You splurged on the family-sized sunscreen and got yourself a new set of shades. You’re heading to San Diego, America’s Finest City, and you’ve got a date with some vitamin D! Heck, you might even rent a surf board and see if you can ride a Black’s Beach wave all the way to the shore. But you’re also about to lay anchor in just about the best place for whale watching, so it would be a shame to leave SD without an ocean excursion. You might spot a gray or blue whale in the wild, launching an epic oceanic photography career. Or at least earn a lot of Instagram hearts.

If you’ve never been on a whale scouting excursion, your adventure begins by checking out the Expedia guide to whale watching. It tells you everything you need to know before you go. If telling whale tales is old hat, the guide will remind you what you love about catching a glimpse of the world’s largest sea mammals. SoCal is one of the top spots for ocean adventures, so here are five expert tips for your next San Diego whale watching trip.


Show up at the right time

When the first chill of winter sneaks through the window, visions of palm trees will sway through your head. We can see the wheels spinning—you want to jump on the next plane bound for Southern California. But when it’s whale watching deals you’re after, a pro knows to arrive during the right season. Gray whales migrate between Alaska and Baja California from mid-December through April, while blue whales feed just off the coast from the middle of June until September.


Viewfinder Tip: If you paddle close to whales in a kayak, never obstruct their path to deeper water and always approach from the side.

Think beyond boat tours

 Whale watching boat tours are probably the most common way to go about spotting Shamu in a natural habitat, but there are other means of exploring the Pacific Ocean in search of finned friends. You can also launch yourself from La Jolla shores in a smaller vessel and enjoy a private kayak excursion or an ocean raft adventure. An experienced guide will take you 2 miles away from shore, where you wait to spot the gray whale migration and enjoy the warm shower of sun across your face.

Leave your shorts at home

The temperatures are always perfect or perfect-adjacent in San Diego, as any local who doesn’t own a stitch of fleece can tell you. Still, when you leave the shore behind, ocean breezes are much colder than the ones you experienced on land. That’s why one of the most important whale watching tips is to reserve tank top fashion for Mission Beach and wear layers while you’re out at sea. A light jacket is your best friend. If you’re headed out in a kayak, your excursion will probably offer a wet suit and you should wear it.

Pack your patience

Your spirits are high, you’ve planned your vacation to San Diego during peak migration season, and you scored whale watching coupons. You’re primed to see a majestic tail break through the surface of the water. But it’s not always that easy. Whale migration, while fairly predictable, isn’t an exact science and you may not see the animal you seek right away during your whale watching expedition. But as any expert would advise, even when you don’t see whales, you’re apt to spot other marine life. So remain patient and scan the water for dolphins, sea birds, and jumping fish while you await a whale sighting.

Don’t forget to look back

Your eyes are pointed toward the horizon and you’re ready to spot a pod of marine mammals. But we have one last piece of advice before you leave the shore in your mist. Turn around and snap a few pics of the stunning San Diego coast. From the Coronado Bridge to the downtown skyline or La Jolla Shores cliffs… you don’t want to spend so much time staring at the sea that you fail to appreciate the views in the other direction.

What sea life have you seen on a San Diego whale watching tour?