Are you planning a whale-watching trip to the United States? By the time you pack your bags, humpback whales will have swum thousands of miles between warm-weather mating grounds and the buffet of cold-water foods that draws them north every year. From the long days of Alaskan summer to Virginia Beach’s winter sunshine, whales patrol the United States coast every month, so you can meet up with them anytime you like. We’ve compiled a list of the best whale-watching vacation spots in America.
Experience the wonder of whales in the wild by leaving the shore behind and listening to what’s happening beneath the waves. Observe whales breeding, playing, and eating plankton on a whale-watching cruise. In Juneau, in Alaska’s glacier-chilled waters, you can see whales swimming near colorful coral reefs. Or you can take a whale-watching trip to the Hawaiian islands where they’ll swim near colorful coral reefs. Visit Washington’s San Juan Islands to see a nimble orca, and Monterey, California to see blue whales, the world’s largest animal. Whales breach and slap their tails along the east and west coasts, dazzling whale-watching tours.
Not sure where to go? The best whale-watching vacation destinations in America can be found along the country’s 95,000-mile coastline. Before you know it, you’ll be shouting, “There she blows! ”””
In the nutrient-rich waters off Juneau, one of the best places in America for whale watching, humpback whales migrate from May through September. Juneau whale-watching tours troll the Inside Passage, a narrow waterway that makes it easy to spot whales and dolphins as they feed and relax after a long journey from their winter breeding grounds.
Maalaea, Maui, Hawaii
The Maui coast provides a dramatic backdrop during a whale-watching trip in Maalaea, a popular vacation destination in Hawaii. The Pacific Whale Foundation’s whale-watching tours support whale research and conservation, or you can board a catamaran for a Maalaea whale-watching cruise.
Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington
Orca whales live year-round in the San Juan Islands, whose distinctive black and white profiles grace everything from ancient totem poles to modern art. It’s a whale-watching season all year round, but you’ll be able to spot humpbacks, minke whales, and gray whales when you take a whale-watching cruise around the San Juan Islands during the warm months between spring and fall.
As the whales feed in the nutrient-rich Monterey Submarine Canyon, which drops steeply from Monterey Bay’s floor, the canyon draws them close to shore. You can spot humpback whales, finback whales, and minke whales while whale watching in Monterey, and if you’re lucky, you might even see a blue whale, the largest animal in existence. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see for those who love the sea, where you can find everything from abalone to zooplankton.
Gloucester is an excellent whale-watching destination on the East Coast, with easy access to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary. During the whale watching season, from May through November, Cape Ann whale watching cruises frequently encounter humpback whales breaching, blowing and sometimes playing in the wake of the boats.
Barnstable, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
There is humpback whale watching, minke whale watching, and finback whale watching in Barnstable, a short drive from Boston. There is a wonderful whale watching season here from spring through fall, which attracts nature lovers. From the beach, you may catch a glimpse of a passing pod of whales. Whale-watching cruises are the best way to spot these mammals.
San Diego, California
Whale watching is best from mid-December through April, when migrating gray whales are in San Diego. The city’s beautiful beaches attract seals, dolphins, and sea lions, who enjoy soaking up the sun on the shores of San Diego whale watching tours by sailboat or cruise ship.
Waianae, Oahu, Hawaii
There are three species of dolphins—spinner, bottlenose, and spotted—that are visible during a whale watching vacation in Waianae, including humpback whales. Visit Waianae’s stunning coral reefs while whale watching between December and April. You can also snorkel over the reefs while whale watching.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Off the coast of Bar Harbor, a hotspot for whale watching on the East Coast, you can watch humpback whales slap their tails, leap, and blow. Visitors can also enjoy ice cream shops, boutiques, and lobster dinners in the picture-perfect downtown, where whale-watching cruises depart from.
Depoe Bay, Oregon
At the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center, visitors can explore all things cetacean, including whale migration and biology. The whale watching season in Depoe Bay runs from March through June, when 20,000 whales swim the Oregon coast, or from July through October when you can see humpbacks, minke whales, and orcas that graze on the whales’ feeding grounds.
Eastsound, Orcas Island, Washington
A destination for whale-watching vacations in Washington State named for orca whales sees plenty of black fins swimming by, and picturesque Orcas Island is no exception. In Eastsound’s whale-watching cruises, local pods, as well as visiting migrants, can often be spotted in the San Juan Islands, including humpbacks, finbacks, and minke whales.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Whale watching experiences in Virginia Beach are great between December and March when humpback whales come from the cold Bay of Fundy to enjoy the warm waters. On a guided kayak tour or from a stand-up paddleboard, you can spot pods of dolphins patrolling the coast during peak whale watching season in January and February.
Cape May, New Jersey
From March through December, whale watching is available off Cape May, a destination on the East Coast where humpback whales feed on eels and herring. Whale watching tours in Cape May often see Atlantic bottlenose dolphins as well as massive blue whales, but the most frequent sightings are humpback whales, which measure up to 50 feet long.
Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
There are 842 square miles of shallow waters rich in nutrients and food on Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, located just off the end of Cape Cod. There are plenty of species of whales to watch from Provincetown, including humpback whales, minke whales, finback whales, pilot whales, and even right whales, an endangered species that has made a comeback in recent years.
Oak Harbor, Deception Pass State Park, Washington
In the waters off Oak Harbor, where Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island are separated by the narrow Deception Pass, hungry orca whales follow salmon running. From Anacortes, whale-watching tours look for local whales and “transient” pods that pass through on their annual migration, and on clear days you can see the Olympic Mountains and the San Juan Islands.
Kailua-Kona, Big Island, Hawaii
A whale-watching vacation to the Big Island allows you to see humpback whales as they breed and give birth after their epic journey from Alaska’s summer feeding grounds. From catamaran sailing to inflatable zodiac rides, Hawaii whale-watching cruises offer a variety of experiences to choose from.