10 incredible whale watching trips in the USA

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Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash

Last Updated on December 30, 2020

Unexpected interactions and incredible jumps are just a hint of what happens during whale watching. The habit of taking a moment to observe this mammal in its natural habitat can be considered as old as our species, but it only became an organized practice in the past century.

In addition to being a recreational activity, whale watching today is an important tool for scientific research and a way to make young students learn about biology. Because of its large number of fans – around 15 million every year –this practice has generated considerable financial returns and jobs.

So, if you want to know the best place for whale watching, you are going to make difficult decisions. Because below you have some places that will guarantee you the best whale watching!

1. San Juan Islands, Washington

The San Juan Islands are located in the extreme northwest of the United States, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and are part of the state of Washington. They were baptized by the same explorer who first mapped them: the Spanish Francisco de Eliza. The ideal period to visit it is from May to September, when you will be able to enjoy a wide variety of whales.

The islands make up a great marine, aerial and terrestrial biodiversity and are famous for being the home of groups of orcas. This is even one of its main tourist attractions, along with the practice of sea kayaking. No wonder Lime Kiln Point State Park is considered one of the best places for whale watching in the world, in this case, wild orcas.
The climate of these islands is very cool, and the highest temperatures do not usually exceed 21ºC. As natural points, they range from sandy and rocky beaches to large ports and reef bays. You can be sure that you will have many beautiful natural landscapes to take pictures of – in addition to the whales. Orcas, Humpbacks, Minkes, and Gray Whales can be seen at different points on the islands.

2. Bar Harbor, Maine

Here we went to the other end of the country. More precisely, for a peaceful place full of history and opportunities for your travel goals. The city of Bar Harbor is located on the east coast of the country and has a temperature that varies from -8ºC to 23ºC and is rarely below -17ºC or above 27ºC.

In this case, plan to visit Bar Harbor between April and October, which is when you will be able to watch Humpbacks, Finbacks, and Minkes whale species on different whale sightings. The main one is the Gulf of Maine because it contains the main foods of this animal’s diet — squid, krill, and plenty of fish. Another one is Acadia National Park, known for its rocky beaches.
For those who like history, the Abbe Museum, a museum of the arts of the Wabanaki people, is also worth visiting. The Wabanaki people feature four distinct tribes — the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot. Do you still have doubts that Bar Harbor is a special place?

3. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

If it were necessary to choose an adjective just to characterize this place in the northwestern United States, it would certainly be sacred. Starting with its biggest whale-watching spot: the National Marine Sanctuary of Banco Stellwagen. This protected area extends from Cape Ann to Cape Cod, which has been considered one of the best whale watching and aquatic fauna sites in the United States. Cape Cod is a peninsula that is part of the state of Massachusetts, with a cultural life that goes beyond its whale-watching spots.

The best time to visit is the period between April and October when you will perfectly observe Humpbacks, Pilot, Minkes, and Fin Whales. In addition to its beaches and lighthouses, Cape Cod has its own baseball league and cultural spaces like the Heritage Museums & Gardens and the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum. So, in addition to watching your favorite whales, you will have programs for all hours of the day.

4. Long Island, New York

Who knew that a state known by its busy and populous city like New York could harbor whale species? Besides the city that never sleeps, it is also home to several species of whales: Baleen, Toothed, Finbacks, Humpbacks, Minkes, Sperm, Blue, Sei, and Right Whales.

Despite being an island, Long Island is not so different from the state capital in terms of the number of inhabitants. It is the most populated island in any U.S. state or territory and the 18th in the world. Its temperature varies from -4ºC to 29ºC during the year. The best period for whale watching starts in July and ends in September, the summer.

If you want to know what is the best place for whale watching in this city, we suggest two options: go to the Coastal Research & Education Society of Long Island or guarantee a ride in one of the fleets that are offered by different agents.
If you are willing to stay a while longer to chat with locals and enjoy cultural life, you will also be well served: music, gastronomy, and sports are the most prominent sectors. Take the opportunity to enjoy summer concerts in the outdoor amphitheater of Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater and enjoy some fishing and seafood nearby.

5. Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May is a city located in the northeast of the United States and is part of the state of New Jersey. For tourists to get to know the whale species present on this peninsula, there is no date restriction. You will surely watch the whales all year round! The species that pass through Cape May hotspots are Humpbacks, Finbacks, and Right Whales.

In this place, whales are not migrating, so watching them depends on their lifestyle. If you like comfort, go on a traditional cruise, but if you prefer to go to the essentials, search for sea tours with local guides.
Amazingly, in Cape May, there is life beyond the seas and the beaches. Among the best attractions to enjoy in the city are its lighthouse, its alpacas, this cute and clumsy animal, the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, and Cape May Winery & Vineyard. Enjoy it and don’t forget to record everything!

6. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Nothing like warm water to keep warm during the winter, right? It is perfectly understandable why Humpback whales choose Virginia Beach between December and March. Even though these are just the coldest months for us humans – with temperatures ranging from 0ºC to 15ºC.

And what about the city itself? In Virginia Beach, you will find white-sand beaches with large boardwalks for walking by the sun and fresh seafood. Did your mouth water? If no, because you are allergic or vegetarian, there is no problem: there are also good restaurant options for you.
Also, make sure to enjoy the First Landing State Park, the Military Aviation Museum, and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. Specifically, this last point is where you can book a whale-watching boat trip.

7. Jacksonville, Florida

In Jacksonville, you will certainly not find the same amount of whales as elsewhere, but in quality, you will not miss a thing. Especially if your greatest curiosity revolves around Right Whales. They are a rare species and choose the coast of the most populous city in the state of Florida precisely because of its warmer waters.

The information you need to keep in mind to watch the right wales in this place is: go between December and March, buy a pair of binoculars and stay in a hotel room, hostel or hostel with a balcony or a good window to the sea. Like any big city, Jacksonville has a lively nightlife and great programs for those who want to meet new people.

8. San Francisco, California

San Francisco is a city with a soul of its own. Known for the fog that lasts all year, for its emblematic Golden Gate Bridge – the setting for many films and series – and also for its cable cars and colorful Victorian houses.

But you probably never imagined it would be on the list of America’s most amazing whale watching trips. Right? Yeah. Between cruises, expeditions, and tours, there are many alternatives for all travel profiles.
The catalog of whale species that can be seen on its coast is also diverse: there are blues, Humpbacks, and Gray Whales living on it. They are present in greater abundance from December to February, so the whale watching season corresponds to our winter.
San Francisco is also the starting point to discover many places that you will remember, such as the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes National Seashore, a national reserve, and also the city of Half Moon Bay, much sought after by surfers.

9. Channel Islands, California

Channel Islands whale watching is one of the most visited hotspots in the country and the world. This archipelago is located in California, and its main harbor is located in the city of Oxnard. If you visit these islands between November and April, you can be sure to see the Humpbacks, Minkes, Gray Whales, and Blue Whales skips.

This is a perfect trip for those who like adventure and to establish a deep contact with nature. To give you an idea, there are many camping grounds in the Channel Islands National Park. In addition to whale watching, this place usually hosts practitioners of hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking.

Another one that is considered one of the best places for whale watching is the National Marine Sanctuary. Because of its biodiversity and abundance of wildlife, this sanctuary and the national park are considered “The Galapagos of the Northern Hemisphere.” Excursions, tours, and trips are offered as a package by several agencies or on an individual basis by tour guides.

10. Depoe Bay, Oregon

Although you can find a wide variety of species – Gray Whales, Humpbacks, and Blue Whales – year-round in Depoe Bay, the best time to whale watching depends on the species you want to see. That’s because while Gray Whales pass through Depoe Bay during their migration, from December to January, Humpbacks and Blue Whales appear mainly during the summer when they come to feed from July to October.

To have the best perspective and angle for your photos, you can always hire one of the available tour or excursion services. Or else you can book a day to visit the Whale Watching Center, where you will find everything you need on this subject: information, guidance, and socializing. End your afternoon by making a toast to this whale biodiversity at one of the local wineries and breweries.
Lack of options to fulfill your child’s dream you can no longer complain. There are several alternatives for watching dozens of whale species. And why not interact with them? Each of these trips is unique, each place is special. So don’t forget to take your camera and be present to record all these incredible moments!

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