Whether by land or by sea, San Diego is one of California’s best spots for whale watching. With just a pair of binoculars, you can spot whales from the high bluffs at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserveand the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, both in La Jolla about 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego. And near the historic lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument, Whale Watch Lookout Point sits 420 feet above the waves with a wide field of vision—perfect for spotting whales.
For a closer view, sign up for a whale-watching cruise. A 3-hour trip with San Diego Whale Watch comes with a guarantee—if you don’t see either a whale or a dolphin, you can go out again for free on another day; the same policy is in place at Flagship Whale Watching Cruises. H&M Landing offers local gray-whale tours from December through March; in summer, join an H&M landing journey to the Coronado Islands, a protected marine sanctuary just southwest of San Diego in Mexican waters, to spot blue whales, elephant seals, and orcas too. And Hornblower Cruises has what is perhaps the best option if you are unaccustomed to being on a boat—its yachts are some of the biggest and most stable in the business, and they offer cruises as short as one hour. All whale-watching cruises depart from San Diego Harbor, just a few blocks from the USS Midway Museum.