15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US + When to Go

15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US + When to Go

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.

The best place for whale watching

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Last Updated: August 15, 2019.  First Published: October 5, 2015

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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: Annie Mae Lodge (mid-range, 4 mi away)

Visit this beautiful bay to see humpbacks, minkes, orcas, and blue whales. Did you know that the blue whales call can be heard all the way in Japan from here?

Whale Watching Alaska (15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US + When to Go).

2. Juneau, Alaska

What You Will See: Humpback and Orcas
When To Go: April to November
Where to Stay: Silver Bow Inn (mid-range) or the Alaskan Hotel & Bar (budget)

Get a look at humpback whales from the capital of Alaska or hop on a boat to see orcas in the wild.

Alaska Whale Watching Season + 15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US.

3. Kodiak Island, Alaska

What You Will See: Gray Whales | Fin and Humpback Whales
When To Go: April, June to November
Where to Stay: Goldilocks Bed and Breakfast (mid-range)

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 you may even catch a glimpse of minke and sei whales.

What You Will See: Blue, Gray, and Humpback Whales
When To Go: Year Round
Where to Stay: Post Ranch Inn (luxury) or head to Monterey for lower prices.

This is one of our favorite places to visit on the west coast, and if you keep your eye out on the ocean, you may just spot a blue, gray, or humpback whale gliding by.

Whale Watching Big Sur By Season (When and Where to Whale Watch in the US).

Photo: Doug Ellis

What You Will See: Humpback, Blue, and Gray Whales
When To Go: Year Round
Where to Stay: Monterey Plaza Hotel (luxury), Monterey Bay Inn (mid-range), Lone Oak Lodge (budget)

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.

Monterey Bay Whale Watch + Best Places for Whale Watching Near Me

What You Will See: Gray, Blue, and Fin Whales
When To Go: Mid-December to Mid-March, Mid-June to September
Where to Stay: Fairmont Grand Del Mar (luxury) or Blue Sea Beach Hotel (mid-range)

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.

Blue Whale Tail Sighting with Pacific Nature Tours.
Blue Whale Tail Sighting with Pacific Nature Tours.

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: Kimpton Canary Hotel (luxury) or The Eagle Inn (mid-range)

There are over 27 types of whales and dolphins that come through this area at any given time. Gray whales can be seen February to early April, and you can visit from May to September to see blue whales, minke, and humpback.

Santa Barbara Whale Watching Season (15 Best Places to Whale Watch in the US + When to Go!).

8. Jacksonville, Florida

What You Will See: North Atlantic Right Whales
When To Go: November to April
Where to Stay: Hotel Indigo Deerwood Park or Hampton Inn Jacksonville South (mid-range)

The North Atlantic Right Whales are still fighting their way 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.

Whale Watching Florida By Season (Ultimate Guide to When and Where to Whale Watch in the US).Best Place for Whale Watching Florida + A Guide to Where and When to Whale Watch in the US.

9. Maui, Hawaii

What You Will See: Humpback Whales
When To Go: December to April
Where to Stay: Four Seasons Resort Wailea (luxury) or Paia Inn (mid-range)

Although there have been over 20 species of whales spotted in the area, the stars of the area 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.

Whale Watching Maui

Whale Watching Hawaii by Season + an Ultimate Guide to When and Where to Whale Watch in the US.

Photo: KariliK

10. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

What You Will See: Minke, Fin, and Humpback Whales
When To Go: April to October
Where to Stay: Wequasset Resort (luxury), SeaCoast Inn (mid-range), Town and Beach Motel (budget)

The World Wildlife Fund has named Massachusetts one of the top 10 whale-watching spots in the world. Many of the local companies claim a 99% whale-spotting success with seeing minke, fin, and humpback whales. That’s incredible!

Whale Watching Cape Cod By Season + 15 Best Places for Whale Watching in America.

11. Bar Harbor, Maine

What You Will See: Fin, Minke, and Right Whales
When To Go: Mid-April to October
Where to Stay: We stayed at the conveniently located Acadia Inn (mid-range). There’s also Bar Harbor Inn if you want to go more luxury or Acadia Pines Motel for a budget option.

You can find these whales just 20 miles off the coast enjoying the cool water and food.

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: East Hampton Art House B&B (luxury) or Bowen’s by the Bays (mid-range)

You get an incredibly diverse set of whales in this area from July to early September. It’s a great feeding ground for the whales. They just can’t resist!

Long Island Whale Watching by Season + A Guide to When and Where to Whale Watch in the US.

13. Virginia Beach, Virginia

What You Will See: Humpback Whales
When To Go: December through March
Where to Stay: Cavalier Hotel (luxury), Belvedere Beach Resort (mid-range), Econo Lodge on the Ocean (budget)

Humpback whales and an occasional fin whale can be spotted at Virginia Beach anytime between December through March. Once it starts to get warmer, you’ll be able to catch bottlenose dolphins playfully swimming by as well.

Whale Watching Virginia Beach + Ultimate Guide to When and Where to Whale Watch in the US.

Photo: Matt

14. Depoe Bay, Oregon

What You Will See: Gray Whales
When To Go: Mid-December to June
Where to Stay: Starfish Point Condos (luxury, 9.2 miles away), Clarion Inn Surfrider Resort (mid-range), Whale Inn (budget)

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.

Depoe Bay Whale Watching + A Guide to When and Where to See Whales in the US.

15. San Juan Islands, Washington

What You Will See: Orcas, Gray, Minke, Humpback
When To Go: Mid-April to Early-October
Where to Stay: Friday Harbor House (luxury), Argyle House Bed & Breakfast (mid-range), San Juan Island Hostel (budget)

With their largest island named Orcas Island, you can only hope to spot an orca.

Note: The island was actually 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!

Ultimate Guide of When and Where to Go Whale Watching in the US.

Photo (and cover photo): Kim

Map

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

Whale Watch by Season: When and Where to Go Whale Watching in the US.

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 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. 
  • 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 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.
  • 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 this one is our favorite.
  • Don’t forget to bring this and this if you get seasick like me.

What to Pack for Your Whale Watching Trip

Have you been whale watching? If so, where? Which of these places would you like to visit?

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Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both 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.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Orcas Island
    It is easy to confuse the name of the whale (orca, lower case “o”) with the name of Orcas Island, but it is a good distinction to know. The ‘orca’ whale is part of the Latin scientific classification Orcinus orca, which translates as “belonging to Orcus” – Orcus was a Roman god of the netherworld, and this genus name is likely a reference to the hunting prowess of the killer whale. In Latin, orca translates “large-bellied pot or jar”, but orc- also refers to a whale.

    The name of Orcas Island, on the other hand, came when Spanish explorers entered the area in 1792 and named the San Juan Islands after various Spanish and Mexican dignitaries. Orcas was a shortened version of Horcasitas, after Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the Viceroy of Mexico who sent an exploration expedition under Francisco de Eliza to the Pacific Northwest in 1791. Eliza used the name for the whole archipelago, but in 1847, mapmaker Henry Kellett assigned the name to Orcas Island during his reorganization of the British Admiralty charts.

  2. I’m more excited to go whale watching now.

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