Our family loves to go whale watching in Southern California. No matter what time of year, there is an abundant variety of marine life to be seen in Southern California, including many types of whales. This post shares everything you need to know to head out and hopefully spy whales in So Cal! Consider yourself extra lucky if you happen to see a blue whale, one of the varieties often sighted here. Only 1% of the world’s population have seen these majestic creatures.
I’m grateful to Dana Wharf Whales for being so close and so wonderful. They are one of Orange County’s oldest Whale Watching tour companies and remain one of the best. You can book whale watching trips with their crew and naturalists, seven days a week. Want to know what their customers have already seen this week? Check out Dana Wharf Whales whale watching log.
Thanks to Dana Wharf Whales for hosting me on my recent tour. All opinions and photography from this trip are my own! Check out Dana Wharf Whales YouTube Channel for amazing footage of all the different species they have spotted in our area!
Whale Watching in Southern California is a Year Round Activity!
It’s always a good time to go whale watching. Whales are spotted all year round! Certain times of the year are better for seeing certain species. But these “rules” are not absolute. Whales can be surprising! You never know what you will see when you head out on a whale watching trip.
Many Types of Whales Can be Seen While Whale Watching in Southern California
There are many different kinds of whales that can and have been spotted off the So Cal coast. Some of these include:
- Blue Whales – The largest whales, most often seen in the summer months
- Gray Whales – Migrate thru the area in Fall/Winter and Early Spring. Often spotted with their calves.
- Fin Whales – Might show up any time!
- Minke Whales – Show up year round
- Humpback Whales – One of the most social and acrobatic whales, they can show up any time.
- Sperm Whales – Rarely seen, but they have been spotted in the area! Check out the video below!
- Killer Whales – Infrequently seen in the Fall/Winter
- Risso’s Dolphins – Seen most often off the coast of Catalina Island
- Common Dolphins – Often spotted in large pods, smaller dolphins who are very acrobatic
- Pacific White Sided Dolphins – Athletic and playful, they love to surf in the wake of boats and often ride alongside the bow
- Bottlenose Dolphins – Larger dolphins, often found closer to shore and near the harbor
Whale Watching in Southern California is for Everyone
Whale watching is a fun activity for all ages! Anyone from a toddler to a senior citizen can enjoy these outings. Dana Wharf’s whale watching trips have both indoor and outdoor seating available. There’s a small cafe for snacks.
Trips are typically 2-2.5 hours in total, which is just long enough to get a good look at several types of marine animals, without getting bored.
You’ll See other Marine Life when Whale Watching in Southern California
Whales and dolphins are only one type of marine animal that you will see when whale watching in Southern California. Other marine animals routinely spotted include:
- Sea Lions
- Harbor Seals
On occasion sharks are even spotted!
Dana Wharf Whales cruises have naturalists aboard their boats. Strike up a conversation and you’ll be sure to learn a lot
Got a question about whales, dolphins or sea lions? Wondering what kind of bird that was that swooped into the water? You’re in luck. Naturalists regularly go out with Dana Wharf Whales whale watching tours.
I had a great time chatting with the naturalist on our last two trips. Naturalists are a wealth of information about local species.
Pack smart when Whale Watching in Southern California
Based on my many successful trips here are the most important things to pack for a Whalewatching trip
- A hat that fits securely (like a beanie or adjustable baseball cap/visor)
- Sunglasses polarized lenses will give you a slight advantage for spotting marine animals.
- Clothing layers that include a long sleeved tee and a windbreaker/jacket
- Comfortable shoes that have a grip and that you can maintain your balance in
- Snacks (see below)
- Water bottle
- Seasick preventatives and remedies, even if you don’t get seasick! I always carry multiple pairs of Seabands, Vertigox anti nausea roller ball oil, dramamine tablets. Better safe than sorry!
- Binoculars ( caution – not to be used by anyone who tends to get seasick!)
- A camera with a spare camera battery. Point and shoot cameras with zoom and sports/wildlife modes are a good choice!
- A fully charged cell phone with a back up battery
Get Your Camera Set up For Whale Watching in Southern California
Taking photos of whales and dolphins is a lot of fun but tricky!
Set yourself up for success by placing your point and shoot camera in a sports, or freeze motion mode. Do this before you go and try taking some practice shots of pets, active children or wildlife on land.
At the very least, before you board or shortly thereafter, set your camera up to shoot in burst mode. This allows you to shoot multiple images at once, increasing the chance that you will “get the shot.”
Try out these features before your trip so that you are confident when the opportunity to take photos happens.
If you are shooting images with your cell phone you can also shoot in burst mode. Another technique is to shoot video, and then pull photos from the frames in the video. You can also film dolphins in slow motion. Sometimes this is the best way to capture their jumps!
You can use Your Cell Phone While Whale Watching in Southern California
Most of the time you are on the boat you won’t be much farther than a mile from shore. Migratory whales hug the coastline. This means you will have plenty of cell service to make phone calls and even live stream your experience on Facetime or Facebook so that your friends and family can see what they are missing.
Post to social media, text your dad! Share the excitement. This is why I always advise a back-up battery.
Pack Snacks and a Water Bottle When Whale Watching in Southern California
Simple salty snacks such as crackers, nuts, cheese and bland cookies are your best best for snacking on the boat. Stay away from sugary and fatty options if you tend to get queasy on boats. Eating can actually help that feeling but not if you consume a high fat or sugary meal in motion.
Regardless of your tendencies and confidence level, always eat a light meal an hour or two before leaving. This ensures your stomach is neither empty or overly full. That way you won’t be distracted by hunger and are far less likely to feel ill.
It’s important to drink water to stay hydrated as the sun and wind can quickly dry you out. Don’t worry about drinking too much water. There are bathrooms on the boat!
Keep Whale Watching in Southern California Even After Your Trip is Over
On my last trip out with Dana Wharf Whales I got the best tip yet from the naturalist aboard!
She urged me to share my photos on Happywhale.com. This amazing site matches your whale photos with other sightings. Here’s my Humpback whale friend that I photographed in all the pictures in this post.
You can “follow” your whale and be notified if it is sighted again. You can even adopt and name a whale. I can’t wait to follow my new friend’s travels!