16 incredible whale watching trips in the USA

Humpback whale jumping out of ocean with boat tour nearby

Planning a whale watching trip in the States? The whales are way ahead of you, and by the time you pack your bags, humpback whales will be swimming thousands of miles between warm-weather mating grounds and the buffet of cold-water foods that draw them north each year. (Plankton, anyone?) Since whales patrol the United States coast in every month, you can meet up with them on your own schedule, from the long days of the Alaskan summer to Virginia Beach ’s winter sunshine. Here's our list of the best places for a whale watching vacation in America.

Leave the shore behind and listen to what’s happening beneath the waves—encountering whales in the wild can kick-start your sense of wonder. Join a whale watching cruise to see them breed, play, or snack on plankton, and you’ll learn about the whales’ secret world. Take a whale watching trip to the Hawaiian islands where they’ll be swimming near colorful coral reefs, or hop a flight to Juneau , one of Alaska’s best places to see whales in glacier-chilled waters. Spot a nimble orca in Washington’s San Juan Islands , then head to Monterey, California for a chance to see blue whales, the largest animals on earth. Pods of whales swim up and down the east and west coasts, dazzling whale watching tours as they breach and slap their tails.

Still not sure where to go? We trawled America’s 95,000-mile coastline to find the best whale watching vacation destinations in the country. Next thing you know, you’ll be shouting “there she blows!”

Juneau, Alaska

People on boat tour with Juneau Whale Watch

Juneau Whale Watch

Migrating humpback whales gather from May through September in the nutrient-rich waters off Juneau , one of the best places for whale watching in all of America. Whale watching tours in Juneau troll the Inside Passage, a narrow waterway that makes it easier to spot whales and dolphins as they feed and relax after the long journey from their winter breeding grounds.

Maalaea, Maui, Hawaii

People watching humpback whale jumping with PacWhale Eco-Adventures

PacWhale Eco-Adventures

Views of the Maui coast provide a dramatic backdrop during your whale watching trip in Maalaea, a top Hawaiian vacation spot with spectacular wildlife. You can board a catamaran for a Maalaea whale watching cruise , or hit the water with the marine naturalists of the Pacific Whale Foundation, whose whale watching tours support whale research and conservation.

Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington

Orca jumping in water

San Juan Island Whale & Wildlife Tours

The San Juan Islands are home to a year-round population of orca whales, whose distinctive black and white profiles grace everything from ancient totem poles to modern-day artwork. That means that every season is whale watching season, but a vacation in the warm months from spring to fall gives you a chance to spot humpbacks, minke whales, and grey whales when you hit the water for a whale watching cruise around the San Juan Islands .

Monterey, California

Whale's tail with hillsides in distance

Discovery Whale Watch

Dropping steeply from the floor of the Monterey Bay , the vast Monterey Submarine Canyon draws the whales close to shore as they feed in the nutrient-rich habitat. Whale watching cruises in Monterey are a great way to sight humpback whales, finback whales, and minke whales, and lucky visitors may even encounter a massive blue whale, the largest animals that have ever existed. Sea-lovers shouldn’t miss the awe-inspiring Monterey Bay Aquarium , where you’ll find everything from abalone to zooplankton.

Gloucester, Massachusetts

Boat filled with people

7 Seas Whale Watch

With easy access to the protected Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, Gloucester is a great destination for East Coast whale watching. Whale watching cruises from Cape Ann frequently spot humpback whales during the whale watching season of May through November, when the whales breach, blow, and sometimes play in the wake of the boats.

Barnstable, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Whales in water with birds flying above

Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises

Just a short trip from Boston, Barnstable is a top destination for whale watching on Cape Cod , where you’ll spot humpback whales, minke whales, and finback whales. In-the-know nature lovers come here for the glorious whale watching season that stretches from spring to fall. Whale watching cruises are the best way to spot the mammals here, but keep a sharp eye from the beach and you may catch a glimpse of a passing pod.

San Diego, California

Many people on top deck of boat cruise

Hornblower Cruises & Events

Join the migrating grey whales for a whale watching trip to San Diego , with prime whale watching season extending from mid-December through April. San Diego whale watching tours explore the coast by sailboat and cruise ship , and often include a look at San Diego’s resident seals, dolphins, and sea lions, who love to soak up the sun on the city’s gorgeous beaches.

Waianae, Oahu, Hawaii

Whale's tail coming out of ocean

Dolphin Excursions Snorkel Adventure

While humpback whales are the show-stopping highlight of a whale watching vacation in Waianae , they share a stage with sea turtles, eagle rays, and three species of dolphins—spinner, bottlenose, and spotted. Spot Hawaii’s marine wildlife on a whale watching cruise between December and April, with the option to book a whale watching trip that includes snorkeling above Waianae’s gorgeous coral reefs.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Whales tails sticking out of ocean

Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

Watch for the humpback whales that slap their tails, leap, and blow off the coast of Bar Harbor , an East Coast whale watching hotspot. Whale watching cruises depart from the picture-perfect downtown, where visitors can browse adorable boutiques, visit ice cream shops, or sit down to a classic Maine lobster dinner with all the fixings.

Depoe Bay, Oregon

Water dripping from whale's tail

Whale Research EcoExcursions

Learn all about whale migration and biology at the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center , whose staff help visitors explore all things cetacean. Whale watching tours in Depoe Bay catch up with some of the 20,000 whales that swim the Oregon coast during the whale watching season of March through June, or head to the whales’ feeding grounds to see the humpbacks, minke whales, and orcas that graze between July and October.

Eastsound, Orcas Island, Washington

Orca coming out of water with boat in distance

Outer Island Expeditions

It’s no surprise that an island named for orca whales sees plenty of black fins swimming by, and picturesque Orcas Island is a favorite whale watching vacation destination in Washington State. With a prime spot in the San Juan Islands, humpbacks, finbacks, and minke whales are often spotted from Eastsound’s whale watching cruises , including a mix of local pods and visiting migrants.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Three dolphins jumping in water

Chesapean Outdoors

After a long swim from the chilly Bay of Fundy, humpback whales enjoy the warm waters of Virginia Beach between December and March, making it a great destination for whale watching experiences. Peak whale watching season is in January and February, and pods of dolphins patrol the coast as well— you can spot them on a guided kayak tour or from a stand-up paddleboard .

Cape May, New Jersey

People on boat watching whale swimming

Cape May Whale Watcher

Humpback whales feed on eels and herring off Cape May, an East Coast whale watching destination with a long season that extends all the way from March through December. Cape May whale watching tours spot everything from Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to massive blue whales, but humpbacks make most frequent appearances, measuring up to 50 feet from tip to tail.

Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Humpback whales with birds flying above them

Provincetown Whale Watch

Just off the end of Cape Cod , the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary protects 842 square miles of whale heaven, where shallow waters are rich with nutrients and food. Whale watching tours from Provincetown often see humpback whales, minke whales, finbacks, pilot whales, and even right whales, a critically-endangered species that’s made a Cape Cod comeback in recent whale watching seasons.

Oak Harbor, Deception Pass State Park, Washington

Overlooking dark-sand beach

Deception Pass State Park

Running salmon draw hungry orca whales to the waters off Oak Harbor , where narrow Deception Pass separates Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island . Whale watching tours from nearby Anacortes search out local whales and the “transient” pods that pass through on their annual migration, and on clear days you’ll have views of both the San Juan Islands and the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountain range.

Kailua-Kona, Big Island, Hawaii

Dozens of dolphins swimming

Kona Snorkel Tours

Whales luxuriate in Hawaii’s warm waters after the epic journey from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska, so a whale watching vacation to the Big Island is your chance to see humpback whales as they breed and give birth. Whale watching cruises range from energetic trips on inflatable zodiacs to serene outings aboard a catamaran sailboat , so you can find your own perfect whale watching trip in Hawaii.

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The Best Spots for Whale Watching in the U.S.

By Jared Ranahan

The Best Spots for Whale Watching in the U.S.

While the United States is home to a bastion of iconic animals—the American bison, the grizzly bear, and the bald eagle, to name a few—some of the earth’s most fascinating mammals can be spotted just beyond the sea shore. From the remote reaches of Alaska to the coastal waters of Virginia, a wealth of unique whale species roam the open ocean, perfectly positioning themselves for viewing.

While international travel remains off the table, a domestic whale watching trip is no less rewarding (and for Americans who live on a coast, great viewing spots are never far). As the seasons change, temperatures flux in tandem, and countless cetaceans embark on lengthy migrations across the globe, there’s always something new and exciting to watch for in the world of whales. 

Read on for the best places for whale watching in the U.S.

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Santa Barbara, California

With sandy beaches framed by the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara is already a must-visit destination just 90 minutes northwest of Los Angeles . Of Southern California's many whale watching opportunities, Santa Barbara’s Condor Express is truly second-to-none. The local tour company has been offering year-round excursions into the Pacific since 1973, on which you're certain to spot sea lions and pods of playful dolphins year round. But take a close look at the calendar before booking your trip: March through May is the ideal time to observe infant gray whales, while the largest living creature on earth—the blue whale—is likely to make an appearance between May and October.

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Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

The largest, youngest, and easternmost island within the Hawaiian archipelago, the Island of Hawaii (also known as the Big Island) tends to be overshadowed by neighboring Maui and Oahu when it comes to tourism, making it a true underrated gem of Polynesia. Between November and May, migrating humpback whales make the journey down to the Hawaiian islands to mate and rear their calves, making it possible for travelers to spot new mothers with babies in tow. Those hoping for an up-close encounter with the island’s visiting humpbacks should book a tour with Captain Zodiac , a Kona-based company that speeds across the water in 16-passenger Zodiac rafts.

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Provincetown, Massachusetts

A short, 90-minute ferry ride from Boston , this vibrant resort town is renowned throughout New England for its idyllic Cape Cod beauty and thriving LGBTQ+ culture. Though P-Town was home to a booming whaling industry in the 1800s, modern-day boaters have traded their harpoons for binoculars, offering visitors the opportunity to spot fin, humpback, and right whales from April to October. A first mover in the Atlantic whale watching industry, Dolphin Fleet has been active since 1975, providing guests with ample whale sightings and fascinating information on the biology and behavior of the ocean’s gentle giants.

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Seward, Alaska

A small city on the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula, Seward is located roughly two hours south of Anchorage, making it the perfect day trip for visitors in search of native wildlife. For a truly spectacular immersion into the rugged beauty of Alaska, Major Marine Tours offers a six-hour journey from Resurrection Bay into the iconic Kenai Fjords National Park , a sprawling park packed with glaciers and inlets. Available from May to mid-September, this excursion gives guests the chance to spot humpback, orca, minke, and gray whales, as well as seals, sea otters, and a wide array of seabirds.

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Virginia Beach, Virginia

Summertime is peak tourist season in this bustling city, home to 35 straight miles of coastline where visitors can sunbathe to their heart’s content. That said, aspiring whale watchers should pay a visit to Virginia Beach in the winter, specifically during January or February when humpbacks are most prevalent. Book an excursion with Rudee Tours ; this trusted company has been in the business for over 40 years, and offers a guaranteed free second trip in the unlikely event that no whales are spotted on your first outing.

San Juan Islands Washington

San Juan Islands, Washington

While humpbacks and minkes are a common sight throughout this idyllic Washington archipelago, the true crown jewel of the San Juan Islands is actually a type of dolphin: the orca, to be precise. For those staying in Seattle , the Puget Sound Express offers a half-day tour of the Salish Sea from May to December and San Juan Safaris conducts an incredible orca spotting excursion launching straight out of San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor. After thoroughly exploring the drinking and dining scene on San Juan Island ( Cask and Schooner is a must-visit for pub food and craft beer), be sure to take a trip to the aptly-named Orcas Island , where the pristine Moran State Park lies in wait for ambitious hikers, birdwatchers, and outdoor adventurers.

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Bar Harbor, Maine

The entire state of Maine is renowned for its spectacular natural beauty, but when it comes to whale watching in particular, it’s tough to beat Bar Harbor. This quiet community springs to life in the summer, with peak whale watching season occurring from June to August. For those hoping to spot humpback, minke, and right whales alongside porpoises and seabirds, the iconic Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co . is a trusted favorite. After a long day on the water, head into town for a lobster roll (or two). 

Cape May New Jersey

Cape May, New Jersey

A true paradise for animal enthusiasts, this tiny peninsula at the southern tip of New Jersey offers some of the best birdwatching in the country—and, from March to December, fantastic whale watching. Hop on the Cape May Whale Watcher for the “Cetacean Spectacular,” a three-hour voyage into the Delaware Bay. Marine mammal sightings are guaranteed, or your next trip is free. Humpbacks, fin whales, and bottlenose dolphins are a common sight, though this is also a great place to spot native shorebirds, ospreys, and even bald eagles.

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A Humpback whale breaches in mid-air off of the coast of Maine.

A Humpback whale breaches in mid-air off of the coast of Maine.

Whale watching of the Maine coast.

Whale watching of the Maine coast.

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Plan an East Coast Whale Watching Trip: Public & Private Viewing Coastal Cruises From May to October

Whale watching in Maine is more than a spectator sport; it’s a connection with nature. The world’s largest living creatures can be found feeding and frolicking just 20 miles off the Maine coast. The best time for Maine whale watching begins in mid to late May when hungry whales arrive to feast in local waters rich in sand eels, copepods, plankton, and fish. In October, they’ll head south toward warmer seas.

Until then, thousands of visitors will have the chance to spot the plentiful species of whales found in Maine’s ocean waters as they breach the surface, spout water, and nurse their young. Familiar sights include humpback whales, pilot whales, minke whales, and the massive finback whale, which can grow up to 80 feet in length. Sei and right whales are a couple of the state’s occasional visitors.

While there are a number of good vantage points on shore where spectators armed with a good set of binoculars can sight whales, Maine whale watching cruises will put you right where the action is. There’s also a chance of seeing seals, dolphins, and other marine life along the way. These family-friendly and educational cruises are available up and down the Maine Coast.

Maine Whale Watching Companies:

Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

Cap’n Fish’s Cruises

Downeast Charter Boat Tours  

Eastport Windjammers

First Chance Whale Watch  

Odyssey Whale Watch

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No trip to Maine is complete without the ultimate thrill of a whale watch adventure. Our sightings...

Phone: (207) 288-2386, 1-800-942-5374

Website: www.barharborwhales.com

Address: Harborplace 1 West Street , Bar Harbor

Cap'n Fish's Cruises

Cap’n Fish’s Cruises offers a variety of daily sightseeing and nature cruises, including whale watches, puffin cruises, music cruises, and private charters.

Phone: 207-613-7339

Website: www.mainewhales.com

Address: 42 Commercial Street , Boothbay Harbor

Fish River Lodge

Meet new friends in the woods and on the water!

Phone: 207-444-9078

Website: www.fishriverlodgeeaglelake.com

Address: 316 Old Main Street PO Box 202 , Eagle Lake

Friends of Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Support group for Maine Coastal Islands NWR. Visitor center in Rockland. Free programs.

Phone: 207-594-0600 X5

Website: mainecoastislands.org

Address: 9 Water St PO Box 1231 , Rockland

Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina

Nestled on picturesque Frenchman's Bay, the Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina has made a name for...

Phone: 207.288.5033

Website: www.theharborsidehotel.com

Address: 55 West Street , Bar Harbor

Katahdin Photo Tours

Guided photo tours in the Katahdin area of Northern Maine near Baxter State Park.

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People whale watching from a boat

Whale watching along the East Coast originated in Provincetown, Massachusetts in the 1970s and the most common destination for those vessels was an area that is now Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Watch this Story from the Blue video to learn more. Whale watching has become a major industry and recreational activity with the primary focus on humpback whales due to their reliable presence and dramatic behaviors.

USA Today’s 2016 Top10 survey for “ Best Places in the US to See Aquatic Life ” put Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in the top spot. Other lists from environmental organizations, magazines, and newspapers have ranked the sanctuary among the world’s premier whale watching locations.

Whale Watch Operators

People whale watching from a boat

Several whale watching operators, from Newburyport to Provincetown, Massachussettes, make regular trips out to the sanctuary and adjacent waters. Schedules vary, but most companies offer trips from the beginning of May until the end of October, although several may start earlier or end later in the season. Check the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism’s Whale Trail website for links to daily whale watch operations, and visit individual companies’ websites to learn more about specific trip details.

whale watching tours on east coast

Whale SENSE recognizes whale watching companies committed to responsible practices. The program originated with NOAA Fisheries, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. In recognition of their commitment to protecting whales, participating companies are approved to display the Whale SENSE logo. This logo indicates to passengers that a company follows responsible whale watching practices.

Visit Whale SENSE , to learn about responsible whale watch operators and tips for your whale watching experience.

Whale Watching Tips for Boaters

Mmore people whale watching from a boat with binoculars

Some boaters spend time whale watching during their on-the-water excursions or fishing trips. If you decide to stop and enjoy the spectacular show, please take these precautions:

  • Do not chase or harass whales. That is against the law and can lead to serious fines. Learn about safe boating around whales through See A Spout , an education program developed by NOAA Fisheries, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and the sanctuary or visit the New England marine life viewing guidelines from NOAA Fisheries.
  • Post a lookout to watch for whales. These animals may not sense your approach when feeding and may pop up right in front of you. Look for hovering birds; they know when whales are approaching the surface.
  • Keep a slow speed in areas where there are whales or other vessels watching whales. If there is one whale present, there may be others. A collision with a vessel can be life-threatening for the whale and may do significant damage to a boat. Use the free Whale Alert app to receive notifications of right whale sightings, regulations, guidelines, and other timely information.
  • Do not discard litter overboard. It may be ingested by the animals and cause harm.

Big whale and two people watching it

What Species Will I See?

Learn about the wide range of species you could encounter during a whale watch.

Humpback whale tail sticking out

Recognizing Humpbacks

Learn how researchers distinguish one humpback from another by identifying their unique “fluke prints.”

Whale coming out of the water

Whale Behaviors

Find out what different whale actions mean and what they are called.

Kids watching a whale from afar

Tips for a Successful Whale Watch

Make the most of your whale watch experience with these comprehensive tips.

The 12 Best Places in the U.S. to Go Whale Watching (and When to Go)

Travel to the coasts for an up-close experience with these beautiful creatures.

where to go whale watching virginia

San Juan Islands, Washington

orcas, whales, san juan islands

When to Go: May–September

Whales You’ll See: Orcas, Humpbacks, Minkes, Gray Whales

One of the best places in the world to view orcas (a.k.a. killer whales) are the San Juan Islands , clustered off the coast of Washington. Although orcas are seen in the area year-round, three main pods, called the “Southern Residents,” are more frequently glimpsed during the spring through fall months. The San Juan Islands are part of the Whale Trail , a string of whale-plentiful sites in the Pacific Northwest. You can witness humpbacks, minkes, and gray whales, along with groups of sea lions, from the deck of a whale-watching cruise .

Bar Harbor, Maine

where to go whale watching humpback maine

When to Go: April–October

Whales You’ll See: Humpbacks, Finbacks, Minkes

Bar Harbor is famous for its East Coast charm, and its numerous whale sightings. The Gulf of Maine is an ideal whale habitat because it’s filled with all the staples of a whale’s diet—squid, krill, and plenty of fish. Visit Acadia National Park and bring along your binoculars to see whale spouts from afar or take to the water for a tour .

Maui, Hawaii

where to go whale watching hawaii

When to Go: November–May

The Whales You’ll See: Humpbacks

It wouldn’t be a trip to Maui without catching sight of the majestic humpback whales that linger around the island. February is the best time to see them, with several humpbacks giving birth to their calves during the winter. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a baby humpback during one of Maui’s tour offerings—by boat , snorkel , or paddle board .

Juneau, Alaska

where to go whale watching killer whale

The Whales You’ll See: Humpbacks, Orcas

Some of the whales here stay year-round, but they become especially active during the summer, when they do their feeding. Alaska.org lists Amalga Harbor and the Rainforest Trail as the best places to observe whales if you prefer dry land, or you can head out into the chilly waters for an up-close-and-personal whale-watching cruise .

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

where to go whale watching pilot whale

The Whales You’ll See: Humpbacks, Pilot Whales, Minkes, Finbacks

In the waters off Massachusetts, there’s a protected area called the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary . Stretching from Cape Ann to Cape Cod, it’s widely considered one of the premier places to view aquatic wildlife in the United States. You’ll compete for a glimpse with the thousands of tourists who head to the Cape during whale-watching season, but the silver lining is that many local cruises guarantee at least one sighting.

Newport Beach, California

where to go whale watching gray whale california

When to Go: Year-Round

The Whales You’ll See: Gray Whales, Humpbacks, Finbacks, Minkes, Blue Whales

About an hour outside of Los Angeles, you’ll find a different world, one marked by crystal blue waters and a wide variety of whale species. In Newport Beach, whale-watching can be experienced year-round—humpbacks, finbacks, and minkes stay all year, while gray whales are spied mid-winter through spring, and blue whales make regular appearances during the summer months. Take a cruise and you might also see some harbor seals and pelicans.

Jacksonville, Florida

where to go whale watching florida

When to Go: December–March

The Whales You’ll See: Right Whales

Jacksonville isn’t known for abundant whale sightings, but what it lacks in frequency it makes up for in opportunities to view one of the world’s most endangered whales: the right whale. There are less than 500 right whales left in the world, but they tend to prefer the warm waters between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral during the winter months. To increase your chances of seeing one, pack a pair of binoculars and book an oceanfront hotel room with a balcony .

Long Island, New York

where to go whale watching minke

When to Go: July–September

The Whales You’ll See: Baleen Whales, Toothed Whales, Finbacks, Humpbacks, Minkes, Sperm Whales, Blue Whales, Sei Whales, Right Whales

Who knew that there were so many whale varieties so close to the Big Apple? Some whales are more common than others, but it’s generally believed that a whopping 25 species reside in the waters off Long Island. To stay close to the heart of the city, you can depart from Queens on a whale-watching cruise , or you can set sail from Montauk where you may also see seals, sea turtles, and dolphins.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

where to go whale watching virginia

The Whales You’ll See : Humpbacks

Humpback whales love spending their winters in the warm waters off Virginia Beach. If you’re planning a trip to the area early in whale-watching season, VisitVirginiaBeach.com recommends calling the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center before you leave to ask if they’ve seen any whales. If so, definitely add a wildlife cruise to your vacation itinerary.

Depoe Bay, Oregon

where to go whale watching humpback oregon

The Whales You’ll See: Gray Whales, Humpbacks, Blue Whales

This small Oregon town is known for its year-round sightings of some of world’s largest whale varieties. They travel by the coastline in waves: the gray whales from December through January as they migrate to warmer temperatures (June through October, resident gray whales feed near the shore), and humpbacks and blue whales are prevalent during the summer months as they feed. Go on an excursion or plan an afternoon at the Whale Watching Center , where staff help visitors locate whales as they frolic in the bay.

Cape May, New Jersey

where to go whale watching right whale

The Whales You’ll See: Humpbacks, Finbacks, Right Whales

It’s always a good time to plan a whale-watching trip to Cape May—the majority of whales aren’t migrating, and come to local waters to feed whenever they like. Go on a traditional cruise to see both whales and dolphins, or book a trip that includes talks from naturalists .

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

where to go whale watching right whale carolina

When to Go: November–April

The Whales You’ll See: Right Whales, Humpbacks, Pygmy Sperm Whales

If you're looking for an under-the-radar location to spot some whales, try Myrtle Beach. Sightings likely won’t be as plentiful as they are hot spots like Juneau or Bar Harbor, but several tourists report seeing spouts from their hotel room balconies . To see even more local wildlife, like dolphins, sign up for an ocean sightseeing cruise .

Headshot of Shelby Deering

Shelby Deering is a lifestyle writer who specializes in decor, home tours, wellness, travel, vintage, and feel-good stories for national publications. She’s from Madison, Wisconsin, and when she’s not writing, you’ll find her running local trails, shopping flea markets, or going for walks with her husband and corgi.

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Whale tail breaching out of water

The Best Whale Watching Destinations in the U.S.

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Lauren Dana

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From the coast of Massachusetts to the beautiful beaches of Maui, the U.S. is home to some prime whale-watching spots. Read on for a few of our favorite whale-watching destinations around the country — plus when to visit, where to stay, and more. 

Editor’s note: Some services and amenities at these locations may be altered/halted due to the pandemic. Save these ideas for when it’s safe to travel again, and always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, rule s, and safety regulations both at your destination and upon returning home.

San Juan Islands, Washington

Humpback whale breaching near the San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands — about 90 miles from Seattle — are home to orcas (killer whales) year-round. Here, you can spot humpback whales, minke whales, and gray whales. For the best views on land, head to Lime Kiln Point State Park and San Juan Island National Historical Park . Alternatively, head out into the water: There are several whale-watching tour operators to choose from, including Maya’s , San Juan Island Outfitters , San Juan Excursions , or San Juan Safaris . 

Where to Stay : Friday Harbor House , located in the isle’s main town of the same name, offers cozy accommodations in a laid-back ambiance. Every one of the 24 rooms offers waterfront views and King-sized beds. Don’t miss the on-site restaurant and raw bar. 

Maui, Hawaii 

Whale tail breaching off the coast of Maui

The best time to go whale-watching in Maui is from November through May. During this time, thousands of North Pacific Humpback Whales migrate down south for the winter. The whales are best spotted via boat tour, and, fortunately, there are a range of options to choose from. Traditional whale-watching tours are available via Pacwale Eco-Adventures , while more adrenaline-pumping options include snorkeling whale-watching excursions from Ultimate Whalewatch , along with kayaking whale-watching tours from Maui Kayak Adventures . 

Where to Stay: The luxurious Fairmont Kea Lani resort offers something for everyone in your group, from kayaking to walking tours. The 22-acre, 450-room property features a wellness-centric spa, island-inspired food and drink offerings, and several swimming pools. 

Check Prices for Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui in Wailea

This is the Best Time of Year to Visit Hawaii

Provincetown, Massachusetts

Whale breaching between two boats off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts

Located on Cape Cod, this quaint, vibrant town — nicknamed P’town by locals and travelers — is best known for its welcoming atmosphere. It’s also a top whale-watching destination from mid-April through October. Here, you can expect to spot dolphins plus a variety of whale species, including finbacks, humpbacks, orcas. While you may be able to spot whales from land ( Herring Cove Beach and Race Point Beach are both popular spots for whale-watching), your best bet would be to book a guided boat. Check out Whale Watch Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown or Seasalt Charters .

Where to Stay: At The White Porch Inn , guests can relax in one of ten nautical-inspired guest rooms — each with private balconies and soaking tubs — (some also have en-suite fireplaces!) before browsing the on-site art gallery. The intimate bed-and-breakfast is housed in a 19th century-era home that’s full of charm.    

Check Prices for White Porch Inn in Provincetown

Monterey, california.

Whale breaching among flock of birds off coast of Monterey, California

Monterey is an idyllic coastal California town that’s best known for its expansive aquarium — followed by exceptional whale-watching opportunities. While whale-watching is popular almost any time of year since the feeding season and the migrating season overlap, March through November is considered peak season. Princess Monterey Whale Watching , Monterey Bay Whale Watch , Discovery Whale Watch , Chris’ Whale Watching are all great options for sightseeing tours. You may also be able to spot whales from the shore in Monterey, but you may have better luck in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (which also has an on-site whaling museum). 

Where to Stay : With its central downtown location, Hotel Pacific puts you within walking distance of many Monterey must-see sights. The all-suite boutique property boasts upscale accommodations — each with luxe touches like hardwood flooring, gas fireplaces, and private balconies.  

Check Prices for Hotel Pacific in Monterey

Bar harbor, maine.

Crowd of tourists on whale watching boat from Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

Whale-watching season in Bar Harbor — a cozy yet vibrant waterfront town in Maine — begins in mid-April and stretches all the way into October. You can expect to spot (mostly) humpback whales and perhaps a few minke, finback, and North American right whales during this time. The popular summer locale offers some of the best sightseeing opportunities to spot the creatures in action. For the best views, hop aboard a sightseeing cruise led by Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.  Alternatively, bring a pair of binoculars to try your hand at whale-watching from shore at one of the area’s many beaches. 

Where to Stay : The waterfront Bar Harbor Inn & Spa dates back to 1887. Today, on-site activities and amenities abound: There’s a spa, swimming pool, cooking demos, history tours, waterfront yoga, and, of course, plenty of children’s programming. Accommodations are spacious and spread across three buildings. You’ll also find several dining venues here, too. 

Cape May, New Jersey

Tourists watching whale swim underneath their boat

Whale watching may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Jersey Shore, but the truth is, Cape May offers (almost) year-round whale and dolphin sightings. While excursions typically run from March through December, the “peak season” for prime viewing is June through November. Humpback whales are the most commonly spotted. No visit is complete without a narrated tour aboard the Cape May Whale Watcher . The Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center also offers informative, guided tours. 

Where to Stay: With its grand Victorian-era, bright yellow-hued exterior,  it’s hard to miss Congress Hall . The property is located in downtown Cape May right along the beach. Rooms here are whimsical, with vibrant colors, playful patterns, and sun-drenched surroundings. The four on-site dining options are sure to please foodies, while the spa offers beach-inspired body treatments, services, and massages (think algae masks, sand scrubs, and more). 

Check Prices for Congress Hall in Cape May

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Newport, Rhode Island

Tourists onboard a Classic Cruises of Newport ship

The Ocean State is chock-full of whale-watching opportunities from June through October — so grab your cameras and hop aboard a boat via Classic Cruises of Newport . You can even book a private charter and have the entire vessel to yourself. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot finbacks, humpbacks, or right whales. 

Where to Stay: The design-forward Wayfinder Hotel is best known for its eclectic eats (plus indulgent cocktails!). The property boasts an overall laid-back vibe with funky rooms complete with custom furniture, vintage accents, and a coastal-inspire color palette. 

Check Prices for Wayfinder Hotel in Newport

Jacksonville, florida.

Boat from Jax Boat Rentals in Jacksonville, Florida

Florida may not be known for its abundance of whale-sightings, but hundreds of endangered right whales migrate here during the winter months. You may be able to spot from a distance via the Jacksonville Fishing Pier . Otherwise, your best bet would be to head out onto the water with River City Charters or Jax Boat Rentals . 

Where to Stay: The centrally located Sheraton Jacksonville Hotel makes an excellent (budget-friendly!) home base for exploring. Rooms and suites are standard with comfy beds, basic furnishings (i.e., seating, desks), and marble-tiled bathrooms. 

Check Prices for Sheraton Jacksonville Hotel in Jacksonville

Montauk, new york.

Close up of a whale breaching

Sperm whales are often spotted along Montauk’s shallow waters — along with humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins, and other majestic wildlife creatures. Summertime is usually prime time for whale-watching in Montauk (think July through September). Viking Fleet offers marine biologist-led boat tours. 

Where to Stay: With 96 rooms, Marram offers a central Mountauk location right on the ocean. Rooms are sun-drenched and feature warm colors inspired by the surrounding beach. Activities include biking, beachfront yoga, nature walks, meditation, and evening bonfires. No stay is complete without a meal at the on-site Mostrador restaurant.

Check Prices for Marram in Montauk

Depoe bay, oregon.

whale watching tours on east coast

The Oregon coast is teeming with thousands of gray whales from mid-December to mid-January and late February and May. Depoe Bay is the best place to spot ‘em all. Visit the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center , which has friendly, helpful staff and a heated indoor viewing area. Or, if you’re brave enough to battle the weather, head out onto the water: Dockside Charters , Tradewinds Charters , and Whale Research Eco Excursions all offer whale-watching cruises.

Where to Stay: SCP Depoe Bay is an eco-friendly surf lodge. The low-key, laid-back, and minimalist-inspired property seeks inspiration from its coastal surroundings. Rooms here are done in soft whites, grays, and blues with reclaimed wood furnishings adorned with fishing artwork. 

Check Prices for SCP Hotel Depoe Bay in Depoe Bay

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The 3 top-rated whale watching tours in cape cod.

Marvel at New England's majestic mammals on one of these boat tours.

The Best Whale Watching in Cape Cod

Humpback breaching.

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Tourgoers have the chance to see many types of whales in and around Cape Cod on a boat tour. If you're lucky, you may catch one breaching.

From mid-April through October, Cape Cod, Massachusetts , plays host to several whale species, including humpback, pilot and minke whales. For a memorable whale watching experience in Cape Cod, consider one of these tour companies, rated by experts and travelers alike as the best available. Many of the tours will travel to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which sits about 25 miles off the Massachusetts coast and serves as an important feeding ground for whales.

Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises – Barnstable

Price: Adults from $75; kids from $3 Duration: 3.5 to 4 hours

Offering whale watching tours since 1980, this company, which operates out of Barnstable Harbor, takes participants to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary on a boat specifically designed for whale watching and maneuverability. There are three levels for viewing, as well as bench seating throughout the boat. Plus, a naturalist accompanies each trip to provide educational commentary. Reviewers report seeing lots of whales and say the captain is skilled at positioning the boat so everyone has a view.

Tours last about 3.5 to four hours and often feature sightings of minkes, humpbacks and finbacks. The company offers tours once or twice daily, depending on the month, at varying times between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tickets start at $75 for ages 13 to 61, $65 for senior citizens, $55 for youths ages 4 to 12, and $3 for children 3 and younger. The company also offers chartered cruises.

Phone: 800-287-0374

View & Book Tickets: Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises

Dolphin Fleet – Whale Watch

Price: Adults from $75; kids from $50 Duration: 3 to 4 hours

Don't let the company's name fool you: Dolphin Fleet is all about whales. And because it departs from Provincetown – the closest port to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary – whales are often spotted as soon as the boat leaves port. During the three- to four-hour cruise, the onboard naturalist will help passengers identify whales and other animals like dolphins and sea birds. Tourgoers report seeing plenty of whales and say the guides are very informative.

Tours, which depart from Provincetown's MacMillan Pier, run mid-April through October at multiple times throughout the day, depending on the month and season. Dolphin Fleet also offers a sunset trip that is available June through August only. Along with two decks and an indoor heated and air-conditioned cabin, there is also plenty of educational material on board. Tickets cost approximately $75 for adults, $65 for senior citizens (ages 62 and older) and $50 for kids ages 5 to 12; children 4 and younger are free. If no whales are sighted, you can return for another tour.

Phone: 508-240-3636

View & Book Tickets: Dolphin Fleet

Captain John Boats

Price: Adults $70 to $73; kids $45 to $53 Duration: 3 to 4 hours

Take a three- to four-hour whale watching tour out of either Plymouth or Provincetown with Captain John Boats. The Plymouth tour heads to Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank in search of various species of whales, while the Provincetown tour departs from Macmillan Wharf on a quest to find right and pilot whales, among others. If no whales are spotted, you're invited to return on a future tour free of charge. Reviewers say they learn a lot about whales and see both whales and calves, as well as dolphins.

Tickets for the Plymouth tour cost $73 for ages 13 and older, and $53 for ages 4 to 12. Senior citizens (ages 62 and older) pay $63. Tickets for the Provincetown tour cost approximately $70 for ages 13 and older, and $45 for ages 4 to 12. Both tours cost $3 for children 3 and younger. Plymouth tours generally run once a day early and late in the season, and twice daily at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. June through August. The Provincetown tour is only available in July and August Monday through Friday at noon. Captain John Boats also operates a few cruises on its paddlewheel boat, the Pilgrim Belle.

Phone: 508-556-1426

View & Book Tickets: Captain John Boats

Additional tour options:

  • Cape Ann Whale Watch. View & Book Tickets on Viator »

Frequently Asked Questions

Whale watching season in Cape Cod is from mid-April to October.

Temperatures can dip by 10 to 15 degrees out on the water, so be sure to dress in layers and bring a lightly insulated jacket to stay warm – even in the summer. Sneakers or rubber-soled shoes are recommended for safety on the ship deck, and sunglasses and sunscreen will protect from the sun. If you plan to wear a hat , be advised that it may be difficult to keep on your head if there is wind.

You may also be interested in:

  • The Best Hotels in Cape Cod
  • The Best Things to Do in Cape Cod
  • The Best Hotels in Boston
  • The Best Things to Do in Boston
  • Best Weekend Getaways in New England

Tags: Massachusetts , Tours , Travel , Vacations

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Dandelion Chandelier

Discover the 6 Best Places for Whale Watching on the East Coast

Lauren Reiss

We’ve rounded up a list of 6 places of where to go for whale watching this Summer on the East Coast.

Where are the best places for whale watching on the East Coast?

Whale, oh whale, summer’s in full swing, and while we’re enjoying the hot, hot heat, we’re finding every excuse out there to cool down. We’re currently in the prime whale-watching months, so what better way to enjoy the warm weather than on a boat, with an ocean breeze, watching some of Earth’s most mysterious (and intelligent) creatures?

6 best places to go whale watching this Summer on the East Coast

6 best places to go whale watching this Summer on the East Coast.

View our favorite East Coast whale-watching spots and links to book tours below.

1. Bar Habor, Maine

Set sail with the whales in Bar Habor. Bar Harbor offers plenty of opportunities to spot sea creatures, including whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and seabirds. We recommend the Bar Habor Whale Watch Co. The trip lasts 3.5-5.5 hours as your guide educates you about the history of the Gulf of Maine. Since 2012, they’ve participated in Whale SENSE, a voluntary program promoting responsible whale-watching practices.

2. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Operating out of Barnstable Harbor, Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises offers whale-watching tours throughout Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary on a boat designed for maneuverability. The trip comes with an educational commentary and a captain skilled at positioning the boat so that everyone onboard gets a spin at seeing a fin. The 3.5-4 hour tour often features sightings of minkes, humpbacks, and finbacks.

3. Newport, Rhode Island

Get your binoculars ready! Newport Landing offers whale-watching excursions seven days a week, all year long. From May through November, giant blue whales and finback whales are the most popular sights, although it’s possible to see other sea creatures. The tour offers an array of ships, each equipped with different amenities and knowledgeable captains ready to teach you everything you need to know about marine life.

6 best places to go whale watching on the East Coast

6 best places to go whale watching this Summer on the East Coast

4. Long Island, New York

Escape NYC for a weekend with whales by joining Long Island Whale & Seal Watching on their tour. Captain Lou Fleet’s Atlantic Pearl will take you off Freeport, Long Island’s shores, for a four-hour cruise where you’ll spot humpbacks, bottlenose dolphins, and more. The all-ages activity will allow you to reconnect with nature while learning about some of the most special aquatic animals. Use the code WHALE23! for $15 on every ticket.

5. Cape May, New Jersey

All aboard! Tour Miss Chris Marina in Cape May on the 100-foot, 290-person seating boat, The Cape May Whale Watcher. The Cape May Whale Watcher prides itself on being the largest and fastest boat, all while offering a marine mammal sighting guarantee. Since 1993, Captain Jeff has been upgrading the boat for maximum passenger comfort while providing a number of cruises, including whale and dolphin watching, sunset sails, and some special cruises like fireworks, AC airshows, and private charters.  

6. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Spend some 1×1 time with the whales on your private whale and dolphin-watching tour off the coast of Virginia. First Landing Charters offers an intimate whale and dolphin-watching experience with historic Cape Henry and its two lighthouses acting as the background of these unbelievable views. The 2-3 hour tour allows up to six guests with a recommended timeslot of 2-5 PM EST.

The 6 best places of where to go for whale watching on the East Coast

Whale-watching season, we’ve been waiting for you! Let us know your favorite place to see these gentle giants work their mystical magic at sea.

Lauren Reiss

Lauren Reiss

Lauren is a freelance social media manager and writer from New York. She enjoys traveling, skiing, the beach, and the sun and recently moved to San Diego.

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Bar Harbor Whale Watching Company

Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

Whale watching, puffins, lighthouses, acadia national park & more, set sail for adventure.

  • Most Popular
  • Clock 3 - 5.5 hours
  • Users All Ages

Whale Watch

An adventure to remember! Head offshore in search of whales while your guide educates you about the whales and other species of the Gulf of Maine.

  • Clock 2 hours

Bar Harbor Nature Cruise

Join us for a spectacular nature cruise among the islands and shorelines of beautiful Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island. Take in breathtaking scenery, rugged maritime landscapes, and ocean teeming with wildlife.

  • Clock 2.5 - 3 hours

Puffin & Lighthouse Cruise

Ride aboard state-of-the art catamarans with professional and knowledgeable naturalists and crew to see 3 island lighthouses! Spot puffins, razorbills, guillemonts, and common and Arctic terns!

  • Clock 1.75 hours

Lobster Fishing and Seal Watching

Join us aboard the Miss Samantha, Maine’s largest lobster passenger boat! Watch our experienced fisherman haul in lobster traps, then head off to a small island to view seals basking on the rocks.

Sunset Nature Cruise

This evening trip is one of the most beautiful ways to experience Frenchman Bay and Acadia National Park as the sun sets. Learn information about the environment, history, and culture of the area.

Lighthouse, Wildlife & Acadia National Park Cruise

Coming to Bar Harbor in late summer and fall? If yes, this is a boat cruise not to be missed! Join us as we explore the waters of Mount Desert Island and beyond to enjoy spectacular views of historic lighthouse, coastal islands, and Acadia National Park. This cruise can feature a variety of wildlife including harbor and grey seals, bald eagles, and seabirds.

  • Clock 5 hours

Baker Island Tour

Travel aboard the M/V Miss Samantha 9 miles out from Bar Harbor, to visit one of the crown jewels of Acadia National Park. Explore the 130-acre island, Gilley family farmstead, and Baker Island Lighthouse.

View amazing wildlife and the best natural and historical sites that Maine has to offer with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company!


We believe strongly in protecting the whales we love and the many we know as individuals and by name. Our captains, crews and naturalists are expertly trained and promote responsible whale watching and conservation efforts on our Bar Harbor tours.

Whale Sense


If no whales are spotted on your whale watching cruise, your trip ticket(s) will serve as a “Rebook Voucher” to go out on another whale watch or any of our other available cruises within three (3) years.


Learn more about the wildlife seen on our boat cruises!


Get the details – Maps, Parking, Weather, What to Wear, Eat and Drink, and more.


View and learn about the marvelous creatures we are seeing on our recent tours.


Any sea voyage is only as good as its boat and crew. Learn about our fleet.


Offshore adventures to see whales and other marine life in the Gulf of Maine!


Historic lighthouses, stunning coastal mansions, wildlife and Acadia National Park!


View Acadia up close. A great fun-filled adventure for all!


See and touch creatures from the ocean floor. A great trip for the whole family.


The crew was fantastic and went out of their way to find whales. I highly recommend this excursion.

We enjoyed getting to see what came up with the traps and getting to hold a live lobster. It was a good length of a tour and I'd definitely recommend it for the kids or adults like me who are still kids at heart. The ship captain and naturalist were very friendly and great guides.

We booked a whale watching tour through this company. It was a great experience we saw several whales and porpoise and dolphins while on the tour. The crew and staff were great and they really took time to make our tour extra special. We highly recommend this company to all who want to experience an once in a lifetime experience.

During our adventure we saw seals, the infamous puffins, bald eagles along with many other critters as well. The crew were accommodating, professional, a little humorous, and knowledgeable. Highly recommend if you're up for a boat ride in the Bar Harbor area.

So fun! Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, the boat had plenty of room to walk around and the captain did a great job making sure we could all see the landmarks they were pointing out. I’d go again!

Interesting history of Bar Harbor area coupled with eagles, hawks, cormorants, gannets and other sea birds. Good narration by our naturalist, Ruth, who was informative and interesting. Enjoyed the lighthouses and seeing the diverse harbors and island shores.

We loved both Captain Edwin and narrator Andy. Both were so gracious, clearly caring about everyone's comfort and involvement. The knowledge that both shared regarding the local seas, lobsters, crabs, seals, and landmarks was very interesting and informative. We caught a variety of sea life in the traps - lobster, crabs, and a sea cucumber. We spotted dozens of seals. The boat itself was stable, clean, and well maintained. It had flaps to protect from high winds and sea spray, but you are allowed to open the flaps as you want. I am someone who can get seasick easily, but I did not feel even the bit queasy. They do post a sign at the dock on the day of your tour that states the sea sickness level, so if it indicates a high level of sea sickness, you can take Dramamine or other in advance. Kids and adults alike enjoyed this tour and it was very interactive.

The boat is roomy, both inside ans out on the decks; staff friendly and knowledgeable. The sound system is nice and clear so all guests can hear what the naturalist is saying about the wildlife. And...oh...the whales!!! It was amazing, and I hope to do it again. Well worth the price.

On this once in a lifetime experience, we chose to go with this whale 🐋 watching 👀 tour There are many companies that offer varying tours, and this is the only one I've ever experienced, so can only speak about this one; nor do I have anything to compare it to. This experience was 100% as expected (and advertised) with zero surprises. The Captain, crew, ancillary staff,safety/security personnel and tour guide were all highly trained, knowledgeable, courteous, professional, & welcoming. It was just a fantastic overall 'refreshing' vibe. The scenery was nothing short of amazing, awe-inspiring, and magical. We saw EIGHT humpback whales!!! I am a seasoned world traveler, have visited numerous bucket list places, and have done literally hundreds of excursions through Trip Advisor and similar platforms. I 100%, would do this again if the opportunity presented itself. For others? I highly, highly recommend this experience. 👌

We went on the lighthouse tour and it was wonderful! The guide did a fabulous job informing us about lighthouses, history of the area and alerting us to wildlife. Highly recommend this tour!

The captain and crew went off their route to find interesting sights and sea life for our cruise. The Naturalist on board was knowledgeable and interesting. Highly recommend it!

We had a great experience with the Nature Cruise, we learned a lot about the area and saw some great scenic views! I highly recommend binoculars, you can rent some on the boat, but they’re limited. We got to see seals, porpoises, and a few bald eagles, which was really cool because I had never seen one before and they were what I wanted to see most! I definitely plan on going back again for more cruises!

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15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US + When to Go

  • North America / Outdoors / USA

If you’re hoping to see whales, here are the best spots to visit.

Thar she blows! If you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these massive and majestic creatures, there’s nothing quite like it. Before you go on your first trip, you need to know that whale watching can be a hit or miss, since there’s no guarantee you will see them in the wild. We’ve been on a handful of whale-watching tours and sometimes it feels a bit like fishing because there’s a lot of waiting involved.

If you want to go whale watching, you’ll want to plan ahead to make sure your chances are optimal. We added some tips below to help you make the best of your experience.

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Last Updated: September 20, 2023

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  • The Best Places to Whale Watch in the US

More Whale Watching Destinations in the US

  • Whale Watching Season Inforgraphic

Essential Tips for Whale Watching in the US

More resources, 15 best places to whale watch in the us, 1. glacier bay, alaska.

What You Will See:  Humpback, Minke, Orca and Blue Whales When To Go:  June to August Where to Stay:   Search for Nearby Hotels

Visit this beautiful bay to see humpbacks, minkes, orcas, and blue whales. Did you know the blue whale’s call can be heard in Japan from here?

glacier bay whale watching alaska

2. Juneau, Alaska

What You Will See:  Humpbacks and Orcas When To Go:  April to November Where to Stay:   Hotel Deals In Juneau

Get a look at humpback whales from the capital of Alaska, or hop on a boat to see orcas in the wild.

See More: 9 Incredible Things to Do in Seward Alaska

Alaska Juneau Whale Watching Season + 15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US

3. Kodiak Island, Alaska

What You Will See:  Gray Whales | Fin and Humpback Whales When To Go:  April, June to November Where to Stay:  Best Hotels in Kodiak Island

Every April, Kodiak has a 10-day festival celebrating the return of Eastern Pacific gray whales to the area. In June, you will start to see fin and humpback whales and even catch a glimpse of minke and sei whales.

See More: 17 Unforgettable Things to Do in Denali National Park Alaska

kodiak alaska whale watching

4. Big Sur, California →

What You Will See:  Blue, Gray, and Humpback Whales When To Go:  Year Round Where to Stay:   Search Big Sur Hotels

This is one of our favorite places to visit on the West Coast, and if you keep your eye out on the ocean, you may spot a blue, gray, or humpback whale gliding by.

See More: 11 Things You Can’t Miss in Big Sur

Big Sur Whale Watching Season + When and Where to Whale Watch in the US

5. Monterey Bay, California →

What You Will See:  Humpback, Blue, and Gray Whales When To Go:  Year Round Where to Stay:   The Best Monterey Bay Hotels

Depending on the time of year, you’ll find different types of whales in this area. April to December brings humpback and blue whales, while December to April brings the gray whales. You may even catch some killer whales in the area too.

See More: 15 Places in Monterey California You Can’t Miss

Monterey Bay Whale Watch + Best Places for Whale Watching Near Me

6. San Diego, California →

What You Will See:  Gray, Blue, and Fin Whales When To Go:  Mid-December to Mid-March, Mid-June to September Where to Stay:   Hotel Deals in San Diego

You have plenty of choices to see the whales in San Diego. You can take a whale-watching tour like we did, or just head to the western overlook of Cabrillo National Monument. The peak time to see these massive whales is mid-January. Blue whales and fin whales can be spotted on whale-watching tours from mid-June to September. See our  8-hour tour here .

See More: Your Ultimate San Diego Bucket List

Blue Whale Tail Sighting with Pacific Nature Tours.

7. Santa Barbara, California

What You Will See:  Gray, Blue, Minke, and Humpback Whales When To Go:  February to Early April, May to September Where to Stay:   Santa Barbara Hotel Deals

Over 27 types of whales and dolphins come through this area at any given time. Gray whales can be seen from February to early April, and you can visit from May to September to see blue whales, minke, and humpback.

Santa Barbara Whale Watching Season + 15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US + When to Go!

8. Jacksonville, Florida

What You Will See:  North Atlantic Right Whales When To Go:  November to April Where to Stay:   Search Jacksonville Hotels

The North Atlantic Right Whales are still fighting back from near extinction. If you’re lucky, you can spot these majestic animals in the winter months anywhere on the northeast coast of Florida between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral.

north atlantic right whale

9. Maui, Hawaii

What You Will See:  Humpback Whales When To Go:  December to April Where to Stay:   Maui Hotel Deals

Although over 20 species of whales have been spotted in the area, the stars are the humpback whales. Nearly 3,000 whales come to mate here, and it’s one of the few places you can hear them serenading potential mates.

See More: 19 Incredible Road to Hana Stops You Can’t Miss

Whale Watching Maui

10. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

What You Will See:  Minke, Fin, and Humpback Whales When To Go:  April to October Where to Stay:   Search Cape Cod Hotels

The World Wildlife Fund has named Massachusetts one of the top 10 whale-watching spots in the world. Many local companies claim a 99% whale-spotting success with seeing minke, fin, and humpback whales. That’s incredible!

Whale Watching Cape Cod By Season + 15 Best Places for Whale Watching in America

11. Bar Harbor, Maine →

What You Will See:  Fin, Minke, and Right Whales When To Go:  Mid-April to October Where to Stay:  Check Out Hotels in  Bar Harbor

You can find these whales just 20 miles off the coast, enjoying the cool water and food.

See More: 15 Incredible Things to Do in Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor Whale Watch + Best Time for Whale Watching + Other Tips

12. Long Island, New York

What You Will See:  Fin, Humpback, Minke, Sperm, North Atlantic Right, Blue, and Sei Whales When To Go:  July to Early September Where to Stay:   Search Long Island Hotels

From July to early September, you get an incredibly diverse set of whales in this area. It’s a great feeding ground for the whales. They can’t resist!

humpback whale calf

13. Virginia Beach, Virginia

What You Will See:  Humpback Whales When To Go:  December through March Where to Stay:   Virginia Beach Hotel Deals

Humpback whales and occasionally fin whales can be spotted at Virginia Beach anytime between December and March. Once it gets warmer, you’ll be able to catch bottlenose dolphins playfully swimming by as well.

14. Depoe Bay, Oregon

What You Will See:  Gray Whales When To Go:  Mid-December to June Where to Stay:   Depoe Bay Hotel Deals

Nearly 18,000 gray whales pass by the Oregon coast on their bi-yearly migration. You can visit the Oregon Parks and Recreation Whale Watching Center on Depoe Bay to get a great view or join one of the whale-watching tours in the area.

See More: 101 Things to Do in Oregon State

depoe bay whale watching

15. San Juan Islands, Washington

What You Will See:  Orcas, Gray, Minke, Humpback When To Go:  Mid-April to Early-October Where to Stay:   Search for Hotels in the San Juan Islands

With their largest island named Orcas Island, you can only hope to spot an orca.

Local Tip: If you’re curious about the island’s history, it was named after Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo. Orcas is a shortened form of Horcasitas. But you do find orcas here as well!

San Juan Islands Whale Watching Season + Your Ultimate Guide of When and Where to Go Whale Watching in the US

  • Cape May NJ (Finbacks, Humpbacks, Right, Mar-Dec)
  • Dana Point CA
  • Deception Pass State Park WA at Oak Harbor
  • Gloucester MA / Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (May-Nov)
  • Long Beach CA (Fin, Humpback, Minke, Orcas
  • Kauai HI (Dec-May)
  • Kohala Coast, Big Island HI (Humpback in Nov-early May, Sperm, Pilot, Pygmy Killer, Rare Beaked are Year Round)
  • Malibu CA (Grey Feb-Apr)
  • Myrtle Beach SC (Humpback, Pygmy Sperm, Right, Nov-Apr)
  • Newport Beach CA (Blue May-Nov, Finback, Gray Dec-Apr, Humback, Minke, Year-Round)
  • Waianae, Oahu HI (Dec-May)
  • Provincetown MA (Humpback, Fin, Minke, Pilot, Sei, Right, May-Oct)

whale watching in alaska

Whale Watching Season Infographic

Whale Watch by Season: When and Where to Go Whale Watching in the US.

  • It’s also good to take an all-day tour versus one that’s a few hours so that you can travel farther out and have more opportunities to cross paths with them.
  • From what we hear, chances of sightings are much higher in the early morning.
  • Rainy weather isn’t bad. Sometimes it’s nice because it calms the ocean and you can see more.
  • When the waves are high, it’s so hard to see any movement. Half the time I couldn’t tell if it was a wave or a fin.
  • Bring a jacket. The temperature out on the water can get considerably colder. Here are our  favorite travel jackets .
  • Boats are required by federal law to stay at least 100 yards away from humpback whales in Hawaii and Alaska waters, 200 yards from killer whales in Washington State inland waters, and 500 yards away from North Atlantic right whales anywhere in the U.S. waters. If you stop the boat, and the whale comes to you that’s fine, but you can’t pursue the whale any closer.
  • This means you will want to bring your longest lens, preferably on a cropped body ( this is the lens we use ).
  • If you’re bringing a lot of camera gear. You may want to bring your own dry bag. We’ve tried out a few, and so far  these are our favorite .
  • Don’t forget to bring  this  and  this  if you get seasick like me.

whale watching kodiak

  • Blue Planet Documentary
  • Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
  • Whales: An Illustrated Celebration

Have you been whale watching? If so, where? Which of these places would you like to visit?

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Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

Orcas Island It is easy to confuse the name of the whale (orca, lower case “o”) with the name of Orcas Island, but it is a good distinction to know. The ‘orca’ whale is part of the Latin scientific classification Orcinus orca, which translates as “belonging to Orcus” – Orcus was a Roman god of the netherworld, and this genus name is likely a reference to the hunting prowess of the killer whale. In Latin, orca translates “large-bellied pot or jar”, but orc- also refers to a whale.

The name of Orcas Island, on the other hand, came when Spanish explorers entered the area in 1792 and named the San Juan Islands after various Spanish and Mexican dignitaries. Orcas was a shortened version of Horcasitas, after Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the Viceroy of Mexico who sent an exploration expedition under Francisco de Eliza to the Pacific Northwest in 1791. Eliza used the name for the whole archipelago, but in 1847, mapmaker Henry Kellett assigned the name to Orcas Island during his reorganization of the British Admiralty charts.

That is good to know! Thanks for sharing, Becky :)

I’m more excited to go whale watching now.

Mildred, it’s incredible!

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Best Whale Watching Spots in the United States

Liza Daly /Flickr/ CC BY 2.0  

One of the most exciting wildlife-spotting excursions travelers can go on is a whale watching tour. Whale watching has been a popular tourism activity since 1950 when the Whale Overlook, the world's first public whale watching lookout, opened at the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California .

There are a number of public and private overlooks on the West Coast, from California to the Pacific Northwest and in Hawaii and Alaska, where travelers can spot whales during their yearly migrations. Overlooks are less common on the East Coast.

Of course, most whale watching opportunities require boarding a boat and venturing into the whale's territory. While this is the best way to see whales up-close -- spouting, breaching, and swimming -- it presents its own problems. Many whale researchers posit that whale migration patterns have begun to change due to the proliferation of whale watching vessels. From the NPS's Cabrillo National Monument website :

"Federal law does not allow boaters to move within one hundred yards of whales (unless the animal moves closer on its own), but the rule is ignored by some boat captains. From the whale overlook it is not uncommon to see a whale being pursued by a dozen or more boats on a busy weekend, or to see whales take evasive action to avoid boats."

Whale Watching in Alaska

According to NOAA, 10 different species of whale frequent the Arctic waters of Alaska . Of these 10, the most common whales seen on a whale-watching expedition are gray whales, humpback whales, and killer whales (orcas).

Best Places for Whale Watching in Alaska

The area of Southeast Alaska known as the Inside Passage is where many whale-watching expeditions head. Glacier Bay National Park, a 3.3 million acre park and one of the largest protected wilderness areas in the world, is part of the Inside Passage. Whale watchers also choose to cruise Southcentral Alaska, which includes the Kenai Fjords National Park and Prince William Sound.

When to Visit Alaska to Watch Whales

Alaska has resident killer whales and is the destination for migrating whales during the summer. The whale-watching season here runs from approximately May to September. May and September are typically less touristy and chillier. High season is June through August. Travel Alaska recommends spring whale watching, too.

Tour Companies for Whale Watching in Alaska 

Here are a few tour companies that offer smaller, more eco-friendly whale-watching excursions.

  • Wilderness Travel . Whale-watching and sea kayaking in the Inside Passage. Specializes in week-long cruise.
  • Alaska Charters and Adventures . Offers small group, daytime whale-watching excursions of the Inside Passage.
  • Sitka Wildlife Tours . Travelers can take a two-hour whale-watching tour among other offerings.

Whale Watching in California

Pacific whales travel from Mexico to the Arctic during their annual migration, making the coast of California an ideal place for whale watching. In fact, the world's first Whale Overlook opened at the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California.

Best Places for Whale Watching in California

Whale watching is possible along California's southern coast, central coast, and northern coast. In Southern California, from San Diego to Los Angeles, there are several locations known for superb whale-watching opportunities. They include San Diego , including the Cabrillo National Monument, and excursions departing from Dana Point, Newport Beach, Oceanside, and Long Beach. The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, in LA, provides two-hour whale watching tours as part of its educational mission.

On the Central Coast, Channel Islands National Park is considered one of the best whale watching spots in the world. Monterey Bay is also renowned for its whale watching.

For Northern California whale watching, consider the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. They are often called the "Galapagos of California" because of their marine diversity.

When to Visit California to Watch Whales

Year-round whale-watching is possible here, though most whale watching enthusiasts consider winter to be the best time to visit for this kind of activity. Here is a list of whales that swim in California waters, by month: 

  • January - March: gray whales
  • April: gray whales, humpback whales
  • May: minke whales, humpback whales
  • June - September: minke whales, blue whales, humpback whales
  • October: orcas, minke whales, blue whales, humpback whales
  • November: blue whales, humpback whales
  • December: gray whales

Whale Watching in Hawaii

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Humpback whales return to the warm waters of Hawaii each year to breed, calve, and raise their young. According to Hawaii Tourism, approximately two-thirds of the North Pacific's humpback whales migrate annually to Hawaii .

Best Places for Whale Watching in Hawaii

 Six of the eight main islands of Hawaii are ideal for whale watching. But the main spot to see them are in the waters between Maui , Molokai, and Lanai known as the Auau Channel. There are whale watching tour operators on all three of these islands. Visitors to Oahu, the Big Island, and Kauai can also take part in whale watching tours. (Click on each of the names to learn more about excursion providers and routes from Hawaii Tourism.)

When to Visit Hawaii to Watch Whales

Humpback Whales return to Hawaiian waters in the winter in spring. Travelers who want to go on whale watching excursions while visiting Hawaii should book between December and May.

Whale Watching in the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest  is the domain of orcas (killer whales) though other whale species migrate along the northwest coast on their way to and from Alaska each year. The Whale Trail is a superb site for learning more about whale-watching overlooks throughout the Pacific Northwest. The site also has information on types of whales, migration news, and conservation efforts. Further, the Pacific Whale Watch Association is an organization of 33 businesses devoted to whale watching and ecotourism in the waters off the coast of Washington.

Best Places for Whale Watching in the Pacific Northwest

By far the most fruitful place for a whale sighting in the Pacific Northwest is in the San Juan Islands , either from lookout points on land or by charter boat or kayak. The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor provides education and conservation support for whales in this part of the ocean.

The Oregon Coast is less known for its whale watching but it is still possible here. Visit Oregon lists 26 whale spotting sites on the Oregon Coast, among them the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay and, nearby, a personal favorite (at least, in name)—Cape Foulweather.

When to Visit the Pacific Northwest to Watch Whales

Year-round whale watching is possible along the Washington and Oregon coasts, with May/June considered peak viewing time as the whales make their way to Alaska.

Whale Watching in New England

Whales still inhabit the North Atlantic but the coast of New England is not as known for whales as it was when whaling was a huge and profitable industry from New York to Maine . You can learn more about the history of whaling in New England at whaling museums in Cold Spring Harbor, New York; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Luckily, the whaling trade has long ceased. Today the North Atlantic is a breeding ground for Humpback, Finback, and Minke Whales.

Best Places for Whale Watching in New England

Maine , New Hampshire, and Rhode Island all offer opportunities for whale watching enthusiasts, but coastal Massachusetts, particularly around Cape Cod Bay , is considered some of the best whale-watching spots anywhere. Discover New England has listings of whale-watching tour companies and links to museums where visitors can learn more about the old whaling traditions and the current whale conservation efforts.

When to Visit New England to Watch Whales

Summer is the best time to spot whales in the waters off of New England. The season lasts from May through October, with peak times coinciding with peak tourism season (July and August).  

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A guide to watching northern right whales in florida.


- Photo taken under research permit issued by NOAA Fisheries


Manatees may be the most lovable and panthers the rarest, but Florida's biggest endangered mammal may be one you didn't know about – the Northern Right Whale.

Right whales, which can grow to 70 tons and 55 feet long, are sighted every winter off the Atlantic coast between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral . Hundreds of volunteers, plus visitors and residents of the northeastern coast, get the thrill of about 75 whale sightings between December and March each year.

Scientists estimate that there are only 490 right whales in existence, but thanks to a decade's work of volunteer whale watchers, that number is on the rise.

Frank Gromling, a volunteer and resident of Beverly Beach (just north of Flagler Beach ) was the first volunteer in the first year of the Marineland Right Whale Project. That was 2001 and scientists then estimated there were 325 right whales. "I get a thrill out of every single one I've seen, and I've probably seen 250 or more," Gromling said. "Every time I see one, it is like the first time. I consider it special – very special." Right whales spend the summer off New England and Nova Scotia. In November, some of the females, a few adult males and assorted juveniles migrate south for the winter. By December, they're acting like tourists, lolling around the beaches off Florida's northern coast. The whales, however, are here on serious business: Some of the females are pregnant and it is in these waters that northern right whales give birth to calves and nurse them. In March, it's time to head north again.

About 100 to 150 whales make the visit to Florida shores each year, according to Joy Hampp, who has been project coordinator for the Marineland Right Whale Project for the past decade.

Why are they "right" whales? Because they were the right whales to hunt: Early whalers appreciated that their high blubber content made them float when dead. Whalers reduced the population to a few dozen by 1900.

Right whales can live 50 or 60 years and are slow to reproduce. Earlier, scientists determined the interval between calves to be five or six years. Now, perhaps a sign the species is healthier, the interval between calves for some females is down to three or three and a half years, Gromling said.

Calves are born at about 2,000 pounds and 15 feet long. They can't hold their breath long, so they and their mothers must spend more time at the surface while in Florida, Hampp said. Hence, the spectator opportunities.


You can tell a pilot whale by it's rounded head and hooked dorsal.

- Terry Gibson

How to go Whale Watching in Florida

Unless you live near the beach in northeastern Florida , consider yourself blessed if you experience even one right whale sighting, experts say. They don't happen every day.

There are no Florida whale watching excursions: The whales are too hard to predict and spot, plus scientists are concerned that boats getting close could cause stress to the mothers and calves.

Visitors do see whales, however.

Sally Wieczorek of Buffalo, who vacations in Flagler Beach each winter with her husband, has seen whales several times.

"One year, I heard there were whales and I ran up to the (Flagler Beach) pier to get a better look," she said. "The whale had a calf, and they were being led by a group of dolphins.  We could make out its markings, which was the mother and which the calf. It was really quite wonderful."

Several times, Wieczorek said, she has heard about a whale sighting or had seen a group of people pointing out to sea. Once, she was at the beach "and all of sudden, the whale was there."  That time, no one else spotted it. The whale wasn't close, "but you could tell it was a whale."

If you decide to go whale watching in Florida along the Atlantic Coast between Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville in the winter, you can improve your chances of spotting whales with this advice, according to Hampp.  

Tips for Whale Watching in Florida

  • Keep binoculars handy, but you can scan the ocean without them from any high vantage point.
  • Whales are often in the company of dolphins, with sea birds overhead, so if you see either of those, take a closer look for whales.
  • The most likely way you'll spot a whale? First, you'll see a lot of cars and a clump of people on the shoreline pointing and looking at the sea with binoculars. Since Flagler Beach has six miles of beachfront visible along A1A, it's a likely place to come upon a whale sighting in progress.
  • You can identify right whales by these characteristics: They spout a V-shaped spray of water, they have no dorsal fin, they have whitish patches of raised and roughened skin (called callosities) on top of their heads, and their tails are black on both sides.
  • Humpback whales migrate through the same waters on their way to their Dominican Republic winter waters, but they move through earlier and later than right whales.

Gromling adds this advice:

  • February seems to be the best month for whale sightings, though whales are present and observed from December to March.
  • There are four fishing piers that make good whale-watching spots: The St. Augustine pier, the 800-foot-long pier in Flagler Beach, the Sunglow pier in Daytona Beach Shores and the Main Street pier in Daytona Beach .

Even if you don't get lucky and spot a right whale, the northeast coast of Florida offers excellent opportunities for observing wildlife.

Just ask Wieczorek: On her visits to Flagler Beach she has seen more dolphins than she can count, manatees , sharks, sting rays, alligators and loggerhead turtles.

"We always bring our binoculars with us," she said. "You never know what you'll see."


This mother pilot whale had a calf with her.

About the Marineland Right Whale Project

With a patchwork of federal, state and private funding, the Marineland Right Whale Project coordinates volunteer teams with scientists in right whale conservation efforts. It is not associated with the Marineland oceanarium. Last winter there were about 200 Right Whale Project volunteers organized into teams, each with specific lookout points. Several area communities also organized whale-monitoring teams. Before and during the season, phone cards with right whale sighting information are distributed to residents, visitors, lifeguards and others who spend time at the beach. People are encouraged to phone the Right Whale Hotline – 1-888-97-WHALE – if they see a whale. Each sighting triggers a follow-up visit by a response team of  experienced individuals with cameras and GPS units who document whale movements and behavior. Teams track the whales as long as possible, sometimes for an entire day. Since 2002, the project has used an AirCam, a twin-engine, slow-flight aircraft developed for National Geographic wildlife surveys, for both aerial surveys and sighting/photo responses.

Facts about right whales:

  • Right whales have been hunted for centuries for their  blubber and oil.
  • One of the major causes of death for right whales today is collisions with ships.
  • Right whales feed on large schools of zooplankton, and scientists do not believe they eat while in Florida, where this food source is not available in sufficient quantities, Gromling said.
  • The right whale is one of the slowest swimmers of all the whales, rarely going faster than five miles per hour. They are known to be quite active, however, as they breach, lobtail and tail-slap.
  • The whales have been protected from hunting since 1949.

For information about right whales, check out:

  • Marineland Right Whale Project blog and website
  • Northern Right Whale facts from NOAA
  • If you spot a whale in Florida, call the whale hotline: 1-888-97-WHALE
  • Frank Gromling has written a book about his experiences in the whale project called Frank's Whales .

Places to remember

New Daytona

Daytona beach

The Flagler Beach Municipal Pier is perfect for a day of fishing or just to check out the views.

Flagler Beach



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whale watching tours on east coast

Whale Watching Kayak Tours

What to know, whale watching kayak tours with sea quest kayak tours.

Every Sea Quest Kayak Expedition is designed for whale-watching – it’s our specialty! Our kayak tour routes traverse the legendary whale waters in the proper seasons: orca whales (killer whales) in the San Juan Islands, humpback whales in Alaska, and both gray whales and blue whales along the Baja coasts.

Sea Quest offers you the best opportunity to see and learn about whales and other marine wildlife from the perspective of a sea kayak. We have an excellent record of successful whale watching encounters on our kayak tours. Much of our reputation has been built upon this achievement. Our expert kayak guides will plan your kayaking route and campsites with whale and wildlife encounters in mind. Don’t be surprised if your guide knows certain whales by name!

But please remember, despite our expertise, whales are free-swimming creatures and we cannot guarantee sightings on any particular kayak tour.

whale watching tours on east coast

San Juan Islands Whale-Watching Kayak Tours

One of the most exciting aspects of a sea kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands is the chance to witness marine wildlife – often at close range. There are tidepools full of fascinating creatures, more than a hundred bald eagle nests, thousands of harbor seals, migrating salmon, and much more.

The San Juan Islands are one of the premier whale-watching locations in the world. The first park in the United States dedicated to whale-watching was created here, primarily for viewing the most dramatic residents of the archipelago, the orca (killer) whales. Pods with up to fifty family members use the San Juans as their core range. Besides the often-sighted orcas, there are several other species of whales found in the San Juan Islands. Minke whales, gray whales, humpback whales, Dall’s porpoises, and harbor porpoises are the other species most frequently seen.

Orca Whale Spyhops to Examine a Kayak Tour

Orcas are most reliably observed from late April through early October with their activity peaking June through September. We used to see killer whales on close to 75% of our camping tours, but then declines led to their designation as an endangered species in 2005. From that point, we averaged seeing them on nearly 60% of our camping trips. However, the years 2019-20 were terrible for whale-watching as the orcas could not find enough salmon and our sightings were cut in half. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we will continue leading our kayak tours in the traditional feeding, traveling, and play areas that orcas favor in normal years. Regardless of the ups and downs in their struggle for survival, Sea Quest will maximize your chances for an encounter with these awesome and inspiring animals.

Porpoises sightings have also declined in recent years and are seen on about 50% of our kayak camping trips. Minke whales, gray whales, humpback whales, and white-sided dolphins are much less frequently seen but our regularly observed.

The resident orcas of the San Juan Archipelago are some of the most studied and well-known whales in the world; they in turn have observed humans closely for at least six thousand years. Stable family groups, called pods, represent several generations from grandmothers (the pod leaders), huge bulls, adolescents, to infants. Each family member may be recognized by its distinctive markings and can live as much as seventy or more years. Much of what is known about the orcas’ highly-organized social life has been learned from the resident pods you can observe in the San Juan Islands.

Many people ask us if it is safe to watch orca whales from a kayak. The answer is an emphatic YES! These intelligent predators have never injured a human in the wild. Orcas are extremely aware of their surroundings and do not collide with boats. They approach kayakers with the same respect that we offer them.

whale watching tours on east coast

As far as other marine mammals go, the San Juan Islands are home to five thousand harbor seals and we see them in large numbers on all the kayak tours. Northern sea lions, California sea lions, and elephant seals are seen infrequently during the summer months but commonly in spring and fall. River otters and minks are frequently seen along shore on our camping tours.

Read more details about our whale watching success in the San Juan Islands where we specialize in finding orcas or killer whales. See graphs and historical data on our San Juan Islands Killer Whale Information page.

And visit our page about the baleen whales we see on kayak tours in the San Juan Islands .

Whale-Watching on Baja Mexico Kayaking Tours

Mexico’s Baja Peninsula conjures up exciting visions in the minds of adventure travelers. An image shared by many is that of graceful whales cruising through deep blue water. And rightly so, for the waters surrounding Baja California abound with an amazing variety of these giant mammals. Each species must seek out the perfect set of environmental conditions to survive: the right food, temperature, safe breeding sites, and other important factors are required. Most of the great whales have evolved survival strategies that include long migrations, months of fasting, and voracious feasting in very localized areas. As such, whale activity along the opposing shores of the Baja Peninsula contrasts markedly.

Bahia Magdalena

whale watching tours on east coast

One of our whale-watching trips (non-kayaking) visits a sheltered lagoon along the Pacific Ocean called Bahia Magdalena. This shore is world-famous for supporting nearly the entire breeding population of gray whales, a species that has recently recovered from the brink of extinction. Making an annual migration of up to 6000 miles, these 50-foot animals take refuge in protected Baja lagoons during January and February. Winter is their season for birthing, nursing young, and rowdy breeding. Some of these gray whales have become “friendly” and enthusiastically approach vessels to be petted and rubbed by the humans on board. Looking into the eye of a whale, and feeling its whole body shiver from the pleasure of your touch, is an unparalleled wildlife experience! Sighting gray whales occurs several times each day on these trips.

Sea of Cortez

Our other two Baja trips use sea kayaks to travel the eastern shore of the peninsula, along the Sea of Cortez. This isolated sea is one of the last sanctuaries for the globally decimated blue and fin whales. Compared with other bodies of water its size, the Sea of Cortez supports the largest and most varied population of whales in the world: humpback, Bryde’s, minke, orca, and sperm whales also live there. Our route is carefully planned to take you to the only known place in the world where blue whales can be encountered by sea kayak.

Sea Quest trips experienced a 90% success at sighting large baleen whales in the Sea of Cortez. Sometimes we saw whales on only a single occasion but on other trips we had the fortune of seeing them nearly every day. These sightings ranged from lone individuals cruising the distant horizon to large pods lunging after prey around and beneath the kayaks! Keep in mind that oceanic conditions are not always consistent, and that if plankton blooms fail due to an extremely strong warm-water “El Nino” event, as in 1994, whale sightings may be scarce. In normal years, or weak El Nino years, our schedule coincides with vast blooms of plankton that draw the hungry whales in to gorge, sometimes in great numbers. Chances of seeing these awesome mammals are best from February through April, with a slight peak in mid-March. During other months the whales are typically widely scattered or have migrated into the Pacific Ocean.

On either side of the Baja peninsula, our whale watching season is also excellent for seeing playful saddleback and bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions, and an array of wonderful marine birds such as magnificent frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, and brown pelicans. Due to the overlap of the temperate and tropical faunal zones, the Sea of Cortez boasts the greatest variety of fishes and marine invertebrates found anywhere along the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean.

Sea Kayaking with Whales in Alaska

Many varieties of whales swim the green waters of Alaska. The two kinds we most often see on our kayak tours are the humpback whale and killer whale.

Both are happily the most acrobatic and socially complicated species in the world! And both humpback whales and orca whales reach some of their greatest global population densities in Alaska. Other marine mammals, including Dall’s and harbor porpoises, harbor seals, and the threatened Steller’s sea lion are common kayaking companions. Sea otters gather at favorite kelp forests along the routes, and gaze endearingly at passing paddlers. Overhead, bald eagles seem to perch on every point of land as they patiently await migrating salmon. Other marine birds, such as guillemots and murres, gather to nest in noisy rookeries.

whale watching tours on east coast

Join a Kayak Quest for Whales

Book your kayak tour in the san juan islands.

whale watching tours on east coast

  • 1-Day Kayak Tour (Day Trip)
  • Join a kayak quest for whales from San Juan Island on our one-day kayak tours. No experience is necessary so reserve your adventure today!

whale watching tours on east coast

  • 3-Day Kayak Camping Tour
  • Explore the smaller outer San Juan Islands on our 3-day kayak camping tours in the whale waters – book your adventure today!

whale watching tours on east coast

  • 2-Day Kayak Camping Tour
  • Enjoy a quick weekend getaway in the San Juan Islands on an overnight kayak tour - reserve your chance for an encounter with whales today!

whale watching tours on east coast

  • Bioluminescence Kayak Tour
  • Experience the enchantment of night paddling on our bioluminescence kayak tours near Friday Harbor – join a moonlight adventure with Sea Quest today!

whale watching tours on east coast

  • 5-Day Kayak Camping Expedition
  • Get into the flow of sea kayaking on a 5-day camping trips to the more remote San Juan Islands - an unforgettable journey of a lifetime!

whale watching tours on east coast

  • Half-Day Kayak Tour
  • Explore the sea’s beauty on a half-day kayak tour from Friday Harbor – perfect for beginners and those with limited time! Morning and Sunset options are available today!

whale watching tours on east coast

  • 2 to 5 Days
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  • Join our women's only kayak tours from San Juan Island and make unforgettable memories! Led by women, for women. Book today!

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  • Customize your group kayaking adventure from Friday Harbor. We can meet your needs with our flexible itineraries and tour options so call Sea Quest today!

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  • Friends and families strengthen their bonds and build lasting memories on our exclusive private kayak trips – affordable options are ready to reserve now!

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  • Private Kayak Lessons & Classes
  • Ready to learn the art of sea kayaking? Stay on course and stay safe by taking a private lesson with Sea Quest this season!

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5 Places to Enjoy Winter Whale Watching on the West Coast

From washington to hawai‘i, you can observe the majestic mammals from land or water.

a humpback whale in Lahaina, Hawaii

Every winter, thousands of gray and humpback whales migrate south, like so many aquatic snowbirds, on a 5,000-mile journey from Alaskan waters to Mexico and Hawai‘i for feeding and breeding. The procession of Baja-bound whales passes along the entire U.S. West Coast, with others headed to the Hawaiian islands, providing great opportunities to see these giants of the sea that are making a comeback from critically endangered status.

Both from land and by sea, viewers can spot these massive mammals weighing upward of 40 tons and measuring about 50 feet in length emerging from the water. The whales spout misty exhales of air in “thar she blows!” moments, poking their heads from the sea, slapping their tails, and even fully jumping from the water in spectacular breaching displays.

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The gray whale southern migration starts in Alaska in the fall, reaching its peak in late December to January in Oregon, and January to February in California. The bulk of humpback whales commute down to Hawai‘i for the winter , with peak viewing season in February.

Don’t worry if you miss the southern journey. The whales turn around and head back north from their winter grounds in Baja, California, beginning in mid-February, affording another viewing opportunity along the U.S. western states from February through May.

Whale watching can be done from land, at elevated viewing points near the shoreline with the naked eye or with the aid of binoculars, often at designated nature centers. Whale-watching boat tours give visitors the chance for more reliable and dramatic close-up viewing opportunities. But be sure to sail only with accredited tour operators who follow safety guidelines for both you and the majestic animals. Also, because winter waters can sometimes be choppy and the weather unsettled, don’t forget to bring your seasickness medication — or just hold out for nice weather if you have the time. Choosing a larger boat and sitting in the middle of the lower deck can also help to reduce seasickness on whale-watching (or any seaborne) excursions.

Below are some tips for where, when and how to go whale watching along the U.S. West Coast and Hawai‘i. 

An orca at San Juan Islands, Washington

Migratory whales pass through Washington’s coastal waters at the beginning of their southern journey in fall, and later in spring for the whales’ northern return trip. The Whale Trail, a Seattle -based whale-focused organization, highlights 20 spots along Washington’s Olympic Peninsula that are great for land-based observation during the migratory seasons. The Whale Trail has interpretive signs and markers posted at key viewpoints along the route. In addition, Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan Island is a notable spot in the inner Salish Sea for whale watching, with whale talks held twice a week at the lighthouse in summer.

Not all giant cetaceans migrate, which adds to options for winter whale watching. Washington is one of the world’s prime spots for orca-viewing opportunities, particularly around the San Juan Islands , easily accessible via car and ferry from Seattle. Many pods of orcas (also known as “killer whales”) make the islands their home year-round. The San Juans have many highlighted spots along its segment of the Whale Trail, and is home to many whale-watching boat tour operators, running day trips from San Juan Island and the aptly named Orcas Island.


an aerial view of Arch Rock, Oregon

Oregon’s prime whale-watching seasons run from mid-December through mid-January — for the winter southern run, and then from late March through May in the whales’ northerly return. Oregon even has a resident group of about 200 whales that feed near its shores from June to mid-November, so the state really does have year-round watching opportunities.  

On high-traffic winter viewing days, spotters can see more than 30 whales per hour from shore. Volunteers at a Whale Watch event at Oregon’s Depoe Bay registered 94 individual whale viewings on Dec. 30, 2023. The Whale Trail organization lists 22 shore-viewing locations along the Oregon coast.

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Depoe Bay, on Oregon’s central coast, is also home to multiple whale-watching boat tour operators, with most departures listed as beginning in March. 

a humpback whale at Monterey Bay

Northern California

The northern California coastline offers some prime land-based whale-watching spots, none better than Point Reyes National Seashore. This peninsula about 45 miles north of San Francisco  provides clifftop views over the gray whale migration that at its peak has more than 1,000 whales per day passing within a mile of shore, according to Visit California. While January is the busiest whale-watching time for the southern migration, whales can be spotted on the northbound route beginning in March. Shoreside whale watching extends throughout northern California and into central California, at 15 Whale Trail-highlighted locations from Fort Bragg in the north through the San Francisco area, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Luis Obispo. Many tour operators run whale-watching boat tours (and even guided kayak expeditions) from northern California harbors, with popular tours leaving San Francisco’s Pier 39 (beginning in April); Bodega Bay, about an hour's drive from the town of Point Reyes Station; and down the coast in Santa Cruz and Monterey (with tours ongoing from February). 

Passionate whale watchers can book full day tours sailing the waters of the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco, to view multiple types of whales and other marine mammals (April through December). Keep in mind, these waters can be quite choppy, even on apparently nice weather days, so don’t forget the motion sickness medication.

boats along the shore of Dana Pont, California

Southern California

Southern California doesn’t quite have the wealth of onshore whale-watching locations as northern California (with only four spots listed on the Whale Trail), but one highlight is the area around the Point Vicente Interpretive Center on the Palos Verdes peninsula. Located about 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles , the interpretive center’s whale-focused museum provides context to the creatures. Step outside the center, and you can watch whales from this perch high above the Pacific. Migrating whales are visible from shore here from December through mid-May. Dana Point in Orange County and the bluffs at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve north of downtown San Diego also offer elevated vantage points where you can spot some whales with binoculars. 

Whale-watching boat tours depart from harbors in Long Beach and Redondo Beach year-round, with the prime gray whale viewing season taking place from November through April.  San Diego is home to at least three whale-watching tour operators who highlight gray whale season from December through April, and even offer a free future booking if you don’t see a whale on your cruise. 

boat full of tourists observing a whale in the distance

Unlike the western U.S. mainland coast, Hawai‘i is an end destination for migratory whales, not just a transit point. Hawai‘i’s warm waters serve as a similar winter feeding and breeding area for humpbacks as Mexico does for the gray whale migration. The typical Hawai‘i whale-watching season stretches from November to April, with peak population arriving in February. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 humpbacks visit Hawai‘i each year at the end of a 3,500-mile journey from summer feeding grounds in Alaskan waters.

On land, the Hawaiian islands provide a wealth of viewpoints from which whales can be spotted with the naked eye, or by using binoculars. You can visit high-ground lookout points, many beaches, or sometimes even see whales from the convenience of your hotel balcony. On the island of Hawai‘i, the hilltop Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site overlooks wide ocean vistas with great whale viewings — there’s a reason Pu‘ukoholā means “hill of the whale” in the Hawaiian language. On the last Saturdays of January through March, volunteers gather for an official whale-spotting count there, a project of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Other top land-based viewing locations across the islands include: the Kīlauea Lighthouse and Kapa‘a Overlook on Kaua‘i; Papawai Point and McGregor Point lookouts on Maui; atop Diamond Head; and the 600-foot sea cliffs overlooking Makapu‘u Beach on O‘ahu .

Hawai‘i, Maui, Kaua‘i and O‘ahu all offer accredited whale-watching boat trips from multiple tour operators on each island. Some tours include cultural elements and educational insights, while others are more focused on food, drink and sunsets along with the whale watching. The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority website is a good place to search for a tour that matches your location and needs. If you’re lucky, you can even enjoy some free whale-watching shows while riding the ferry between Maui and Moloka‘i or Lāna‘i — as the shallow channels there are popular with whales.  

​ Bill Fink is an award-winning travel writer who has covered cultural travel for Lonely Planet, Frommer's, the  San Francisco Chronicle  and many other outlets.

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  1. New England Whale Watching: Where to Go and What To See

    whale watching tours on east coast

  2. 17 Beautiful Beaches Near Me for East Coast Whale Watching

    whale watching tours on east coast

  3. Whale Watching East Coast Canada

    whale watching tours on east coast

  4. Whalesong Cruises

    whale watching tours on east coast

  5. 17 Beautiful Beaches Near Me for East Coast Whale Watching

    whale watching tours on east coast

  6. Brisbane Whale Watching

    whale watching tours on east coast


  1. The 18 Best Places to Whale Watch on the U.S. East Coast

    1. Cape Cod, MA A popular destination for East Coast whale watching is the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located three miles north of Cape Cod. This protected area spans nearly 900 square miles and offers tourists the chance to see humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, and more.

  2. 17 Beautiful Beaches Near Me for East Coast Whale Watching

    Children 5 and under - free Use the promo code 10WEB for 10% off each ticket. Website Book a whale and dolphin watching cruise throughout the summer, with select tours available on the off season. Call to inquire before you book on the off-season though, as the boats aren't always running. Whale Watching in Maryland

  3. 16 best whale watching trips in the US

    Pods of whales swim up and down the east and west coasts, dazzling whale watching tours as they breach and slap their tails. Still not sure where to go? We trawled America's 95,000-mile coastline to find the best whale watching vacation destinations in the country. Next thing you know, you'll be shouting "there she blows!" Juneau, Alaska

  4. The Best Spots for Whale Watching in the U.S

    For a truly spectacular immersion into the rugged beauty of Alaska, Major Marine Tours offers a six-hour journey from Resurrection Bay into the iconic Kenai Fjords National Park, a sprawling park...

  5. Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch

    Research & Education A crew and photographers favorite! Available in June, July, and August. We are the only local whale watch company to offer sunset tours! For 45 seasons we have offered the highest quality whale and marine life tours! Join us as we embark on whale and marine life adventures!

  6. East Coast Whale Watching Trip: Public & Private Viewing Coastal

    Plan an East Coast Whale Watching Trip: Public & Private Viewing Coastal Cruises From May to October Whale watching in Maine is more than a spectator sport; it's a connection with nature. The world's largest living creatures can be found feeding and frolicking just 20 miles off the Maine coast.

  7. Whale Watching

    Whale watching along the East Coast originated in Provincetown, Massachusetts in the 1970s and the most common destination for those vessels was an area that is now Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Watch this Story from the Blue video to learn more.

  8. Best Places for Whale Watching

    Getty Images. When to Go: May-September. Whales You'll See: Orcas, Humpbacks, Minkes, Gray Whales. One of the best places in the world to view orcas (a.k.a. killer whales) are the San Juan Islands, clustered off the coast of Washington. Although orcas are seen in the area year-round, three main pods, called the "Southern Residents," are ...

  9. best whale watching east coast

    August 11, 2020 // by bill mckim A lot of people ask the question who has the best, best whale watching east coast. I wiould say we are right near the top with over 80 trips and we usually see one or more whales in fact our record is over 80 trips and only 4 misses in 3 years so we ahace a pretty good idea.

  10. The Best Whale Watching Destinations in the U.S.

    Traditional whale-watching tours are available via Pacwale Eco-Adventures, while more adrenaline-pumping options include snorkeling whale-watching excursions from Ultimate Whalewatch,...

  11. The 3 Top-Rated Whale Watching Tours in Cape Cod

    Captain John Boats. Price: Adults $70 to $73; kids $45 to $53. Duration: 3 to 4 hours. Take a three- to four-hour whale watching tour out of either Plymouth or Provincetown with Captain John Boats ...

  12. Discover the 6 Best Places for Whale Watching on the East Coast

    travel Discover the 6 Best Places for Whale Watching on the East Coast Lauren Reiss August 6, 20234 min read We've rounded up a list of 6 places of where to go for whale watching this Summer on the East Coast. Where are the best places for whale watching on the East Coast?

  13. Whale Watching Cruise From New Jersey

    Roundtrip from Highlands, NJ to/from The Whale Watching Grounds Just Offshore. Dates. Beginning May 13th and running through September 16, 2023! Times. ~ 3h. Cost. $55 Adults, $30 Children Under 12, $50 Seniors (65+) See Schedule & Pricing.

  14. Whale Watching in New York City (NYC)

    Long Island is one of the best whale-watching destinations on the East Coast. See all Save. ... In addition to regular whale-watching tours, you can opt for the 36-hour Great South Channel whale watch trip that starts at 7 pm and ends at 4 am on the following day. It will give you a unique insight in the life of whales, dolphins, and turtles in ...

  15. Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

    Most Popular From $75 An adventure to remember! Head offshore in search of whales while your guide educates you about the whales and other species of the Gulf of Maine. Learn More From $41 2 hours All Ages Bar Harbor Nature Cruise

  16. Top 5 Whale-Watching Spots in New England and Atlantic Canada

    Ranked among the best whale-watching sites in the world by the World Wildlife Fund, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a protected marine area situated off the coast of Massachusetts ...

  17. Jersey Shore Whale Watch

    The special 12 hour trip dates are as follows April 22 May6 & 20th June 3rd and 17th July 8th and July 22 August 5th and 19th 2024 Offshore Jersey… Read More Winter whale watching New Jersey is amazing

  18. Finest Whale Watching on Cape Cod

    Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises has been selected Best of the Cape & Islands - Land and Sea Excursions - Mid-Cape by Cape Cod Life magazine each year since 2014.. This is a readers' choice award voted on annually by the magazine's readers and subscribers. Cape Cod Life is the region's premier lifestyle magazine showcasing the stunning natural beauty and historic charm of Cape Cod ...

  19. 15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US + When to Go

    1. Glacier Bay, Alaska What You Will See: Humpback, Minke, Orca and Blue Whales When To Go: June to August Where to Stay: Search for Nearby Hotels Visit this beautiful bay to see humpbacks, minkes, orcas, and blue whales. Did you know the blue whale's call can be heard in Japan from here? 2. Juneau, Alaska What You Will See: Humpbacks and Orcas

  20. Best Whale Watching Spots in the United States

    One of the most exciting wildlife-spotting excursions travelers can go on is a whale watching tour. Whale watching has been a popular tourism activity since 1950 when the Whale Overlook, the world's first public whale watching lookout, opened at the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California.. There are a number of public and private overlooks on the West Coast, from California to the ...

  21. A Guide to Watching Northern Right Whales in Florida

    Right whales, which can grow to 70 tons and 55 feet long, are sighted every winter off the Atlantic coast between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral. Hundreds of volunteers, plus visitors and residents of the northeastern coast, get the thrill of about 75 whale sightings between December and March each year.

  22. Whale Watching Kayak Tours

    San Juan Islands Whale-Watching Kayak Tours One of the most exciting aspects of a sea kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands is the chance to witness marine wildlife - often at close range. There are tidepools full of fascinating creatures, more than a hundred bald eagle nests, thousands of harbor seals, migrating salmon, and much more.

  23. Whale Watching Cruise From NYC

    Roundtrip from E. 35th Street and Pier 11 to/from The Whale Watching Grounds Just Offshore. Dates. Beginning May 13th and running through September 16, 2023! Times. ~ 3h. Cost. $59 Adults, $34 Children Under 12, $55 Seniors (65+) See Schedule & Pricing.

  24. 5 Great West Coast Places for Winter Whale Watching

    Many tour operators run whale-watching boat tours (and even guided kayak expeditions) from northern California harbors, with popular tours leaving San Francisco's Pier 39 (beginning in April); Bodega Bay, about an hour's drive from the town of Point Reyes Station; and down the coast in Santa Cruz and Monterey (with tours ongoing from ...

  25. Kerry ️ Travel Tips + Inspo on Instagram: "Add this place in New

    the.petite.wanderer on October 30, 2023: "Add this place in New England to your Fall bucket list While @visitcapecod is a fam..."