventure, launching daily from La Jolla Shores, passes La Jolla’s seven sea caves, with opportunities to spot seals and sea lions before stopping two miles out for the perfect vantage point to spot gray whales. Knowledgeable guides provide facts along the way, while ensuring no one gets too close for comfort. A single kayak costs £54, while a double is £81.

The best whale watching tours in San Diego

La Jolla Coastline at dusk © San Diego CVB

H&M Landing


Take the longer, five-hour excursion to a Mexican wildlife sanctuary at Los Coronados Islands, 14 miles off the coast of San Diego (adults £40, children £27). The H&M Landing cruise includes narration on whales and other marine life, and plenty of sighting opportunities before landing on the island for even closer views. With hot food, drinks, indoor and outdoor seating, the huge vessels were designed with comfort in mind.

The best whale watching tours in San Diego

The beautiful beaches of Coronado Strand © San Diego CVB

San Diego Whale Watch


The Privateer is the only boat in San Diego used solely for whale watching, departing daily from Seaforth Landing on Mission Bay. The salty crew know the best spots to see these giants of the sea, and even offer a “˜whale guarantee’ – if you don’t see a whale or dolphin, you can join another tour for free. The three-hour tours cost £32, focusing on gray whales in season with voyages to spot mighty blue and fin whales between May and November. Humpback whales have also been sighted.


Booking a trip to San Diego? Our codeshare arrangement with Delta makes it simple for you to travel all over North America.


Have you been on any of these whale watching tours in San Diego? Let us known in the comments section below.


Written by Ella Buchan

Ella Buchan

Ella Buchan is a freelance food and travel journalist currently eating and drinking her way through California.

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