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Best Time for Whale Watching in San Diego

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A whale is no doubt a majestic presence, and the San Diego area is one of the best places for those who want to get a sight of these giant creatures. While we could jest that something that rivals a house or a jetliner in size would be quite easy to spot, things are hardly that simple.

First, there's the fact that the ocean is pretty big itself, and whales only like to hang out and travel through specific areas. Whale watching enthusiasts can consult a number of online resources to keep track of them or exchange information with fellow enthusiasts through online forums.

However, for those who aren't whale nuts, the best option remains an organized tour. You can probably find whale-watching ships operating most days of the year, but the best time to book one is between late winter and early spring, as the high season for spotting whales runs from December to April. Be warned, though, the schooners most tour operators use have a somewhat limited capacity, so tickets can sell out quickly. Pre-booking some weeks in advance is highly recommended.

Summer is a second peak time for whale watching, as the ever-popular blue whale can be seen in the San Diego area mostly between May and August

Month by month breakdown of whale activity and San Diego region weather

  • January has an average high of 66 F with 6 rainy days generally expected. This is a great time to see gray whales, humpback whales, and dolphins.
  • February is an even better time for gray whale sightings, as their migration patterns take them just off the coast of San Diego. There's a lesser chance to spot dolphins or humpback whales, but the possibility shouldn't be excluded. The average high is 66 F, and 7 rainy days are usually expected.
  • March is another great month for Gray whales sightings as the whales continue their migration around the coast.
  • April brings an improvement to the weather, with a medium-high of 68 F and 4 rainy days. This is still a good month for gray whale sightings, but you'll have lower chances than in peak season. On the other hand, you might get a glance at a mother gray with her calf.
  • May is the start of the season for blue whales sighting. Highs average 70 F and 3 rainy days are generally expected in the San Diego area.
  • June also gets a little warmer at 72 F. There's extremely little precipitation in the region during this time, so there is little risk for heavy rain interfering with your trip while the blue whale peak season continues.
  • July is still a great month for the blue whale, and the best time to spot the fin whale. Other possible sightings include the usual humpback whales and dolphins. Summer really gets into its own with an average high of 75 F and almost no rain.
  • The end of August is the last call at a good chance of spotting the blue whale. Weather gets warmer, with an average high of 79 F.
  • September marks the end of the blue whale season. You might be lucky enough to spot a blue whale in September, but it's far from a guarantee, even when going on multiple tours. Mercury drops to 77 F.
  • October is far from a good month for whale spotting, although the usual humpback whales and pods of dolphins can still be encountered on a regular tour. The average height drops to 75 F.
  • November is the peak season for the humpback whale as they start their southern migration. The weather starts to get significantly colder, with average highs of 70 F and 4 rainy days in a usual year.
  • December marks the start of the Grey whale season, as they migrate. You might also see humpbacks, various other species, and dolphins. Temperatures drop to a high average of 66 F.

Whale Watching Tips for The Best Experience

Besides the season and the weather, there are a few other things to keep in mind when whale watching

  • Choose the right time - The best time for whale watching is in the morning when the ocean is most calm.
  • Be Patient - Most tours last between 3,5 and 4 hours, which is plenty of time for more than one whale spotting so be patient and don't get discouraged if it takes a while for the whales to make their presence felt.
  • Be properly equipped - On the outer decks, you have the best chances of spotting whales so be sure to come equipped with some warm clothing and waterproof gear.
  • Have your camera ready - You shouldn't look only at your lens so you can enjoy the experience but make sure you have your camera ready because you never know when you will catch a breathtaking appearance.

In the very unlikely event, you won't see any whales during the trip, most tour operators offer a voucher for an additional go as compensation. This is something to look for when choosing a tour operator.

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