🐋 The 5 Best San Diego Whale Watching Tours [2023 Reviews]

No need to practice your whale calls, because these tour companies have proven to be experts in spotting the gentle giants.

San Diego is full of fun and adventure, but if you don’t try a whale watching tour, you’re missing out big time! Each excursion offers something a little bit different, from those who want to feel like they’re in a Discovery Channel show to those who just want to try something new.

There’s something for everyone, regardless of background and interests. We’ve done the hard part for you, bringing you the top San Diego whale watching tours available. That’s jump right in! If you looking to take a dinner cruise in San Diego harbor, see our dinner cruise recommendations.

Best Whale Watching Cruises in San Diego

San Diego Whale Watching CruisePrivate Family Whale & Dolphin Adventure in San DiegoSan Diego Whale Watching Tour

Best Adventure Tour

Best Private Tour

Best Budget Tour

editors choice
Departure:2050 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego1441 Quivira Rd, San Diego1617 Quivira Rd, San Diego
Start:Between 9:00 AM & 2:00 PM9:30 PM, 11:30 AM, 1:30PM9:00 AM, 12:00 PM
Duration:4 hours3 hours2 to 3 hours
Includes:Sodas and snacks, whale sighting guarantee: if you don't see a whale, you get to come back for freePrivate tour, enclosed cabin, commentary on the local wildlife, bottled water, safety equipmentMarine biologists on board

Tour Information & Booking

Tour Information & Booking

Tour Information & Booking

Quick Answer: The 5 Best Rated San Diego Whale Watching Cruises For 2023

  1. San Diego Whale Watching Sailing Cruise
  2. Private Family Whale & Dolphin Adventure in San Diego
  3. San Diego Whale Watching Tour
  4. Dolphin & Whale Watching Sunset Cruise
  5. San Diego Whale Watching Cruise

San Diego Whale Watching Tour Reviews

1. San Diego Whale Watching Sailing Cruise

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Departure: 2050 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego
  • Departure Time: Between 9:00 AM & 2:00 PM
  • Includes: Sodas and snacks, whale sighting guarantee: if you don’t see a whale, you get to come back for free, no seasickness’ guarantee, free parking

If you have a few extra bucks and some spare time, why not take you and your crew out on the water for some finback spotting? The San Diego Whale Watching Cruise is one of the lengthier ones, lasting 4 hours. Oh, and it takes place on undoubtedly one of the coolest vessels in the city!

That’s right – for those history buffs out there, you’re going to love whale watching from a replica of a historic sailing schooner from 1851!

As you may already know, San Diego is a big US Navy city, so it’d be a shame not to incorporate that in the experience! Your expert guide shows all kinds of US Navy sites along the way (Naval Air Station, Point Loma Navy Base, and more), offering interesting commentary with each site!

Don’t think they’ll leave out anything regarding sea life, either. Your head is going to be packed with so much information about gray whales, dolphins, and other marine critters! The classic sailing vessel is a super smooth ride, so feel free to enjoy the complimentary snacks and bevs on board as you cruise along!

Whale sightings are guaranteed, and with the spacious decks, you have plenty of unobstructed viewing space! The crew’s sharp eyes will point out any in the area, so everyone gets to partake in this cool experience.

Whales, dolphins, sea lions, birds, and more – this fantastic cruise was made perfect thanks to the friendly, professional crew who made sure everyone had a wonderful time!

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

Other Experiences You May Enjoy:

2. Private Family Whale & Dolphin Adventure in San Diego

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Departure: 1441 Quivira Rd, San Diego
  • Departure Time: 9:30 PM, 11:30 AM, 1:30PM
  • Includes: Private tour, enclosed cabin, commentary on the local wildlife, bottled water, safety equipment

Next up, is the Private Family Whale & Dolphin Adventure in San Diego. Are you interested in learning about local wildlife and ecosystem in a VIP/exclusive tour format? Get close to the action with this in-depth, fun-filled adventure perfect for spending a morning or afternoon!

When going out on a whale or dolphin-watching tour for the first time, many people get nervous about what to expect.

You may wonder if you’re going to see any animals at all, or if you are going to get seasick. We found this tour to be top-notch, with a smooth sail the entire way and plenty of critters to observe and learn about!

There are various start times available, and as the tour lasts 3 hours, it’s easy to fit into any schedule. Before leaving the dock, your captain will give everyone a safety briefing to ensure each participant feels secure and comfortable.

Don’t hesitate to ask any questions, as they’re really friendly and knowledgeable with over 14 years of experience.

As it is a private tour, it’s just the crew and your family or friends along for the ride. They’ll take you out right into the center of things, where you may just find yourself in the middle of a huge dolphin pod or family of whales!

Sea lions are also no strangers, and love making surprise appearances. The crew will teach you all about these guys, making it all the more memorable.

If you’re on the search for an activity perfect for the entire family, this tour is perfect for people of all ages!

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

3. San Diego Whale Watching Tour

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 2 to 3 hours
  • Departure: 1617 Quivira Rd, San Diego
  • Departure Time: 9:00 AM, 12:00 PM
  • Includes: Marine biologists on board

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a lot of fun. In fact, this next tour is one of the most budget-friendly activities that offers the best bang for your buck!

The San Diego Whale Watching Tour will get you out to the best spots along the Pacific coast for spotting tons of whales, dolphins, and other sea creatures!

We typically think of whale-watching tours as a kind of hit-or-miss, as you can never guarantee the animals make an appearance. However, these guys really know their stuff and seem to know exactly when and where to cruise to find them.

We really appreciated that they placed focus on making sure they keep the animals safe, too. Before heading out, your captain will offer a comprehensive safety briefing to ensure everyone has a great time and is on the same page.

You’ll also have a naturalist/marine biologist on board to offer educational commentary over the sound system along the way! This is one of the coolest, most efficient ways to learn about the local wildlife and ecosystems.

With just a 10-minute journey from the bay to the open ocean, you don’t have to worry about feeling poorly, either. The bulk of tour time is really spent out there, appreciating the natural beauty San Diego is known for.

You’ll see whales, dolphins, and other marine life hanging out comfortably in their natural environments. The only thing that we felt could have been improved upon was the efficiency in the boarding process, but the fantastic experience we have after boarding really made that nearly irrelevant.

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

4. Dolphin & Whale Watching Sunset Cruise

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 2 hours to 2.5 hours
  • Departure: 1617 Quivira Rd, San Diego, CA 92109, USA
  • Departure Time: 3:00 PM, 5:00 PM
  • Includes: Certified guide

San Diego is always beautiful – trust us on that one! However, if you really want to experience it in all its glory, you must be on the ocean during sunset. The Dolphin & Whale Watching Sunset Cruise offers all that and more!

Looking for a fun yet unique, romantic date night? You can’t get better than sailing along the calm Pacific coastline while the red-and-gold sunset reflects off the water. Oh, and did we mention whales and dolphins will be hanging out with you?

The crew and captain are incredibly knowledgeable, with decades of experience between them. They know all the best spots to go to make sure you see these beautiful animals while ensuring everyone’s safety.

As you enjoy the view, listen to interesting facts and personal anecdotes about the local marine life from the crew. Rather than high-speed, high-intensity tours, this ride is relaxing and designed so you really get to soak it all in.

Make sure to bring a jacket and wear layers, as it can get chilly at this time. Rest assured that on the off chance you don’t see any whales or dolphins, you’ll receive a free pass to come on board and try another tour.

Sea lions seem to really enjoy being around people, and they seem to make an appearance just about every tour.

Your certified guide will educate you on all these amazing creatures who live just right there! Lasting 2 hours, you’re sure to be more entertained here than on your average dinner outing!

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

5. San Diego Whale Watching Cruise

Tour Highlights:

    • Duration: 3 hours
    • Departure: 990 N Harbor Dr, San Diego
    • Departure Time: 9:30 AM
    • Includes: Inside and outside seating

Here’s yet another budget-friendly tour ideal for the entire family, group outings, or just an awesome date idea. The San Diego Whale Watching Cruise is one of the most comprehensive we’ve had the pleasure of participating in. Feel that fresh sea breeze blowing through your hair, enjoy the friendly company, and the anticipation of seeing these incredible animals!

Honestly, this is one the most memorable tours out there. A lot of tours just seem to be missing something, whether that be attention to detail, customer service, or friendliness.

The captain and guides were so funny and knowledgeable, the ride was pleasant, and they even include a nice snack bar to munch while enjoying the view.

Not to mention, they offer multiple restrooms so everyone is comfortable! If you have a tendency of getting seasick, it’s a smart idea to bring medication as waves can get a bit on the big side (depending on the time of day and year).

Your cruise for the 3-hour excursion will be a 2-story yacht offering full 360 views of the Pacific. With onboard, complimentary wi-fi, you can livestream or stay connected with those on shore. Share photos and videos of these amazing animals without delay!

Aside from your captain, you’ll also have a guide on board who is an expert in grey whale migratory patterns. They know exactly where and how to search for them, teaching everyone about them along the way. If you don’t see any, you’re guaranteed a free ride again.

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

San Diego Whale Watching Tips

San Diego Whale Watching Tips

Dress in Layers

Even if you feel like it’s hot in the city or even on the beach, it’s not the same once you get out on the water. The open-air ocean can get really windy and chilly.

However, you don’t want to go full-on parka mode. We recommend wearing layers so you can add or subtract as you go. It’s always a good idea to have waterproof outer layers as sometimes water may make its way on board.

Be Patient

Many whales have downtimes of close to 10 minutes, so if you don’t immediately see them, don’t feel discouraged. If you do see a whale and it disappears, make note of which direction it was swimming when you saw it and follow your line of sight in that direction.

Choose a Viewing Site

Choose a viewing site and stay there. Moving around usually doesn’t increase your odds of spotting a whale. When it doubt, however, the captain and crew will help point out critters to you. Onboard naturalists are a great resource to have, as they’re experts in the nature and habits of whales and are great at spotting them.

Tips on Photographing Whales

These gentle giants of the ocean are some of the most amazing creatures on the planet. Capturing them in a photograph is a challenge, but capturing the perfect photo can be truly breathtaking. Here are five tips on how to take great pictures of whales that will help you get the perfect shot!

  • Bring the right equipment: First, you’ll need the right equipment. A high-quality camera with a zoom lens is essential, as whales can be quite far away and difficult to get close to. A polarizing filter can also be useful for reducing glare and improving the color of the water.
  • Look for activity: Once you’re out on the water, keep an eye out for any signs of whale activity. Look for spouts of water or the movement of fins and tails. Be patient and don’t be afraid to wait for the perfect shot.
  • Keep your distance: Your captain will not be able to get too close unless you are doing a private tour. Whales are wild animals and it’s important to respect their space. Use your zoom lens to get as close as possible without disturbing the whale.
  • Frame your picture: When taking your shot, try to capture the whale’s unique characteristics and behavior. Are they breaching, diving, or playing? These moments are what make each photo unique and special.
  • Experiment: Finally, don’t be afraid to try taking pictures with different angles and lighting. A shot from below the surface of the water can provide a different perspective, and the golden light of sunset can create a stunning effect.

While whales are pretty large, they’re definitely not slow! GoPros can be perfect for tours like this, as you can set them to record the entire time so you don’t miss even a second! If using your phone, we highly recommend setting it to video mode so you see them breaching, or even a fin making an appearance.

You can use the best frames from the videos if you’re more of a photo lover. It’s never a bad idea to take some time away from the lens, though, and just enjoy the moment. Studies say that you actually remember things more clearly if you aren’t taking photos or videos of whatever you’re doing!

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The San Diego Whale Watching Sailing Cruise is our Editors Choice for the best whale watching tour in San Diego

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Robert Baker

Robert is a content writer and editor at World Guides to Travel where he shares his love for the great outdoors. He also writes in-depth travel blogs for other websites around the world. Robert is passionate about the environment and uses his writing to educate people about the advantages and importance of sustainable living. Robert enjoys creative writing. In 2009, his children’s novel Sally Hemings & the Good Associates won the Children’s Fiction section of the You Write On Book of the Year Award.
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