Orange County is the prime destination for whale watching in southern California. Almost any day of the year, you can take to the Pacific Ocean and spot dolphins, seals and sea lions, and many other marine mammals and fish.
Grey whales make their way past Laguna Beach and Dana Point during their annual 10,000 mile migration between December and May, and blue whales can be spotted offshore during the summer. To pay homage to the giants that frequent our waters, Dana Point even hosts the annual Festival of Whales.
If you’re looking to get out on the water in search of some local marine life, here are some of the best places to go for whale watching:
Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari
Address: 24440 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629
Hours: 7:30 am to 5 pm daily
Parking: Parking near the Dolphin landing is free but it is first come first serve.
Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari is owned and operated by a husband and wife duo, Captain Dave Anderson, who is Coast Guard licensed, and his wife Gisele. For over twenty years, the pair, along with the help of some majestic mammals, have brought locals and visitors on unforgettable expeditions on the Orange County water.
Dana Point isn’t known as the Whale Watching Capital of the World for no reason, this quaint seaside community has so much to offer and whales are just one of the many marine species you can see on an offshore adventure.
The charter offers various styles of boating from the Zodiac-style private boat to catamaran style boats, making the charter fully customizable to best fit your needs and budget. Whatever your style, be sure to check out Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari next time you’re in Dana Point.
Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching
Address: 34675 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629
Hours: 7 a.m. through 5 p.m. daily
Parking: Dana Point offers free public parking but it is only offered for up to four hours. There is a designated parking lot for Dana Wharf customers and fishermen and the only place you may park with a permit for longer than four hours. Permits are distributed at the counter.
For over fifty-years, Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching has given locals and tourists alike activities like parasailing, private and chartered fishing boats, burials at sea, and whale watching charters, to name a few. Their fleet of boats is as impressive as the activities they offer. Everything from 65-foot fishing boats to sailing yachts to six-person yachts mean that Dana Wharf has a fleet that can suit each passenger or day’s needs. Featuring their landing totals and fish counts, this charter company has everything to offer for the freshest fisherman or the experienced yachtsman.
Known as the “Whale Capital of the West”, whale watching season is year-round with Gray Whale season being the day after Thanksgiving through the end of April with January through March being peak season which also coincides with the annual Festival of Whales. Blue Whale season runs from May through November however, whale watching trips can also feature dolphins, pelicans, or sea lions. Fishing charters go between one and 12 miles from harbor and go as long as the charter is allotted for. Whatever you desire to see, Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching is sure to please.
Address: 400 Main St Newport Beach, CA 92661
Hours: 6 am to 9 pm daily
Parking: Balboa Pier Municipal Lot or the Newport Landing Parking Structure offer parking for all Davey’s Locker customers.
Offering everything from Deep Sea Fishing to Whale Watching, Davey’s Locker is the premier name in Newport Beach. Since 1958, Davey’s Locker has created an opportunity for Orange County guests to enjoy a day on the water and see creatures like giant blue whales, finback whales, and humpback whales, just to name a few.
Not only is the charter perfect for ‘sea-ing’ whales, Davey’s Locker is a well known fisherman’s haven. Davy Jones isn’t sighted around the boats but fish seem to just jump right on. Their five to six hour evening deep-sea fishing charters are popular for novice to expert fishermen. These charters cover over 40 miles of coastal waters for an exciting adventure in offshore fishing!
Whatever you feel like doing, Davey’s Locker is a great opportunity to take in the deep blue ocean Orange County is so well known for!
East Meets West Whale Watching
Address: 509 S Bay Front, Newport Beach, CA 92662
Hours: 7 am-7 pm daily
Parking: East Meets West Whale Watching parking can be found nearby on Balboa Island where the shop is located. Parking is free.
California Seals, dolphins, Blue Whales, and the occasional pod of orcas can be sighted in the Pacific Ocean off Newport Beach with East Meets West Whale Watching.
Limited to six passengers, East Meets West Whale Watching charters are a great way to get out on the water for up to two and a half hours and take in the sun, breezy ocean air and satisfaction knowing that the company’s ‘no worries guarantee’ will ensure your boating excursion will be action packed with majestic sea creatures. Their custom fiberglass boat makes whale watching not only comfortable, but safe and fun as Captain Nick navigates almost magically to where the action is.
Newport Coastal Adventure
Address: 309 Palm Street #A Newport Beach, CA 92661
Hours: 7 am-7 pm daily
Parking: Newport Coastal Adventure recommends visitors park on Balboa island and then take the Balboa Ferry across the harbor. Parking across the way is more accessible and not to mention free.
Check out Goldstar tickets for discounts.
Founded in 2014, Newport Coastal Adventure is a small boat whale watching adventure. Close in proximity to the majestic marine life, this experience creates an intimate first hand whale watching adventure. Newport Coastal Adventure’s boats are twice as fast as other companies according to their website, giving whale watchers a different quest that can’t be found anywhere else. The company boasts their various trip logs on their website to show what kind of animals can be seen during your time on the zodiac fleet.
In 2016 the company became the number one rated Outdoor Activity in Newport Beach by TripAdvisor, so be sure to make a reservation and take on the great blue seas.
Newport Landing Whale Watching
Address: 309 Palm St A, Newport Beach CA 92661
Hours: 8 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday, 5 am to 7 pm Saturday and Sunday
Parking: Don’t use parking meters nearby since they have a two hour limit. Beach/pier parking lots, valet structure, and residential parking are your best bet.
Check out Goldstar tickets for discounts.
Giant blue whales grace Newport Beach in the summer and fall, making these beautiful seasons the best time of year to whale watch. May through November in Southern California comes with warmer water, enticing these mystical creatures. Newport Landing Whale Watching features vessels that are specifically designed for comfort while whale watching which includes a large observation deck to accommodate watching, indoor and outdoor seating, and a snack bar. Newport Landing Whale Watching is a year-round experience and tours from December through April are prime Gray Whale migration season making the experience completely different from May through November.
Whale Watching cruises take sightseers out on the open water from two to two and a half hours depending on the day. Luxury Whale Watching on a catamaran features fewer people and a faster ride. Whatever your style, Newport Landing Whale Watching offers a knowledgeable ride with some of the best boats in the area. You don’t want to miss out on a day on the water!
Address: 670 Lido Park Drive, Newport Beach CA 92663
Hours: 9:30 am to 7 pm daily
Parking: Parking is offered at the parking structure on Newport Blvd or various lots near Lafayette Avenue.
Newport Surfrider offers an opportunity for beach goers and nature enthusiasts to take in the sun and magical creatures like dolphins and whales first hand. This charter offers various options to see these animals including a Sunset Private Cruise where adventurers take in the same great species under orange kissed skies, their Wildlife Adventure cruise where six people can enjoy a private two and a half hour experience, or just relax on the private BYOB two hour harbor cruise.
Address: 3700 Central Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92663
Hours: SoCal Charters is open Sunday through Saturday 8 a.m. through 7 p.m.
Parking: Parking is offered at a nearby structure with a permit as well as in the lot. This is a public dock.
Looking to relax on the California sea? Then head over to SoCal Charters for an intimate day on Newport Harbor. Born out of Captain Jeff’s experience on the water, SoCal Charters gives adventurers the capability to take in the breathtaking views that Orange County is so known for. From various breeds of whales to dolphins and sea lions, SoCal Charters, like so many other charters in the area, is able to offer an interactive action packed day to locals and tourists year-round. The smaller sized boat gives six passengers the opportunity to have a more tailored experience based on what each individual group desires to see and accomplish. Their website suggests that everyone packs light and plan for a 30-minute Tour of Newport Harbor, whatever you are looking for, look no further than SoCal Charters!
Ocean Institute Cruises
Address: 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point, CA 92629
Hours: Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Parking: Parking is located in front and free. Overflow parking can be found adjacently at the Cove Road Parking lot which is also free.
The Ocean Institute features a Whale and Marine Life Tour as well. The two hour tour is aboard the Research Vessel, Sea Explorer. Adventurers can look forward to seeing whales and dolphins as well as sea lions and other native creatures. Sticking with the Ocean Institute’s goal of teaching, this adventure doesn’t disappoint. Sea Star Members can also receive 10 percent off of the standard ticket price. Private charters and special events are also available.
The Ocean Institute features teaching labs as well and includes science labs and tours that are offered both virtually and in-person. The Sea Explorer is a science explorer’s dream. The ship is equipped with underwater cameras, computers, and video microscopes that give everyone aboard the experience of a lifetime. Meanwhile, virtual tours include themes like sharks and rays, upcycled jellies, and tying knots to name a few.
Ocean Explorer Cruises
Address: 400 Main St, Newport Beach, CA 92661
Hours: 8 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. daily
Parking: Parking is located across the street from Ocean Explorer Cruises at 1 Balboa Pier, Newport Beach, CA 92661.
In a sea of cruises and commercial boats, Ocean Explorer Cruises offers a variety of whale watching cruises, sunset excursions, and even holiday jaunts like for the 4th of July fireworks. This company runs year-round, multiple times a day with various adventures across Newport Bay and surrounding areas. Whale watching cruises run for two and a half hours.
As with any outdoor activity in Orange County, a day on the water is full of activities that far surpass the monotony of anywhere else in the world. Due to the nature of migration patterns and the location of Newport, Ocean Explorer Cruises is able to stay open month after month. Fin Whale season is from April through November while December through May is Gray Whale season, making cruises of this kind incredibly active and fun. Be sure to check them out next time you are looking for an adventure on the great blue water!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long is a whale watching trip?
Most whale watching trips are 2 to 3 hours long.
Do you get wet during whale watching?
There is always a chance you could get some sea spray when out on the water but mostly you will not get wet.
What’s the best time of day to go whale watching?
Anytime of the day is best. Whales are always active so choose a time to go on your schedule.
Will I get sea sick whale watching?
Whale watching boats generally offer a smooth ride overall. However, Everyone is different and so are the weather conditions each day. If you are prone to sea sickness, be preventative and take an anti-nausea medicine in advance.
What to wear whale watching?
The general rule is to dress in layers so that you can adjust to temperature changes. A hat, sunglasses, rain jacket or windbreaker and gloves can be worn as well.
What to bring whale watching?
For whale watcing bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, binoculars, camera, extra batteries, water bottle (no glass), snacks, Rubber-soled shoes, rain jacket or windbreaker and gloves (optional).
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Rebecca has an undeniable love of writing and recently graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. She enjoys watching hockey, scuba diving, swimming, and working out.