Top US Spots for Whale Watching 2023

By Chloe Roberts | Published on  

You don’t have to sail halfway across the world to marvel at the awe-inspiring grace and size of whales. The United States is home to some of the world’s most remarkable whale-watching spots. From the scenic harbors of New England to the sun-kissed beaches of California, there’s no shortage of places to have an intimate encounter with these aquatic giants. Ready to start your adventure? Here are some premier destinations where you can have a whale of a time—pun absolutely intended.

Imagine standing on a boat, the salty breeze tousling your hair, as you catch sight of a majestic grey whale breaching the water’s surface. Newport Beach, located conveniently between several Southern California cities, offers such thrilling moments year-round. And it’s not just grey whales; thousands of blue whales make their way through these waters in the summer months. Throw in a menagerie of dolphins, seals, and even the occasionally massive humpback, and you’ve got a destination where every visit offers something new.

Nestled in Maine, Bar Harbor seems like it’s sprung right out of a postcard. While its history as a torpedo testing range during World War II may be intriguing, today it’s a haven for summer vacations and, you guessed it, whale watching. Take a ride with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company and you could be out on the water for up to four enthralling hours. The company also offers puffin-centric packages if you’re a bird lover. The harbor stars its own set of species including minkas and finbacks, while the less common orcas and sperm whales add a touch of rarity to your sighting list.

You’ll be forgiven if the charming Victorian homes in Cape May, New Jersey, distract you initially. But remember, you’re here for the year-round spectacle of humpbacks and finbacks that call these waters home. The consistency of sightings here is largely attributed to a rich food supply that lures these magnificent beasts closer to the shore. Oh, and keep an eye out for dolphins playfully swimming alongside boats. Every so often, a rare minka or pilot whale might just surprise you, keeping the thrill of the unknown always alive.

What could be more enchanting than listening to the song of a grey whale as it meanders through the Santa Barbara Channel? Several tours here navigate the channel, which is also a part of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Your adventure could include humpbacks, blue whales, orcas, otters, and sea lions—all dependent on the season. Some sailing tours even offer a tranquil ride, allowing you to get close enough to listen to the whales’ haunting melodies.

Migratory orca pods might just be the show-stoppers at the San Juan Islands in Washington State, but they’re hardly the sole attraction. While kayaking tours promise an adrenaline rush as you get within arm’s reach of these “violent beauties,” luxury options with hydrophones let you listen to whales sing their hearts out. Either way, an encounter here will hardly be your run-of-the-mill vacation story.

Forget the Anchorman lore; San Diego is a whale-watcher’s dream come true. From La Jolla to Torrey Pines, the winter waters are filled with tens of thousands of grey whales. The tours in San Diego are so plentiful that even if you miss sighting a minka, you’ll likely spot hundreds of dolphins making playful arcs in the water.

Humpbacks in the morning, Jazz Festival in the afternoon—that’s the kind of diverse day you can expect at Monterey Bay, California. But if you want to delve deep into the whale watching experience, some operators offer exhaustive 12-hour tours. For those who’d like to balance their maritime adventures with some culture, the bay area also houses markets, museums, and even the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium.

From Hyannis to Plymouth, Cape Cod in Massachusetts is your gateway to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary—a sanctuary so inviting, you’ll find everything from humpbacks and minkas to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. But it’s not just the diversity; the tours out of Provincetown get you to the Stellwagen Bank faster, offering you more time with these spectacular creatures.

If you’re looking for a destination that offers more than just whales, Juneau, Alaska, could be your go-to. With humpbacks and orcas aplenty, your trip will be teeming with unique experiences. Venture further into Glacier Bay to sight minkas or attend Kodiak’s grey whale festival in April. While you’re at it, why not explore the lush Rainforest Trail for some splendid whale-watching outlooks?

When in Maui, do as the humpbacks do—swim. Tours generally kick off in December but if you’re lucky, you might spot these massive mammals as early as September or October. From melon-headed whales to the elusive false killer whales, Maui waters have more surprises than you could ever imagine. And since you’re already in a tropical paradise, you might as well kick back and soak up the Hawaiian sun.

So, whether you’re an amateur marine biologist at heart or someone who just wants to appreciate the grandeur of Mother Nature’s marine miracles, the United States has got you covered. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for taking this plunge into the world of whale watching.

Embarking on a whale-watching journey across the United States not only puts you face to face with some of the most majestic creatures on our planet, but it also offers an incomparable avenue for enriching your soul. Whether you’re venturing into the icy realms of Alaska to witness the incredible spectacle of humpbacks bubble net feeding, or finding yourself captivated by the tranquil beauty of Cape Cod’s sanctuaries, each experience is a unique tapestry woven with awe, wonder, and a touch of the sublime. The captivating dance of a humpback’s fluke, the ethereal song of an orca pod, or the sheer size of a blue whale as it breaks the surface—these are moments that are etched in your memory, moments that turn vacations into life-altering experiences.

Yet, the beauty of whale watching extends beyond the sheer thrill of the encounter. It’s an exercise in mindfulness, a celebration of marine biodiversity, and, above all, a poignant reminder of the intricate web of life we’re a part of—a web that we must strive to protect. These marine giants, with their complex social structures and fascinating behaviors, also beckon us to ponder upon the mysteries of the deep, inviting us to explore not just the world around us, but also the depths of our own human experience.

In a world increasingly crowded with distractions, the serenity and grandeur of whale watching offer a respite for the soul. It’s an invitation to connect—both with nature and with our own inner selves. So the next time you find yourself yearning for an adventure that combines the ethereal with the earthly, the grandiose with the intimate, know that the coastlines and harbors of the United States are waiting for you, teeming with opportunities to create stories that will last a lifetime.

Trust the journey; the waves are just the beginning.

The optimal time for whale watching varies depending on the location and the species you’re eager to see. For example, if you’re targeting grey whales in California, winter through spring is your best bet. Conversely, if you’re aiming for humpbacks in Alaska, you’ll want to schedule your trip during the summer months. Researching specific locales will give you the best chance at a memorable experience.

Yes, responsible whale-watching tours adhere to guidelines that prioritize the well-being of the marine life, such as maintaining a respectful distance and limiting the number of boats in an area. Some regions also have specific laws protecting marine mammals, so it’s crucial to book your tour with a reputable company that can articulate and follow these guidelines.

Picking the right tour often comes down to a blend of personal preferences, such as the length of the trip, the size of the boat, and additional offerings like educational talks or snorkeling opportunities. Reviews and testimonials can provide valuable insights, but remember that nature is unpredictable—what one person experiences may not mirror your own journey.

Generally speaking, whale watching is an activity that can be enjoyed by individuals of all ages. However, the open water can sometimes be rough, and tours can last for several hours, so it’s advisable to consider the physical comfort and stamina of all participants. Always check with the tour operator about age restrictions or recommendations, especially if you plan to bring young children or seniors along.

Absolutely! Many destinations offer more than just whale watching. For instance, you might combine a morning of whale watching in Monterey Bay with an afternoon at the renowned jazz festival, or opt for a package in Maui that includes both whale watching and snorkeling. Your trip can be as multi-faceted as you wish, turning it into a comprehensive adventure rather than a single experience.