Whale Watching in Santa Barbara: A Guide

Like most coastal cities in Southern California, there are a number of whale watching cruises in Santa Barbara. These cruises are offered by several different companies that are focused on whale watching to various degrees. One company (Condor Express) is focused primarily on whale watching, but most of the Santa Barbara-based companies have offerings that extend beyond whale watching. To give you an idea of exactly what’s available, we’ve compiled the following guide to whale cruises in Santa Barbara.

Since Santa Barbara is north of Los Angeles, it is for the most part outside the reach of the various whale watching companies we have written about in connection with San Diego, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Los Angeles. The whale watching industry is somewhat unified from L.A. to San Diego, with the same companies popping up regardless of what city you are specifically searching for. (When you search for whale watching cruises in San Diego, for instance, you’ll get results for companies in Newport Beach, and vice versa.) Santa Barbara is essentially totally cut off from this world, however, and has its own whale watching companies that serve the area.

As we mentioned above, there is really only one company in Santa Barbara that focuses primarily on whale watching, and that is Condor Express. The company offers services comparable to the other yacht chartering enterprises based in the area that also offer whale watching cruises, but Condor Express appears to focus on whales more than any other. It claims to have been voted the best for “whale watching in Santa Barbara for over 35 years” and, unlike most companies, it offers whale watching cruises all year long. Basically, if one company has positioned itself as the dominant whale watching operation in Santa Barbara, it is Condor Express. That said, you can book whale watching cruises with a few other companies, and just because these companies market themselves as charter companies or fishing outfits doesn’t make their whale watching cruises any less legitimate. Indeed, the whale watching cruises offered by the Santa Barbara Sailing Center are highly rated, as are those of Sunset Kidd. Condor Express, the Santa Barbara Sailing Center, and Sunset Kidd are the main providers of whale watching cruises in Santa Barbara.

If you can’t manage to book a cruise in Santa Barbara for whatever reason, there are also whale watching cruise companies that operate nearby. For instance, Island Packers offers whale watching cruises (among other things), but is based in Ventura. Cruises that leave from Ventura will explore similar territory – the Channel Islands feature in most cruises that depart from this part of California – but obviously you’ll have a different port of departure. Still, cruises in the surrounding area are worth considering in case any promotions are being offered, as can often happen.

So, there are plenty of whale watching cruises from Santa Barabara, and thanks to Condor Express, you can take them all year round. More information can be found by looking at each company’s website (all of which are linked to above), or for more general information, check out our article on whale watching in California.

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