6 Prime Whale Watching Destinations in North America

by  Christine Dayao | Sep 26, 2014
Whale in Vancouver
Whale in Vancouver / jonmccormackphoto/iStock

When you think of whale watching, you might imagine sitting on a boat with a pair of binoculars, waiting for the world's biggest creatures to appear before your eyes amidst the waves. But this isn't the only way to see whales up close and in their natural habitat -- without having to see them in a tank.

Typically known as a winter pastime, you can go whale watching almost any time of the year in places like California and Oregon’s Depoe Bay. Specific regions of the Golden State, including San Diego, Monterey Bay, and San Francisco experience larger numbers of whales mid-December and January to mid-March and April.

If you can’t wait that long, you can spot whales in Maui and Vancouver in the fall. Sightings in Maui start as early as October, running to March or April. There’s still time left to find them in Vancouver, where the season starts in March and ends in late October.

Here’s where and how you can see whales, on boats and from shore, both with and without a tour package.

The Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel is offering a Whale Encounter package that includes three nights in a partial ocean view room, breakfast for two on two mornings, lunch for two, a whale watching tour for two, a souvenir cooler bag, choice of two beach towels, and a daily compact rental car. The package price is $878, constituting a $251 savings. Guests can book this until March 25, 2015 for travel between December 21 and March 31, 2015. Reservations can be made here.

Not interested in a hotel package? You can watch for whales from the shore of Ka‘anapali Beach, just look out at the horizon. If you’d prefer to get some help from the experts, you could book a cruise with the Pride of Maui for a three-and-a-half-hour trip aboard a boat with a glass bottom. You’ll see North American humpback whales on this cruise, which includes complimentary lunch. The cost for adults is $47.95 and $36.95 for children; buy online and tickets are $10 cheaper.

When visiting our neighbors to the north in Vancouver, you might see orcas/killer whales. They can be viewed from around the Gulf and San Juan Islands. Vancouver Whale Watch takes visitors on tours through those areas to find killer and humpback whales, and they’re led by professional wildlife guides. The operator guarantees that if you don’t see a whale on your excursion, you can continue to come again for free until you see one. Prices for adults are $130 and $75 for children for the three- or five-hour tours when booking online.

San Diego
The good news is that you don’t have to book a tour to see the city’s gray whales. Head to the Cabrillo National Monument and look west to the park overlooks, toward the ocean. Just don’t forget to bring your binoculars. For a closer view of the animals, you might want to book a tour through San Diego Whale Watch. Three-hour tours are narrated by a certified marine biologist and cost $44 for adults and $38 for kids.

Monterey Bay
When in this area of California, you can see humpback, blue, and killer whales. Thanks to the Monterey Submarine Canyon at Moss Landing, you can see them from the shore because the canyon allows them to come near the shore to eat. The Monterey Bay Whale Watch hosts three- to five-hour tours in the mornings and afternoons on select days through December 12, and they’re all led by marine biologists. Children ages 12 and under are not allowed on the trip, and tickets are $145 each.

San Francisco
The Farallon Islands are 27 miles off San Francisco and are in a marine sanctuary that attracts whales. The Oceanic Society departs from San Francisco on certain days to give guests an up-close-and-personal view of the behemoths. The cost is $125 a person when booking through its website.

Depoe Bay
Make a stop at the Whale Watching Center to locate gray whales. If you have any questions or need help spotting them, ask a park ranger. You can also get views of them from the Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint. Shorter tours of a half hour or an hour are given by The Whale’s Tail to see gray whales, and cost $25-35, depending on the length.

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