California, with a shoreline that stretches over a significant portion of the Pacific Coast, is a natural place to take a whale watching cruise, and there are plenty of whale watching cruises in California to be taken. Companies that offer whale watching cruises abound in California; if you are in any of the larger cities along the coast, there will likely be at least a few whale watching cruise companies vying for your business, regaling you with tales of leviathans beheld as they attempt to lure you on board. (That perhaps overstates the case, but you get the point.) Below we supply an overview of whale watching cruises in California to guide you through the process of finding and booking the right one.
As we explain in our general article about whale watching cruises, there is a large gulf between regular cruises and cruises that take people to see whales. Apart from the obvious differences in purpose, regular cruises are generally multiple-day sailings to foreign locales, whereas whale watch cruises are often short trips that never stray too far from the port of departure. We mention this rather obvious fact to point out that you can’t go about finding and booking a whale watching cruise in the way you would go about booking a regular cruise. For one, totally different companies operate each kind of cruise, so you obviously can’t book a whale watching cruise with one of the major cruise lines, and moreover you can’t use any of the deal aggregator sites to find the right whale watching cruise at the best price.
Instead, you’ll likely have to work with a whale watching company directly, meaning you’ll probably have to sift through some search results (if you start online, as most people surely will) to find exactly what you are looking for. In the case of whale watching cruises that take place in California, our present concern, you’ll want to look for ships that depart from whatever city you find yourself in or are willing to go to. San Diego has their whale watching companies, as does San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and all the rest. As we mentioned above, the biggest cities have multiple companies that offer these cruises, and while it is probably worth looking into each of them, their offerings likely won’t differ in any dramatic way. There are only so many ways to vary a whale watching cruise from a particular California city.
What may vary a bit from city to city are the types and number of whales you see, which also heavily depends on the time of year you are out in the ocean. In San Diego, where whale watching cruises seem to be particularly abundant, you can expect to see lots of grey whales between December and April. During this time, over 20,000 grey whales are engaged in an epic migration from Alaska to Southern California (the Mexican state of Baja California, more precisely). The whales swim south to give birth, and during the first few months of the lives of the offspring, as they grow and gain the requisite strength for the journey home, grey whales hang out off the coast of San Diego. From June through September, however, you’re more likely to see blue whales, who feed off of San Diego’s coast during the summer. We cite San Diego only as an example; different cities will have different whale situations, although for obvious reasons there are features common to all whale watching cruises in California.
If you find yourself in California with an appetite for whale watching, there are no shortage of ways to be sated. You can’t book a whale watching cruise in the way you book a regular cruise, but the process is easy enough. For more general information, check out our articles about where you can take a whale watching cruise and what whales you can see.