- 1. San Juan Islands, Washington State
- 2. Juneau, Alaska
- 3. Maui, Hawaii
- 4. Monterey, California
- 5. San Diego, California
- 6. Depoe Bay, Oregon
- 7. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
- 8. Bar Harbor, Maine
- 9. Long Island, New York
- 10. Cape May, New Jersey
- 11. Virginia Beach, Virginia
- 12. Jacksonville, Florida
- 13. Have a Whale of a Time
12 Best Destinations in the U.S. for Whale Watching
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The whale is one of the world’s most elusive and sought-after animals. These majestic giants intrigue us for many reasons. It may be because whales are rather similar to us humans. They nurture each other, form friendships, grieve, play, sing and cooperate with one another. We're also enamored with whales for their sheer size. The blue whale is the world’s largest animal; its heart is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
To get a glimpse of one of these beautiful mammals is to be transported into a world of the unknown. There are many places for such an opportunity; here are 12 of the best destinations in the US for whale watching:
1. San Juan Islands, Washington State
When to Go: Mid-April to Early-October
Whales You’ll See: Orca, Gray, Minke, and Humpback
The San Juan Islands are one of the best places to get a glimpse of an orca, especially in fall. You’ll also have the chance to spot humpbacks, minkes, and gray whales. While there, make sure to visit Lime Kiln Point State Park, better known as “Whale Watch Park.” It has been touted as one of the best places on earth to view migrating whales.
2. Juneau, Alaska
When to Go: April to November
Whales You’ll See: Humpback and Orca
Visit the capital of Alaska for an opportunity to be one with the whales. Some whales stay in the area year-round, but the best time to observe them is between May and September. Humpbacks and orcas are the most popular to travel through Alaskan waters. The best places to see these giants from land is Amalga Harbor or the Rainforest Trail. For a more personal experience, reserve a spot on a whale-watching cruise.
3. Maui, Hawaii
When to Go: December to April
Whales You’ll See: Humpback
Maui is one of the world's best locations to view the mysterious humpback. The shallow waters are highly populated with these beautiful creatures in December, during mating season. If you're lucky, you may see a baby humpback swimming alongside its mother.
4. Monterey, California
When to Go: Year-Round
Whales You’ll See: Humpback, Killer, Blue, and Gray
Monterey Bay is a great place to spot whales without having to go out to sea. Expect to see humpbacks March through November and blue whales May through October. Gray whales migrate through Monterey December through May, while killer whales can be viewed April through May and again in August through October.
5. San Diego, California
When to Go: Mid-December to Mid-March
Whales You’ll See: Gray, Blue, and Fin
In San Diego, not only are there plenty of options to see whales, but also a multitude of other thrilling activities to enjoy. The coastline is vibrant year-round with whale activity, especially from mid-December through April, when gray whales migrate from their feeding grounds in Alaska. To witness this spectacle, book a whale-watching tour or head over to the western overlook of Cabrillo National Monument, a prime spot to see blue, gray, or fin whales in the Pacific Ocean. Among other notable attractions in San Diego, the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, historic Gaslamp Quarter, beautiful Balboa Park, and the stunning beaches at La Jolla Cove offer memorable experiences for every traveler.
6. Depoe Bay, Oregon
When to Go: Year-Round
Whales You’ll See: Gray, Blue, and Humpback
Depoe Bay is a small, quaint town on the coast of Oregon that is known for its whale sightings. You can find a resident pod of gray whales through the months of March to December. View them, along with other species, from the Whale Watch Center, observation points along the shore, or on a charter boat.
7. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
When to Go: April to October
Whales You’ll See: Minke, Fin and Humpback
Cape Cod is a premier location in the U.S. to whale watch. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is a protected area that stretches from Cape Ann to Cape Cod. Even the local cruises guarantee a 99% whale-spotting success rate. If seeing a whale in its natural habitat is on your bucket list, Cape Cod offers a great opportunity.
8. Bar Harbor, Maine
When to Go: Mid-April to October
Whales You’ll See: Fin, Minke, Sperm, Right, Sei and Humpback
The Gulf of Maine, in the charming town of Bar Harbor, is an ideal habitat for whales to find plenty of food. Take a whale-watching tour in the Atlantic, or if you would rather stay on land, visit Acadia National Park to get a good view of these lovable giants. Just remember to bring your binoculars!
9. Long Island, New York
When to Go: July to September
Whales You’ll See: Finback, Humpback, Sei, Right, Sperm and Blue
You’ll find at least 25 different species of whales feeding from the abundant coastline off of Long Island. Set sail from Montauk for an exciting whale-watching experience where you’ll not only have the chance to see whales but dolphins, seals, and sea turtles, as well.
10. Cape May, New Jersey
When to Go: Year-Round
Whales You’ll See: Humpback, Finback, and Right
Most of the whales near Cape May aren’t migratory; they visit the local waters to feed, which offers a great opportunity to view them year-round. Reserve a spot with the Research Center, and become a Citizen Scientist for a few hours while you assist a team with ongoing research.
11. Virginia Beach, Virginia
When to Go: December to March
Whales You’ll See: Humpback
Humpback whales love the warm waters near Virginia Beach. The best time to see one would be mid-January, though they have been spotted as early as December. Book a tour in the Atlantic Ocean to have a chance to see a humpback up close and personal as they flop their tails high in the sky.
12. Jacksonville, Florida
When to Go: November to April
Whales You’ll See: North Atlantic Right
Right whales, also known as black whales, got their name because it was deemed, at the time, as the “right” whale to hunt. Hunters and climate change have sadly made these whales one of the world’s most endangered species. The best time to get a glimpse of these special animals is mid-December in and around Jacksonville.
Have a Whale of a Time
Getting a chance to see a whale is an exciting and breathtaking adventure. There are plenty of opportunities in the U.S. for such an event, with the best times occurring in the fall and winter months.
That being said, it’s important to be prepared for your whale-watching journey with proper gear such as a rain jacket, water-resistant pants, rain boots, and a waterproof bag for your camera. (If you're into nature photography, check out our Guide to Nature Photography Clothing & Personal Gear!)
Have fun and safe travels as you have an experience of a lifetime with the giants of the sea!
For more wildlife viewing opportunities, check out the 8 Once-in-a-Lifetime North American Wildlife Viewing Adventures.
Featured Image - Humpback whale near Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Photo by Todd Cravens..