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Whale Watching in San Diego – tickets, prices, timings, what to expect, FAQs

Edited by: Rekha Rajan
Fact checked by: Jamshed V Rajan


San Diego is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the United States, and for a good reason. 

Known for its warm climate, sandy beaches, and vibrant nightlife, this Southern California city offers many exciting activities for all travelers. 

One such activity that should be on your itinerary is whale watching. 

San Diego’s waters are home to various whale species, and seeing these gentle giants up close is an experience you won’t forget. 

This article covers everything you must know before booking your whale watching tour in San Diego.

What to expect on a Whale Watching tour

San Diego offers several whale-watching tours that take visitors on a thrilling adventure at sea. 

The tours are typically operated by experienced guides knowledgeable about the whales and their behaviors. 

These guides will provide commentary and answer any questions you might have throughout the tour.

The tour’s main attraction, of course, is the whales themselves. 

San Diego’s waters are home to several whale species, including gray, blue, humpback, and even killer whales. 

While sightings can never be guaranteed, visitors on these tours often have a high chance of seeing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

Aside from the whales, there is a lot of wildlife to see on a whale-watching tour in San Diego. 

Visitors can expect to see dolphins, sea lions, and other marine life. 

The tour also offers breathtaking views of the San Diego coastline, making for an unforgettable experience.

Ticket Ticket Cost
San Diego Whale Watching Tour US$65
Dolphin & Whale Watching Sunset Cruise US$65
Private Family Whale & Dolphin Adventure in San Diego US$179 (min 3 adults)

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Where to buy tickets

Tickets for Whale Watching in San Diego are available online or offline.

Online ticket prices tend to be cheaper than tickets at the venue.

When you buy online, you can avoid the long queues at the ticket counters.

When you book early, you also get your preferred time slot.

Because the tour boats can only take a limited number of tourists, these whale watching expeditions can sell out during peak season. Booking early helps avoid last-minute disappointments.

How do online tickets work

Go to the ticket booking page for San Diego whale watching tour, select your preferred travel date, number of tickets, and time slot, and book immediately.

Once you purchase San Diego whale watching tickets, they get delivered to your email address. 

There is no need to get printouts of the ticket. 

You can show the e-ticket on your smartphone and join the tour.

Whale Watching in San Diego ticket prices

Tickets for Whale Watching in San Diego cost US$65 for all adults aged 18 to 64 years. 

Seniors aged 65 and above and children below 17 can purchase the tickets at a discounted rate of US$52.

Whale Watching in San Diego tickets

You can choose from various options based on your budget and convenience while booking whale watching in San Diego tickets.

San Diego Whale Watching Tour

The tour departs from Mission Bay and takes the participants to the open ocean to see whales, dolphins, and other marine life. 

The marine biologists on board assist in spotting the animals and sharing insights into their lives in the ocean. 

The tour includes a convenient departure point.

The tour is not wheelchair accessible, but strollers are allowed, and most travelers can participate.

The San Diego whale watching tour takes two to three hours. 

Ticket Prices

Adult Ticket (18 to 64 years): US$65
Senior Ticket (65+ years): US$55
Child Ticket (1 to 17 years): US$55

The Sunset Whale and Dolphin Watching Tour in San Diego

The sunset whale and dolphin watching tour departs from Mission Bay, taking the participants on a comfortable boat ride to watch the sunset and spot whales and dolphins. 

The knowledgeable crew provides interesting facts and stories about these marine mammals while cruising along the shore. 

The tour includes alcoholic beverages and gratuities; the meeting and end points are the same. 

The tour is not wheelchair accessible, but service animals are allowed, and an adult must accompany the children.

Ticket Prices

Adult Ticket (18 to 54 years): US$65
Senior Ticket (55+ years): US$55
Child Ticket (1 to 17 years): US$55

A Private Boat Tour for Whale and Dolphin Watching

The tour is a private charter for the family or group, and the captain takes them to the best spots to spot the wildlife. 

The boat includes an enclosed cabin, an observation tower, and a restroom. The captain provides an engaging commentary on the local marine ecosystem. 

The meeting point is Tailwalker Whale & Dolphin Adventures, and the endpoint is the same.

The tour includes safety equipment, bottled water, and gratuities. 

A minimum of 3 adult tickets or tickets for the equivalent amount must be purchased.

Ticket Prices

Adult Ticket (13+ years): US$179
Child Ticket (3 to 12 years): US$159

Save time & money! Buy San Diego City Pass and get access to 55+ San Diego activities, tours, cruises, and attractions. Visit SeaWorld, Belmont Park, Hollywood Museum, and many more famous sites, or go for a whale-watching cruise or hiking tour. 

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Departure point for San Diego whale watching 

The departure point for whale watching cruise in San Diego depends on the cruise you book. Remember to check the ticket booking page for the latest information on this.

Whale watching timings in San Diego 

San Diego whale watching cruises set sail all through the day. 

Some cruises start as early as 5 am, and most of the tours last two to three hours.

The sunset whale watching tours are usually the last expeditions of the day.  

How long does the tour take

Whale-watching tours in San Diego usually last two-and-a-half to three hours. 

Depending on the type of whale, their migration, and feeding habits, your boat captain may navigate further out from shore to increase the chances of spotting the magnificent animals. 

Best time of the day for whale watching

The best time to go on a whale-watching cruise is in the morning and late afternoon because whales are most active.

During the morning, whales tend to be more active as they start their day and may feed. So they are easier to spot. 

In the late afternoon, when the sun sets, they become active again as they prepare to rest for the night.

Best time to go on whale watching in San Diego 

The best time to go whale watching in San Diego is between December and April, as this is the time when the gray whales migrate from Alaska to Baja, California. 

Visitors can see these gentle giants swimming near the shore during this time.

However, San Diego has a pleasant climate year-round, making it possible to go whale watching anytime. 

During the summer, visitors can spot various species of dolphins, sea lions, and other marine animals, making it an ideal time for families with kids to go on a whale-watching tour.

Whale watching: Things to remember

Going on a whale-watching tour is a fun way to try and see some of the biggest animals on Earth in their natural home, the ocean. 

While on the cruise, listen to the guide and watch for these signs that a whale might be nearby:

The Spout (or Blow): A spout is a big spray of water created when a whale comes up to the surface to breathe and blows out warm, moist air. Sometimes, they go up to 15 feet (4.5 m) high and are visible for about 5 seconds. 

The Flukes (or Tail): Whales have a big, fan-shaped tail that helps them go deep into the water. Gray whales have tails about 12 feet (3.6 m) wide, and you might spot them if you’re lucky and the light is good.

Whale’s Footprint: When a whale goes underwater, it leaves a footprint, a smooth oval of calm water on the surface. This footprint can help track the whales without actually seeing them.

Knuckled Back: You might see the whale’s back after it blows air if it’s close to the surface and there’s enough light. 

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FAQs about whale watching in San Diego

Here are some frequently asked questions about whale watching in San Diego.

What should I wear for a whale-watching tour in San Diego?

It is recommended to dress in layers and wear comfortable, waterproof clothing and sturdy, non-slip shoes. Remember to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

Are sightings guaranteed during a whale watching tour in San Diego?

No, sightings cannot be guaranteed. Whales are wild animals, and their movements are unpredictable. However, many tour companies offer a sighting guarantee where they will provide you with another tour for free if you don’t spot any whales during your trip.

Are there any restrictions on whale watching tours in San Diego?

There are rules and regulations that tour operators must follow to ensure the safety of the whales and the people on the boat. After you board the whale watching cruise boat, your captain or the marine biologist will brief you on what to do and what not to do.

How can I increase my chances of seeing whales during a tour in San Diego?

Listen to the guide and be aware of the signs of whale activity, such as spouts or tail flukes. Be patient and keep scanning the horizon. Choosing a reputable tour company with experienced guides and a good track record of sightings is also recommended.

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