Whales, majestic and mysterious, roam the open ocean on schedules. Every year they migrate their way north and south, so to catch sight of them you need a plan. Here are the top whale-watching destinations in the U.S. for the ultimate ecotour wildlife exploration!
You don't even have to step on a boat to see whales off San Diego's coast. Just grab some binoculars and relax on the rocky cliffs of Cabrillo National Monument or Torrey Pines State Reserve to see something amazing. These cliff-side options are free but you also have the choice of heading out to open waters on a chartered whale watching tour where you're guaranteed to see a whale or dolphin in the agreed-upon three hours. If not, you get a free tour for another day, so win-win!
San Juan Islands, WA
If you're an orca fanatic, then Washington is your ideal place. There are three pods of orcas who are locally known as the "Southern Residents" and they like to make their way down to Washington state from mid-April to October or so. Other whales such as minke, humpback, and gray mingle in the wildlife-rich waters alongside porpoises and sea lions. Kayaking and other ecotourism activities are highly recommended for the San Juan Islands as they afford you a unique, quiet, and eco-friendly way to approach the animals without scaring them away. Plus, it's super cool to kayak through the collection of islands.
Monterey Bay, CA
The chances of seeing whales near Monterey year-round are pretty high, compared to other destinations, because of the rich food source hidden beneath the waves. It's not just humpback whales either. You can spot orcas and dolphins, minke whales, porpoises and much more in the deep blue sea. Again, like in San Diego, you can find plenty of companies for floating whale watching, many departing from the city's exciting Fisherman's Wharf.
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary
Here is one of the world's most important marine sanctuaries, protecting thousands of humpback whales every winter. Not only are the whales protected in their natural habitat, but scientists are also able to study their biology and habits to better understand the species. Visit the Education Center in Kihei, Maui, pick up a map of the sanctuary, and plan out where you'll best be able to see whales. While you're there, you can also learn how to safely go boating within the sanctuary and discover what makes many of the whale species different.
Visiting Tinseltown just keeps getting better when you learn that you can catch the blue whale migration in June through October, and the gray whales from December through mid-May. If you want to see them from land, make your way a little west of San Pedro and park yourself at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. Here, you can watch from the sunbathed rocky cliffs of the peninsula or head inside and learn about the whales that pass by from informative exhibits and programs. There are also great places to spot whales off of Long Beach, and harbor cruises are definitely the number one resource to spot whales, dolphins, sea lions, and more.
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
Like the San Juan Islands, southern California's the Channel Islands afford year-round wildlife viewing. Gray whales come into the picture from December to mid-April as they make their way down to Mexico. In the summer months, humpback whales reign supreme although you might even catch sight of the elusive and massive blue whale which can measure up to 90 feet long. You'll definitely see when a blue whale sprays water as it can project up to 30 feet in the air. Like the San Juan Islands, kayaking and canoeing are popular options in the marine sanctuary.
Kodiak Island, AK
There's a full schedule of wildlife in Alaska's Kodiak Island, for sure. Though Kodiak is not the only place to catch marine wildlife, it is a highly rich area where you're pretty much sure to see something interesting. April welcomes in gray whales, in June the minke, sei, fin, and humpback whales join in until November when they travel back south. The locals love the whales so much they have a 10-day festival every April to welcome them back, so look out for Whale Fest Kodiak.