Whale Watching Monterey Bay

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: June 6, 2022

Monterey is one of the best places in the area to go whale watching. The cool waters off the Monterey Bay create the perfect feeding ground for many species of whales. These waters also attract hundreds of whales every year as they migrate north for feeding season. 

During your whale watching tour, you will get the chance to see gray, humpback, and blue whales. Others that sometimes come through this area include fin, minke, and beaked whales. 

Monterey Whale Watching

In addition to whales, you will get the chance to see several species of dolphins including bottlenose, Risso's and Pacific white-sided dolphins. Other animals on the waters are porpoises, leatherback turtles, and more than 100 species of marine birds. 

You might also see some sea otters, sea lions, and some of the 300+ species of fish that all call this area home.

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Best Times to Go Whale Watching

The best times to go whale watching in Monterey Bay are in the summer and fall months when the humpback and blue whales are here. The winter and spring months are a great time to catch gray whales.

Here are the whales and other animals you might see each season: 

  • December to May: Gray, killer (orca), sperm whales
  • May to November: Humpback, blue
  • All Year Long: Bottlenose dolphins, Dall's porpoise, harbor porpoise, sea otters, California sea lions, harbor seals, northern right whale dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso's dolphins, common dolphins

The only time when it's hard to see whales in these waters is from late November to mid-December. While many tour operators still offer whale watching trips, they cannot guarantee you will see any whales during this time.

Local Operator Recommendations

Many of the local tour operators offer similar tours at reasonable prices. You can book online in advance or once you arrive in Monterey.

Humpback in Monterey

Here are some additional details on the top two whale watching tour operators in the area. 

Discovery Whale Watching

One of the highest-rated whale watching companies in Monterey is Discovery Whale Watch. On their trips, you'll learn all about the local wildlife from a marine biologist or naturalist.

These trips offer you the chance to see whales, a variety of dolphin species, and dozens of local birds. Live commentary from your onboard marine biologist allows you to learn about everything you see and to ask questions.

Your cruise starts at Old Fisherman's Wharf, sails past the historic Cannery Row, and enters the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

The tour length varies from 2.5 to 3 hours (for the afternoon and winter morning tours) to 3.5 to 4 hours (for the summer and fall morning tours). Hot beverages are available on the trip.

>> Find out more about this cruise including ticketing information

Prefer to head out at night? Discovery Whale Watching also offers a sunset whale watching cruise. This one lasts about 3 hours and offers you the chance to see whales and other marine animals.

>> Find out more about their sunset cruise here

Princess Monterey Whale Watching

Many people rave about their experience with Princess Monterey Whale Watching. They have been in the business for more than 30 years and all of their whale watching tours include narration by a trained marine biologist/naturalist. 

Princess Monterey Whale Watching offers whale watching tours all year long. They offer two to five trips a day depending on the season. They often have more trips on Saturday and Sunday.

Each of their trips last around 2.5 to 3 hours. Given the proximity of where the whales typically feed near Monterey Bay, this is plenty of time to find them. 

You will meet at Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf for your tour. You must check in at least 30 minutes prior to your departure. 

From late April to late May, they also offer special Extended Killer Whale Cruises. These cruises go a little farther out into the ocean and last around 5.5 to 6 hours. They only run them on Saturdays during this time. 

Book your whale watching tour directly on Princess Monterey Whale Watching's site.

Monterey Tours: Are you looking for other great tours around Monterey? My guide offers some of the best including food, wine, and self-guided tour options.

Monterey Bay Whale Watch 

Another company I like to use is Monterey Bay Whale Watch. They offer the longest whale watching trips in the Monterey Bay.

A marine biologist is on board every trip and provides narration during your cruise. Their experts are also happy to answer any of your questions.

April - December Tours

During late spring, summer, and fall, Monterey Bay Whale Watch offers both a morning and an afternoon trip daily to see humpback whales, blue whales, and dolphins.

The morning trips typically leave around 10 am and last about 4 hours. 

The afternoon trips leave Fisherman's Wharf at 2:30 pm and last around 3 hours. These shorter afternoon tours are less expensive, but you won't have quite as much time to see the whales or look for rarer wildlife.

Other special cruises, such as the all-day pelagic seabird trips, are not offered every day so you'll have to check the calendar to confirm the times for the day of your cruise.

January - March Tours

From winter to early spring, they offer two tours a day to see gray whales, killer whales, and dolphins. These tours last between 3 and 3.5 hours. 

For the most adventurous with more time on their trip, there is also an all-day 8-hour tour option offered throughout the year.

Head to Monterey Bay Whale Watch's website to book your whale watching adventure in advance.

Seven Tips to Help You Make the Most of Your Journey

You will want to take a little time to prepare for your journey. Here are just a few of the things you will want to do or bring along with you to fully enjoy the trip.

1. Avoid Getting Seasick: If you've ever had motion sickness, then I recommend you do some preparation to avoid seasickness before your journey. I typically take Bonine about 30 minutes before departure. I like it since it doesn't make me drowsy. You can also use non-medication products such as wristbands. Check out these top-rated seasickness products on Amazon.

2. Wear Warm Layers: Even on a warm sunny day in Monterey, you will want to bring several layers of clothing to stay warm. The ocean breezes are refreshing, but cool. By wearing layers, you can add and remove items as it heats up and cools down.

3. Wear Flat Soled Shoes: You are able to walk around the boat during the journey. For your safety, I recommend only wearing comfortable, flat-soled shoes. 

4. Beware of the Sun's Rays: Do not forget your sunscreen. Even on cloudy days, it is important to protect your skin from the sun's rays that reflect off of the ocean.

5. Pack a Snack: Most tour companies offer snacks and beverages onboard. However, most also allow you to bring your own food and drinks. By bringing your own, you can save a little money and make sure you have something you enjoy.

6. Go in the Morning: If possible, it's best to book one of the morning tours. The waters are calmer during this time of day and there is less of a chance of your tour being cancelled. They also tend to be a little bit longer than the afternoon tours.

7. Bring Your Camera: Make sure you bring along your camera so you can capture the whales you see on your adventure. For most of the trip, you will not have many problems keeping your camera dry. However, I often bring a small bag that I can use to quickly cover my camera in case it starts raining or water sprays onto the boat. 

Tips to Go Whale Watching in the Monterey Bay

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

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