Whale Watching Cruises in Santa Cruz: A Guide

As is the case with almost all California coastal cities that are of at least moderate size, there are plenty of whale watching cruises in Santa Cruz. The city is ideally situated at the top of Monterey Bay, which is teeming with marine life, including a number of whale species. Santa Cruz is also located near several whale watching cruise outfits, so even if you can’t sail directly from the city, there are plenty of options in the surrounding area. To help you sort out your options and help you pick the right sailing, we have composed the following guide to whale watching cruises in Santa Cruz.

When you take a whale watching cruise from Santa Cruz, you are essentially taking a tour of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is largely made up of Monterey Bay, the indentation of the coastline that starts in Santa Cruz and ends in the city Monterey. What you can see in the Bay depends on the time of year you take your cruise, but on any given day, you are liable to see dolphins, sea lions, and seals, in addition to whatever whales are out during the season. (The Sanctuary is rich with life largely because the Monterey Submarine Canyon is in this region. The deep, cold waters of the canyon are filled with nutrients, which draws a range of different marine life.) Humpback whales can be seen throughout most of the year, but other species can only be seen during certain seasons because of migratory patterns. For instance, there is a massive gray whale migration off the coast of California every winter, and during this migration, you’ll likely see gray whales (and probably not any other kinds of whales). All of this applies to whatever cruise company you sail with. They all tour the same waters of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Discounting the surrounding area, there is really only one true whale watching company in Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz Whale Watching, which is run by Stagnaro Charters. The company offers cruises all year long and maintains a ticket office in Santa Cruz, and the cruises depart from Santa Cruz harbor itself. This can’t be said of any other company, so Santa Cruz Whale Watching certainly has the dominant position in city. However, there is at least one other vessel/company in Santa Cruz that offers whale watching cruises, Chardonnay II, but whale watching is definitely not a main focus of the ship, which offers a variety of different charters (for brunch, wine tasting, and so on). During a few months of the year, however, from February through April, the company offers whale watching cruises. Finally, if you are looking for something completely unlike a regular whale watching cruise, you could rent a kayak through Venture Quest. Obviously, this is a fundamentally different experience than sailing on a boat, and you can’t cover nearly as much water in a kayak; however, you can still get a sense of Monterey Bay’s wildlife on a kayak and will occasionally spot whales, so we figured we’d mention it.

This is of course an article about whale watching in Santa Cruz, and thus we have limited ourselves to the city itself, but as we conclude it is worth mentioning that there are a number of whale watching companies along the shore of Monterey Bay which can easily be gotten to from Santa Cruz. There are also several whale watching cruises from San Francisco, which is about an hour and a half north of Santa Cruz. So, if you are in Santa Cruz and want to whale watch, there are plenty of options at your disposal.

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