Three states make up the Pacific Coast of the United States – California, Oregon, and Washington – and each one of these states has ample whale watching opportunities. Over the last couple of months, we have detailed the vast majority of whale watching cruises you can take along the Pacific Coast, listing almost all the cities from which you can set sail in California, Oregon, and Washington. If you find yourself anywhere along the Pacific Coast, there is a decent chance that some outfit is relatively nearby that will be happy to take you out on the Pacific to see whales. Below we have compiled all of the Pacific Coast whale watching information we have gathered into a comprehensive review.
Whale Watching in California
Whale watching cruises in California abound, and in fact the state probably has more whale watching cruises than anywhere else in the world. Part of this has to do with the state’s size and weather, but there also seems to be a particular enthusiasm for seeing whales in the Golden State. You can of course take a whale watching cruise from the big cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and you can also take whale watching cruises from the smaller cities that are in the orbit of these cities, like Newport Beach, Long Beach, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Dana Point. You can also conceive of whale watching in terms of regions, like Monterey Bay (which includes the town of Monterey and Moss Landing) and Northern California. (According to the technical definition of “Northern California” – the northernmost 48 counties of California – Monterey Bay is actually in Northern California, and hence these are the same region, but lots of people use “Northern California” in a looser sense that basically means San Francisco and above.)
Whale Watching in Oregon
Compared to California, there are relatively few whale watching cruises in Oregon. There is a small region along the coast that is a little over a hundred miles southwest of Portland, and essentially all the whale watching cruises operate from this area. The two departure points are the Depoe Bay (the town) and Newport, which are less than a 20-minute drive from one another. Cruises from both places sail in Depoe Bay, which is a feeding area for whales because of the reefs located in this inlet. The whale watching cruises in Depoe Bay can often stay stationary – a boat picks a spots, and the passengers can simply look at the whales swimming around them.
Whale Watching in Washington
Whale watching in California and Oregon depends fairly heavily on the enormous gray whale migration that takes place each year. The seasons are a little different for each state since the whales pass their shores at slightly different times, but basically gray whales head south from Alaska from roughly December to April, and then they head back north from roughly March through June. The whales are easy to spot during this period of time, and whale watching outfits in both states take full advantage. While the Washington whale watching companies definitely get in on the gray whale action during the appropriate seasons, the state is far more focused on killer whales, which are concentrated among the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands. Apart from brief periods during the year when certain outfits go looking for gray whales, almost all whale watching cruises sail to and around the San Juan Islands looking for killer whales. There is essentially a whale watching zone off the northwestern corner of the state that surrounds the San Juan Islands, and this can be approached from within – on Orcas Island or from Friday Harbor – or from the various departure points that surround the island, including Everett, Anacortes, and Bellingham, as well as Port Townsend and the wider Olympic Peninsula. (Port Townsend is on the Olympic Peninsula, and while it is definitely the main hub for whale watching cruises on the peninsula, it is not the only one.)
There are definitely a few scattered charter companies that offer whale watching cruises that are not in one of the cities listed above, but this represents the vast majority of whale watching opportunities you can take in California, Oregon, and Washington, as we noted at the start. If you plan to go whale watching anywhere on the Pacific Coast, we have almost certainly unearthed, organized, and distilled information that is relevant to your plans.