14 Budget-Friendly Places for Whale Watching on the West Coast
For many communities on the West Coast, whale-watching season is a big deal. It's celebrated with festivals, lectures, and, of course, countless whale-watching cruises. While some of the cruises can be pricey, many of the season's activities are affordably priced or even free. If catching a glimpse of whales on their annual migration between Alaska and Mexico is on your bucket list, here are some of the best places to witness the epic journey in late winter and early spring.
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There are numerous places to enjoy whale watching in San Diego. Land-based vantage points include Whale Watch Lookout Point near the historic lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument, the towering bluffs at Torrey Pines State Reserve, and the back patio at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. By sea, Hornblower Cruises offers 3.5-hour trips for $41 for adults and $20 to $23 for children depending on the day of the week.
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GetMyBoat, a peer-to-peer boat rental marketplace, is yet another way to get an up-close view without spending a fortune. A boat owner on the site is offering 2.5-hour whale-watching tours that also showcase seals, dolphins, porpoises, and sea bird colonies, as well as views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The cost is $45 for adults and $35 for children. The tours on a 65-foot boat are staffed by a crew from San Francisco Whale Tours.
About 27 miles north of San Francisco, there's a spot off Point Reyes National Seashore that attracts 94 percent of migrating Pacific gray whales. In January alone, more than 1,000 whales pass this point every day. There's no entrance fee for the park, but to get to the point during whale season, visitors must take a shuttle bus ($7 for those 16 and older). There are free ranger talks about the whales' migration.
Whale watching here is akin to going on a safari in Africa, thanks to the sheer abundance of whales passing through the area, including humpbacks, blue whales, gray whales, minke whales, and fin whales. Monterey Bay Whale Watch offers boat trips that start at $44 for adults, $29 for children 4 to 12, and $15 for kids 3 and under. Whales can also be spotted from land in the Monterey area. The best bet is to drive south along the Big Sur coast via Highway 1.