gray whale jumping on sea at daytime
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

5 Best Whale Watching Tours in San Diego in 2024


You’re in the right place because the 5 best San Diego whale-watching tours are all featured here.

I have vetted all the tours in this article to make sure they’re highly rated and well-reviewed — so all you have to do is book a whale-watching tour and enjoy!

blue whale on sea

Don’t have time to read the full article? Book this Whale Watching Cruise — with a near-perfect 5-star rating.

Want to enjoy a whale-watching tour on a sailing yacht or a former military boat? Looking to experience an exciting whale-watching adventure in San Diego with just your loved ones?

With numerous San Diego whale-watching tours available, it can be challenging to determine which ones offer the best experience. That’s where I come in!

Below, you’ll find 5 top-rated San Diego whale-watching tours, ensuring you make the right choice when reserving your next adventure.

5 Best Whale Watching Tours in San Diego

4.5-hr Sailing Yacht San Diego Whale Watching Cruise

whale's tail sticking out of the ocean during day
Book this whale-watching cruise on a replica sailing schooner in San Diego with a ‘no seasickness’ guarantee. It’s one of the best San Diego whale-watching tours!

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length: 4 hours | Check Rates and Availability

If you’re dreaming of an authentic nautical experience in San Diego, set your sights on the San Diego Whale Watching Cruise, especially if you fancy sailing aboard a replica of the historic schooner that clinched victory in the very first America’s Cup in 1851.

Commencing your journey from the heart of San Diego, the sailing ship “America” takes you into the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. This unique voyage promises not just the thrill of sailing, but an educational trip led by seasoned guides who’ll illuminate you on the majestic gray whales, playful dolphins, and myriad marine life you’re bound to encounter.

The crew was awesome and the boat was beautiful. We did get to see a whale and pod of dolphins. I recommend this tour to anyone. Couldn’t have been a better day on the water.


The best part? Their confidence in giving you an awe-inspiring experience is backed by a whale sighting guarantee. If the ocean giants remain elusive, they offer you another chance, allowing you to join a complimentary whale-watching cruise during the season.

Additionally, “America” is proud to provide a ‘No Seasickness’ guarantee, making the journey smooth and comfortable for everyone on board.

If you are a couple looking for romantic things to do in San Diego, or a family looking to learn about marine life, this is the right tour for you!

3-hr San Diego Whale Watching Tour from Mission Bay

black and white whale tail on blue ocean water during daytime
Go on a 3-hour whale-watching cruise in San Diego departing from Mission Bay. Spot whales and dolphins with the help of marine biologists onboard.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length: 2 to 3 hours | Check Rates and Availability

Embark on a captivating 3-hour whale-watching journey in San Diego. Starting from the picturesque Mission Bay, you’re a mere 10 minutes away from the vast open ocean, a haven for majestic whales and playful dolphins.

Everyone was very knowledgeable and we saw an amazing pod of Dolphins within minutes of being out in open water!! The Captain maneuvered the boat so we were right with them swimming! 


Onboard marine biologists enhance your experience, guiding your gaze to spot these marine wonders and diving deep into intriguing insights about their oceanic lives.

Navigate the pristine waters, assured that the skilled boat captain and biologists know exactly where nature’s magic unfolds.

If you’re looking for an educational marine tour in San Diego, this is it!

Private Family Whale & Dolphin Adventure in San Diego

photo of black whale in ocean during daytime
The private boat tour is the ultimate way to witness whales and dolphins.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars | Tour Length: 3 hours | Check Rates and Availability

Embark on an exclusive private boat tour to witness the breathtaking marine life of San Diego’s waters. Tailored just for your group, enjoy the comfort of an enclosed cabin, climb to an observation tower for an unobstructed view, and benefit from onboard amenities like a restroom.

The beautiful views our family saw, we will cherish them forever. Captain Rich was very knowledgable and went the extra mile to ensure we enjoyed our trip.


With an expert USCG-certified captain at the helm, navigate the spots renowned for marine sightings. As you journey, the captain offers enlightening insights about the vibrant marine ecosystem surrounding you.

Experience the unparalleled beauty of whales, dolphins, and other oceanic wonders. With over 14 years of excellence, this “VIP/Private” tour promises to immerse you in the heart of marine magic, ensuring a front-row seat to nature’s spectacle.

Dubbed the “Best VIP/Private Whale Watching Experience in San Diego“, it’s a memory-maker waiting to happen.

22′ Zodiac Expedition-Style Boat Whale and Dolphin Watching in San Diego

whale jumping over the sea during daytime
Witness the majestic Blue, Grey, Fin, and Humpback whales in action as they devour krill and small marine creatures.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length: 3 hours | Check Rates and Availability

Embark on a truly immersive wildlife experience aboard our 22′ Zodiac expedition boat. Guided by our spirited and knowledgeable Captains, expect not just a tour, but a journey through nature’s marine wonders.

We enjoyed the entire experience! Although the whales were not peeking out, the dolphins were all around us. This is definitely the best choice to be up close and in a small group.


Witness the majesty of Blue and grey whales, the awe-inspiring Humpbacks, and the sleek Fin whales. It’s humbling to be in the presence of the blue whale, the largest creature Earth has ever known, reaching lengths of up to 100 feet.

Explore the underwater world and encounter playful pods of dolphins including Bottlenose and Risso’s varieties.

From the moment you step aboard, it’s evident this isn’t your average whale-watching tour. There are no jostling crowds here; every guest is guaranteed a front-row view of nature’s spectacle.

Beyond the whales and dolphins, uncover a world of sea lions, seals, unique fish, and oceanic birds.

Departing conveniently from Mission Bay, closer to the marine hotspots, let our USCG Licensed Captain guide you to the heart of the wild ocean.

Former Military Boat Whale and Dolphin Watching Experience in San Diego

gray whale jumping on sea at daytime
Experience an exclusive ocean safari in San Diego on fast boats for 6-10 passengers.

Tour Length: 3 hours | Check Rates and Availability

An Unparalleled Ocean Safari Awaits! Visitors can get incredibly close to whales and dolphins any time of the year. San Diego’s most exclusive marine adventure is now available on speedy 6 – 10 passenger boats, ensuring an intimate wildlife encounter.

These former military boats are unmatched in speed and safety. They promise optimal chances of spotting wildlife, virtually zero sea sickness, and panoramic 360-degree views for every passenger. Traditional, slow-paced vessels are a thing of the past with these exhilarating 2.5 – 3-hour wildlife safaris.

The adventures don’t stop at just whales and dolphins. Guests can explore the San Diego Bay, embark on island tours to Mexico, or customize their private charter experience.

Whether choosing the daily public tours or a personalized private journey, every traveler is guaranteed front-row seats to the marine world’s wonders.

Whale Watching Tours in San Diego: FAQs

Is San Diego good for whale watching?

Yes, San Diego is a prime location for whale watching. Throughout the year, the waters off San Diego’s coast attract various species of whales, including gray whales (typically from December to April) and blue whales (usually from June to September).

Additionally, the region is frequented by other marine life such as humpback whales, minke whales, orcas, and several species of dolphins.

Beyond whales, visitors often spot sea lions, seals, and a diverse array of seabirds.

With its favorable geographical position and abundant marine biodiversity, San Diego offers a rich and rewarding whale-watching experience.

blue whale in body of water

What is the best month to go whale watching in San Diego?

The best month to go whale watching in San Diego is December to April for gray whales and June to September for blue whales.

What time of year are orcas in San Diego?

Orcas, or killer whales, are not as commonly sighted in San Diego waters as gray or blue whales. However, they can be spotted at any time of the year.

The most likely times to see orcas in the San Diego area are during the fall. These sightings are often unpredictable and are more sporadic than the regular migrations of gray and blue whales.

Can you see dolphins in San Diego?

Yes, you can see dolphins in San Diego. The waters off San Diego’s coast are home to several species of dolphins. Commonly sighted species include the Pacific white-sided dolphin, common dolphin (both short-beaked and long-beaked varieties), bottlenose dolphin, and Risso’s dolphin.

Dolphin sightings are frequent during whale-watching tours, and these playful marine mammals can often be seen riding the bow waves of boats or playfully leaping through the water.

black dolphin in blue water during daytime

What should I wear for whale watching in San Diego?

When going whale watching in San Diego, it’s essential to dress appropriately for a comfortable experience. Here’s a recommended attire:

  1. Layered Clothing: Even if it’s warm on land, it can get chilly out on the water. Start with a light t-shirt or long-sleeve shirt and layer with a sweater or fleece jacket.
  2. Windproof/Waterproof Jacket: A light, waterproof jacket will help protect you from sea spray and any unexpected drizzles.
  3. Comfortable Pants: Consider jeans or other sturdy pants. If you’re going in warmer months, you might opt for shorts, but remember the open water can be cooler.
  4. Close-Toed Shoes: Non-slip shoes are best. Sneakers or boat shoes are good choices. Avoid sandals or flip-flops.
  5. Hat and Sunglasses: These will protect you from the sun and provide better visibility. A hat with a strap can help keep it from blowing away.
  6. Sunscreen: Even on overcast days, you can get sunburned. Apply good SPF sunscreen, especially to your face, neck, and arms.
  7. Binoculars: If you have them, they can enhance your experience, making it easier to spot whales from a distance.
  8. Backpack: To carry snacks, bottled water, and any personal items.
  9. Camera: For capturing those memorable moments.

Lastly, consider bringing seasickness remedies if you’re prone to motion sickness. It’s always better to be prepared, especially if it’s your first time on a whale-watching tour.

Can you see whales from the shore in San Diego?

Yes, you can see whales from the shore in San Diego, especially during the peak migration seasons. The coastal cliffs and elevated viewpoints along San Diego’s coastline provide vantage points for spotting whales, particularly gray whales as they migrate along the coast.

Popular spots for shore-based whale watching in San Diego include:

  1. Cabrillo National Monument: This elevated spot offers panoramic ocean views and is a favorite during the gray whale migration season.
  2. Torrey Pines State Reserve: The cliffs here provide a great vantage point to see the whales as they pass by.
  3. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park: This coastal area offers beautiful views and occasional whale sightings.

While the experience from shore is different from being on a boat in the midst of the action, with patience and a good pair of binoculars, observers can still witness these majestic creatures on their migratory journey.

whale jumping above water

Do you get wet while whale watching?

While many whale-watching tours will not result in passengers getting completely soaked, it’s always a good idea to wear layers and bring a windproof or waterproof jacket to protect against potential splashes or sea spray.

If you’re on an open boat or zodiac, it might be wise to prepare for the possibility of getting a little wet.

Final Thoughts: Whale-Watching Tours in San Diego

A visit to San Diego is never truly complete without embracing the breathtaking beauty of the Pacific and the marine giants that call these waters home. This city offers some of the most awe-inspiring whale-watching tours, ensuring an unforgettable experience for every traveler.

Whether you’re seeking a tranquil sailing experience or a thrilling high-speed boat ride, there’s something tailored just for you in San Diego.

gray shark fins in sea

If you’re unsure which tour to embark upon, our top recommendation is the Sailing Yacht San Diego Whale Watching Cruise. It offers marine exploration at an affordable price.

This guide showcases the best of San Diego’s whale-watching offerings — including tours that provide insights into marine conservation, and private cruises with enchanting sunset views.

From the majestic blue whales to playful pods of dolphins, these tours present the richness of San Diego’s marine biodiversity.

Now the ball’s in your court. Which of these San Diego whale-watching tours will you dive into?

Additional San Diego Travel Blogs

The Mission Beach boardwalk
Mission Beach Boardwalk is an iconic place in San Diego.

I’m happy you found this article, as a San Diego whale-watching tour is one of the greatest ways to experience the marine life in San Diego.

If you’re looking for more info on traveling to San Diego, check out these additional San Diego travel guides:

6 Best Segway Tours in San Diego for Families

9 Best Tijuana Day Trips from San Diego

13 Best San Diego Beaches in 2023 (with Map)

8 Best Day Tours from San Diego, California

What to Buy in San Diego: 21 Best Souvenirs in San Diego