Unbelievable, majestic, and iconic. These are just a few words to describe the experience of seeing these humongous mammals in their natural habitat. California is home to some of the most beautiful coastlines globally, with pristine beaches and breathtaking vistas that make for perfect whale watching. There’s nothing quite like being able to see whales from land or boat up close – they’re an unforgettable sight!
It is always a joy to find new places to visit, especially when looking for the perfect place to see whales. If you are not sure where these animals can be seen, or if you want more options than just Monterey Bay Aquarium, check out this list of the 15 best California whale watching spots around.
1. Point Reyes National Seashore – Point Reyes, CA
Point Reyes National Seashore is a protected area located in the Northern San Francisco Bay Area. It covers around 700 square miles and comprises beautiful landscapes, including forests, beaches, and grasslands.
If you want to see gray whales in their natural habitat, this is where you should be beheaded. These gentle giants migrate through the coastlines from December to April and can be seen from land or boat along Drakes Estero and Tomales Bay. This whale watching spot is considered one of the best during that season due to the abundance of gray whales’ resting grounds.
2. Bodega Head – Bodega Bay, CA
Bodega Head overlooks Bodega Bay which is one of the most well-known whale watching spots in California. This spot has been popular for many years due to its name recognition and proximity to San Francisco Bay Area.
It’s easy to see whales here between December and late April when gray, blue, minke, humpback, finback, sei, and killer whales are seen moving along the coastline feeding on various small fish species. Bodega Head’s proximity to this migration makes it a much-loved whale watching site in Northern California.
3. Monterey Harbor – Monterey, CA
Monterey Harbor has some of the best opportunities in Northern California for seeing whale species, including Humpbacks, during their “migration” season from December to April.
This spot is perfect for anyone looking to see whales or dolphins close up as they are very accustomed to human presence. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary allows you to even get a bit closer by swimming with these amazing animals! Click here for more information.
4. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – Carmel, CA
Monterey is not the only place in California with an incredible coastline – Point Lobos State Natural Reserve presents its beauty along the Big Sur coast near Carmel. This protected area has many secluded coves and beautiful views of sea stacks that are popular with hikers and whale watchers alike.
From December through May, gray, minke, back, finback, blue, and humpback whales can be seen from this area. In fact, during the Big Sur Marathon, runners look forward to the sight of a majestic whale swimming along their path!
5. Elkhorn Slough/ Moss Landing Harbor – Moss Landing, CA
Elkhorn Slough has been a popular marine wildlife viewing site for many years, becoming a hotspot for birdwatchers and nature lovers hoping to see sea otters in action. It is also one of the best places in California to see whales from December through April.
This slough is home to three main types of whales: gray whales, blue whales, and humpback whales which you can get an up-close view from land or by boat or kayak. If you like working up a sweat when enjoying wildlife observing, this spot is perfect for you. There are several hiking trails in the area!
6. Morro Bay Harbor – Morro Bay, CA
Morro Bay Harbor in Central California is one of the best places to see finback whales in action during their migration season between December and May. Here you will also find gray, blue, humpback, minke, sei whales year-round.
The Federal Aviation Administration has recommended that aircraft keep an eye on these marine animals while flying outside of Los Angeles or San Francisco Air Space to prevent possible airstrikes. Whales are curious creatures, so keeping your distance might not always be easy, but it’s essential if you want to see these creatures up close.
7. Point Vicente – Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
Point Vicente in Southern California is the perfect place to see whales if you’re looking for a beach getaway! The California coastline stretches out before this lookout point, making whale watching even more enjoyable and allowing you to combine other activities like surfing, sunbathing, or hiking with your whale-watching experience. In addition, great white sharks are known to frequent these waters, so keep an eye out for them too!
8. San Francisco – San Francisco, CA
The city by the bay is home to one of the biggest ports in the West and incredible marine life. Year-round, gray, humpback, and blue whales can be seen swimming in and out of San Francisco Bay. From April to May, you might even see orcas (also known as Killer Whales). These predators love eating Pacific gray whales during their migration period! This place is perfect for anyone looking for a more city vibe with their whale watching experience.
9. Morro Strand State Beach – Cayucos, CA
Morro Strand State Beach is located North of Morro Bay and South of Cambria which means that whatever your preference, white sand or rocks, this spot has you covered. The view from this beach is fantastic, especially if you’re into photography! In addition, point San Luis Lighthouse and Cayucos Pier offer stunning scenery that will surely take your breath away.
10. Point Vicente Interpretative Center – Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
All year round Point Vicente Interpretive Center offers educational programs to schools and the public regarding local marine life and cultural history. On Saturdays and Sundays, docents can be seen leading school children on an upper deck whale watching tour where they do all of the work! Kids get a chance to explore different habitats in the area, locate whales using binoculars or even spot dolphins playing alongside their boat. It’s a perfect activity for people who love learning while having fun!
11. Anacapa Island – Channel Islands National Park, CA
Anacapa has been identified as the best place to see blue whales in Santa Barbara County and one of the most reliable places in California overall. In addition, the island is part of Channel Islands National Park, home to another incredible viewing spot: East Anacapa Peak (355′). Take your pick or visit them both; it’s up to you but keep in mind that you only need to hike one way (East) to enjoy a fantastic view of the island! The hike back down will take around 30 minutes.
12. Port Hueneme Pier Port Hueneme, CA
The Port Hueneme Pier is located in Ventura County, and it’s another great spot to see blue whales during their migration season. The best time of the year to visit this pier for whale watching is between January and May or September and November.
13. Malibu, CA
Malibu has different shorelines, which means that you can choose your favorite based on what you’re looking for! For example, there are pristine beaches, rocky coastline, and unique tide pools perfect for those who love exploring aquatic life up close! December through May is when whales are most likely to be seen here, so make sure not to miss out on any of the action!
14. Bolsa Chica State Beach – Huntington Beach, CA
Located in Orange County, Bolsa Chica State Beach is a great spot to catch a glimpse of gray whales during their migration season. This beach stretches for 3 miles, and it’s perfect for walking or jogging.
15. Dana Point – Laguna Beach, CA
Dana Point is one of the most popular spots in Southern California not only because there are countless activities you can do here but also because of its whale watching opportunities! The area is home to five beaches: Doheny State Beach, Monarch Bay, Salt Creek, Dana Point Harbor, and Mother’s Beach. Each location provides an excellent view, so why not combine them all? It makes sense…right? So bring your binoculars and take full advantage of this opportunity!
Whales are fascinating creatures, and catching a glimpse of them from the shore is an incredible experience. These 15 whale watching spots in SoCal will have you feeling like a true nature lover!
Happy whale watching!