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7 Top Places for Winter Whale Watching in the U.S.

There is nothing like seeing an animal in the wild, and whales are one of the most majestic of them all. Gray whales and humpback whales migrate south during the winter to warmer waters, where you can catch these gorgeous creatures along their migration route. For a bucket list animal encounter, visit one of these destinations in the United States for a winter whale-watching adventure.

Monterey Bay, California Humpback whale in Monterey Bay
Credit: Humpback whale in Monterey Bay by K.C. Dermody

Monterey Bay, California

Monterey Bay in California is one of the best places in the United States to whale watch, no matter what time of year. However, for winter whale watching, humpback and blue whales are seen as late as December. From December to April, the bay is teeming with gray whales. Commonly referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the sea,” the steep underwater canyon in Monterey Bay is a rich habitat for fish and other marine life, which attracts hungry whales. Enjoy a captivating whale-watching adventure on a boat tour or at the lookout at Monterey Aquarium.

San Diego, California Black's Beach, San Diego, CA
Credit: Black's Beach, San Diego, CA by Tristan Loper via Flickr.com

San Diego, California

Head to San Diego in mid-January to catch the gray whale migration. There are a number of great spots to whale watch in this California city. Take a boat tour to view the whales as well as seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Both Carrillo National Monument and Torrey Pines Reserve offer viewing areas for whale enthusiasts as well. If you can’t get out to San Diego this winter to view gray whales, you can catch blue whales and fin whales from June to September here. After your tour, take respite in one of the many family-friendly hotels nearby.

Maui, Hawaii Breaching whale off Maui's coast
Credit: Breaching whale off Maui's coast by Photo 4933388 © Ronald Adcock - Dreamstime.com

Maui, Hawaii

Whales of all kinds enjoy the waters surrounding the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii. However, from December to April, humpback whales are what draw whale watchers to this U.S. island. Thousands of humpback whales mate near Maui, so whale watchers typically hear and see them during the winter months. Watch for whale spouts as you’re bound to see many during your winter stay in Maui, no matter if you’re looking from the beach, a boat tour, or your hotel’s balcony. Ko Olina Beach is a popular whale-watching spot as humpback whales enjoy the warm waters in the bay here.

Virginia Beach, Virginia Beach vacation in Virginia Beach, Virginia
Credit: Beach vacation in Virginia Beach, Virginia by Bigstock.com

Virginia Beach, Virginia

The Pacific Ocean isn’t the only ocean that offers great whale watching; Virginia Beach in Virginia is an East Coast destination for whale watchers. View humpback whales here from December through March. However, peak winter whale watching typically occurs in the months of January and February in Virginia Beach. Whale watchers may even spot a fin whale or two during the winter season here. Dolphins are even spotted in the waters during the warmer months as well.

Santa Barbara, California Santa Barbara, California
Credit: Santa Barbara, California by bigstock.com

Santa Barbara, California

Another California destination for winter whale watching is Santa Barbara. California gray whales are found along the coast of Santa Barbara from February to early April. However, the rich waters here attract marine life of all kinds. During the summer months, other whales like blue whales, minke whales, and humpback whales are regularly spotted by whale watchers in Santa Barbara.

Oahu, Hawaii Yokohama Beach in Ka'ena Point State Park
Credit: Yokohama Beach in Ka'ena Point State Park by © Mkojot | Dreamstime.com

Oahu, Hawaii

Maui isn’t the only Hawaiian island perfect for winter whale watchers. The island of Oahu is regularly greeted with humpback whales during the winter season from December to April. Whale watching is so popular here and on the other Hawaiian islands that whale-watching cruises are offered for whale enthusiasts. Whale watchers should consider booking a room at Turtle Bay Resort, where whale-centric programs are hosted for guests during the humpback whale migration season.

Jacksonville, Florida Jacksonville, Florida
Credit: Jacksonville, Florida by Tono Balaguer/shutterstock.com

Jacksonville, Florida

View a rare species of whale this winter off the coast of Florida. North Atlantic Right Whales can be found enjoying the waters on the northeast coast of Florida near Jacksonville or even Cape Canaveral. The North Atlantic Right Whale is one of the most endangered whale species in the world, with less than 500 remaining. Seeing one of these whales should be on any animal lover’s bucket list.

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