America’s Best Whale Watching Destinations
Leave the shore behind and listen to what’s happening beneath the waves—encountering whales in the wild can kick-start your sense of wonder. Join a whale watching cruise to see them breed, play, or snack on plankton, and you’ll learn about the whales’ secret world. Take a whale watching trip to the Hawaiian islands where they’ll be swimming near colorful coral reefs, or hop a flight to Juneau, one of Alaska’s best places to see whales in glacier-chilled waters. Spot a nimble orca in Washington’s San Juan Islands, then head to Monterey, California for a chance to see blue whales, the largest animals on earth. Pods of whales swim up and down the east and west coasts, dazzling whale watching tours as they breach and slap their tails.
Still not sure where to go? We trawled America’s 95,000-mile coastline to find the best whale watching vacation destinations in the country. Next thing you know, you’ll be shouting “there she blows!”
Migrating humpback whales gather from May through September in the nutrient-rich waters off Juneau, one of the best places for whale watching in all of America. Whale watching tours in Juneau troll the Inside Passage, a narrow waterway that makes it easier to spot whales and dolphins as they feed and relax after the long journey from their winter breeding grounds.
Maalaea, Maui, Hawaii
Views of the Maui coast provide a dramatic backdrop during your whale watching trip in Maalaea, a top Hawaiian vacation spot with spectacular wildlife. You can board a catamaran for a Maalaea whale watching cruise, or hit the water with the marine naturalists of the Pacific Whale Foundation, whose whale watching tours support whale research and conservation.
Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington
The San Juan Islands are home to a year-round population of orca whales, whose distinctive black and white profiles grace everything from ancient totem poles to modern-day artwork. That means that every season is whale watching season, but a vacation in the warm months from spring to fall gives you a chance to spot humpbacks, minke whales, and grey whales when you hit the water for a whale watching cruise around the San Juan Islands.
Dropping steeply from the floor of the Monterey Bay, the vast Monterey Submarine Canyon draws the whales close to shore as they feed in the nutrient-rich habitat. Whale watching cruises in Monterey are a great way to sight humpback whales, finback whales, and minke whales, and lucky visitors may even encounter a massive blue whale, the largest animals that have ever existed. Sea-lovers shouldn’t miss the awe-inspiring Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you’ll find everything from abalone to zooplankton.
With easy access to the protected Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, Gloucester is a great destination for East Coast whale watching. Whale watching cruises from Cape Ann frequently spot humpback whales during the whale watching season of May through November, when the whales breach, blow, and sometimes play in the wake of the boats.
Barnstable, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Just a short trip from Boston, Barnstable is a top destination for whale watching on Cape Cod, where you’ll spot humpback whales, minke whales, and finback whales. In-the-know nature lovers come here for the glorious whale watching season that stretches from spring to fall. Whale watching cruises are the best way to spot the mammals here, but keep a sharp eye from the beach and you may catch a glimpse of a passing pod.
San Diego, California
Join the migrating grey whales for a whale watching trip to San Diego, with prime whale watching season extending from mid-December through April. San Diego whale watching tours explore the coast by sailboat and cruise ship, and often include a look at San Diego’s resident seals, dolphins, and sea lions, who love to soak up the sun on the city’s gorgeous beaches.
Waianae, Oahu, Hawaii
While humpback whales are the show-stopping highlight of a whale watching vacation in Waianae, they share a stage with sea turtles, eagle rays, and three species of dolphins—spinner, bottlenose, and spotted. Spot Hawaii’s marine wildlife on a whale watching cruise between December and April, with the option to book a whale watching trip that includes snorkeling above Waianae’s gorgeous coral reefs.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Watch for the humpback whales that slap their tails, leap, and blow off the coast of Bar Harbor, an East Coast whale watching hotspot. Whale watching cruises depart from the picture-perfect downtown, where visitors can browse adorable boutiques, visit ice cream shops, or sit down to a classic Maine lobster dinner with all the fixings.
Depoe Bay, Oregon
Learn all about whale migration and biology at the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center, whose staff help visitors explore all things cetacean. Whale watching tours in Depoe Bay catch up with some of the 20,000 whales that swim the Oregon coast during the whale watching season of March through June, or head to the whales’ feeding grounds to see the humpbacks, minke whales, and orcas that graze between July and October.
Eastsound, Orcas Island, Washington
It’s no surprise that an island named for orca whales sees plenty of black fins swimming by, and picturesque Orcas Island is a favorite whale watching vacation destination in Washington State. With a prime spot in the San Juan Islands, humpbacks, finbacks, and minke whales are often spotted from Eastsound’s whale watching cruises, including a mix of local pods and visiting migrants.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
After a long swim from the chilly Bay of Fundy, humpback whales enjoy the warm waters of Virginia Beach between December and March, making it a great destination for whale watching experiences. Peak whale watching season is in January and February, and pods of dolphins patrol the coast as well— you can spot them on a guided kayak tour or from a stand-up paddleboard.
Cape May, New Jersey
Humpback whales feed on eels and herring off Cape May, an East Coast whale watching destination with a long season that extends all the way from March through December. Cape May whale watching tours spot everything from Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to massive blue whales, but humpbacks make most frequent appearances, measuring up to 50 feet from tip to tail.
Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Just off the end of Cape Cod, the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary protects 842 square miles of whale heaven, where shallow waters are rich with nutrients and food. Whale watching tours from Provincetown often see humpback whales, minke whales, finbacks, pilot whales, and even right whales, a critically-endangered species that’s made a Cape Cod comeback in recent whale watching seasons.
Oak Harbor, Deception Pass State Park, Washington
Running salmon draw hungry orca whales to the waters off Oak Harbor, where narrow Deception Pass separates Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island. Whale watching tours from nearby Anacortes search out local whales and the “transient” pods that pass through on their annual migration, and on clear days you’ll have views of both the San Juan Islands and the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountain range.
Kailua-Kona, Big Island, Hawaii
Whales luxuriate in Hawaii’s warm waters after the epic journey from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska, so a whale watching vacation to the Big Island is your chance to see humpback whales as they breed and give birth. Whale watching cruises range from energetic trips on inflatable zodiacs to serene outings aboard a catamaran sailboat, so you can find your own perfect whale watching trip in Hawaii.