13 Best Whale Watching Locations in the U.S.

best whale watching
A Humpback Whale breaching off the California coast, one of the best whale watching locations in the U.S.

Whales are mammals that evolved from land-living animals. Although they can remain underwater for long periods of time they have to breathe air regularly. They have blowholes on the top of their heads through which air is inhaled and exhaled.  Whales range in size from 8.5 feet and about 300 pounds for the Dwarf Sperm Whale to 98 feet long and around 210 tons for the Blue Whale making it the largest animal on Earth. Humpbacks and Blue whales can travel thousands of miles at speeds up to 20 knots without feeding. Whale watching whether from a charter boat, the seat a sea kayak, or from a good vantage point on land, has become a popular outdoor activity worldwide. And with good reason. Tim Thomsen who has been conducting sea kayak whale watching tours in Washington’s San Juan Islands, one of the best whale watching locations in America, for over 30 years has this to say about the experience.

To be sitting in a sea kayak with orca whales weighing maybe ten tons – males about thirty feet long – going by in the wild is one of the most spectacular and inspiring things you can ever do. You hear them breath. It’s a huge breath that has a metallic ring to it exploding from their blowhole behind their forehead. I’ve had them come up within inches of my kayak. They’re not aggressive animals. In my experience of paddling all these years with orcas, I’ve never known one to touch a kayak. There’s no documented incidence of an orca ever injuring a person in the wild. But you have to be careful because they’re so big. (To hear an orca breathe, Click Here)

Below are the 13 best whale watching locations in the U.S along with a map for each location. For the most part, they are on whale migration routes or are located in especially productive feeding grounds. Visit one of them on your own or in the company of one of the outfitters included here and chances are that you’ll come away agreeing with Tim Thomsen that, it is one of the most inspiring things you can ever to

Alaska Glacier Bay Whale Watching

Whales: Humpback, Minke, Orca, Blue

Season: June-August

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Glacier Bay, Click Here

A few dozen humpbacks call the waters of Glacier Bay and the surrounding Icy Straits home all year round but between June and September, many more come to this area to feed. They return to Hawaii and other warmer waters for the winter.

Outfitters Providing Glacier Bay, Alaska, Whale Watching Tours

Alaska Juneau

Whales: Humpback, Orca

Season April to November

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations incuding Juneau, Click Here

Humpback whales travel to the Juneau area for feeding in the nutrient rich waters.

Outfitters Providing Juneau, Alaska, Whale Watching Tours

Alaska Shore Excursions Juneau Whale Watching Tours

This outfitter guarantees whale sightings or a full refund.

Alaska Kodiak Island Best Whale Watching

Whales: Gray, Fin, Humpback, Sei

Season: April, June to November

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Kodiak Island, Click Here

Migration begins in April starting with the Gray whale. Fin, Minke, Humpback and Sei arrive in June. Fins and Humpbacks present June through November.

Charter boats are available for whale watching. Whales are visible from cliff sides or beaches on Kodiak Island including Miller Point at Ft. Abercrombie State Park. Surfer Beach and Fossil Beach in Pasagshak are good whale watching spots. Whale watchers can look down on whales swimming under the cliffs along Chiniak Highway.

Outfitters Providing Kodiak Island, Alaska, Whale Watching Tours

Adventures in Kodiak

California Big Sur

Whales: Humpback, Blue, Gray

Season: Year Round

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Big Sur, Click Here

Blue and Humpback whales hunt for the plentiful krill in the waters around Big Sur, California. Gray whales pass the Big Sur Coastline twice a year on their migration route between Mexico and Alaska. Gray whales swim relatively close to shore and they can sometimes be viewed from coastal cliffs or private boats. A trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park leads to a point where great whale watching is possible. View an Interactive Map of Gray Whales Migration Route that includes 20 observation routes along the Pacific Coast where people are watching and reporting on Gray Whale migration.

Outfitters Providing Big Sur, California, Whale Watching Tours

Big Sur Lodge Whale Watching

California Monterey Bay

Whales: Blue, Gray, Humpback

Season: Year Round

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Monterey Bay, Click Here

The Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon is close to shore at Moss Landing. Gray Whales and other shallow water species are spotted close to shore in the narrow shelf region. View an Interactive Map of Gray Whales Migration Route that includes 20 observation routes along the Pacific Coast where people are watching and reporting on Gray Whale migration.

Outfitters Providing Monterey Bay, California, Whale Watching Tours

Monterey Bay Whale Watch. The outfitter is Observation Post #9 on Journey North, a website that tracks the migration patterns of Gray Whales and other species. Observers along the route provide news of Gray Whale migrations between Baja, California to northern Alaska.

California San Diego

Whales: Gray, Blue, Fin

Season: Mid-December to Mid-March, Mid-June to September

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including San Diego, Click Here

Every year Gray whales migrate in waves from nursery lagoons in Mexico to feeding grounds in the Arctic. The 10,000-mile round-trip journey is one of the longest migration routes on any mammal on earth. The route takes them past the western overlooks of the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego. View an Interactive Map of Gray Whales Migration Route that includes 20 observation routes along the Pacific Coast where people are watching and reporting on Gray Whale migration.

Outfitters Providing San Diego, California, Whale Watching Tours

San Diego Whale Watch

California Santa Barbara

Whales: Gray, Blue, Minke, Humpback

Season: February to early April, May to September

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Santa Barbara, Click Here

27 different species of whales visit the Santa Barbara Channel throughout the year. From May through November it is the prime northern feeding ground for Blue Whales and Humpback Whales. The Gray Whale migration between Mexico and Alaska passes through the channel. View an Interactive Map of Gray Whales Migration Route that includes 20 observation routes along the Pacific Coast where people are watching and reporting on Gray Whale migration.

Outfitters Providing Santa Barbara, California, Whale Watching Tours

Condor Express

The outfitter has been a part of the Santa Barbara waterfront scene since 1973.

Hawaii Maui

Whales: Humpback

Season: December to April

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Maui, Click Here

McGregor Point lookout west of Maalaea and the beaches of Kaanapali, Kihei, and Wailea are locations on Maui where Humpbacks can be seen regularly during the season.

Outfitters Providing Maui, Hawaii, Whale Watching Tours

Pacific Whale Foundation

Maine Bar Harbor

Whales: Fin, Minke, Right

Season: Mid-April to October

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Bar Harbor, Click Here

Humpback, Pilot, Minke, and Finback whales are among the area’s regular visitors. Sei, Sperm, Orcas and Right whales visit occasionally. The huge mammals feed and play 20 miles off the Maine coast between mid-April to October when they head south for warmer water.

Outfitters Providing Bar Harbor, Maine, Whale Watching Tours

Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company

Massachusetts Cape Cod and Stellwagen Bank

Cape Code is close to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Whales: minke, fin, humpback

Season: April to October

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Cape Cod, Click Here

Stellwagen Bank is one of 14 sites in the National Marine Sanctuary System that includes Monterey Bay, Channel Islands, Hawaii Humpback Whale, Gray’s Reef, and the Florida Keys. Stellwagen Bank is a 842-square mile protected area at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. The World Wildlife Fund has called it one of the 10 most important whale watching sites in the world. Whales gather here because of the availability of food.

Outfitters Providing Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Whale Watching Tours

SeaSalt Charters

New York Long Island

Whales: Fin, Humpback, Minke, Sperm, North Atlantic Right, Blue, Sei

Season: July to early September

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Long Island, Click Here

Fin, Humpback, Minke, Sperm, North Atlantic Right, Blue and Sei whales gather in the waters off Long Island between July and early September to feed on schools of herring, sand eels and Marine crustaceans.

Outfitters Providing Long Island, New York, Whale Watching Tours

Viking Fleet Whale Watching

This outfitter is located in Montauk Harbor and provides other on-water experiences.

Oregon Depoe Bay

Whales: Gray

Season: Mid-December to June

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including Depot Bay, Click Here

Depoe Bay is called the “Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast.” Whales can be viewed here almost all year round. Gray Whales pass Depoe Bay on their migration route between the warm water lagoons of northern Mexico and the summer feeding grounds in Alaskan Waters. View an Interactive Map of Gray Whales Migration Route that includes 20 observation routes along the Pacific Coast where people are watching and reporting on Gray Whale migration. Some of the Gray Whales don’t migrate all the way north and spend from late June to the end of October in Depoe Bay.

Outfitters Providing Depoe Bay, Oregon, Whale Watching Tours

Tradewinds Charters Whale Watching

Washington San Juan Islands

Whales: Orcas, Gray, Minke, Humpback,

Season Mid-April to Early October

For an Interactive Map of Best Whale Watching Locations including the San Juan Islands, Click Here

The 128 San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington provide one of the best locations in America for Orca whale watching. Three pods or families of Orcas return to the islands each year where they travel up to 100 miles a day feeding on salmon. In addition to that some transit Orcas that come to the islands to scavenge for seals as well as salmon. All in all, there are some 85 to 100 Orcas that inhabit the San Juan Islands from Mid-April to Early October.

See a Directory of All Whale Watching Outfitters in Washington’s San Juan Islands

Whales spotted at these 13 Whale Watching Locations

BLUE WHALE. 98 feet long and weighing over 200 tons the Blue Whale is the largest mammal on Earth and the largest known to have ever existed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIN WHALE Length: 89 feet; Weight: 126 tons. The Fin Whale is the second largest animal after the Blue Whale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRAY WHALE Length 49 feet; Weight 40 tons; Life Span between 55 and 70 years. Migrates along the U.S. Pacific coast between breeding grounds in Mexico and feeding in Alaska.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HUMPBACK WHALE Length 39-52 feet; Weight 79,000 pounds. Males produce a song that lasts from 10 to 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MINKE WHALE Length 23 feet; Weight up to 11 tons. The Minke Whale is the second smallest whale after the pigmy Right Whale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ORCA WHALES Males are from 20 to 26 feet long and weigh approximately 6.6 tons. Orcas are a member of the dolphin family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEI WHALE Length up to 64 feet, Weight up to 31 tons. Can swim at speeds of up to 31 mph over short distances.

 

Brown's Guide
About Brown's Guide 195 Articles
Brown’s Guides is a website about the top outdoor experiences in America and about the professional outfitters and guides who know them best. Hiking, biking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and over 100 other outdoor activities are indexed on the site. BG has been doing this type of thing since 1972 in books, magazines, maps and on the Internet.

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