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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
More Whale Watching Destinations 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 Season Infographic
Essential Tips for 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.
Have you been whale watching? If so, where? Which of these places would you like to visit?
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
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.