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The Best Times to Go Whale Watching in Monterey Bay

A young humpback whale breaches out of the water

Monterey Bay is a haven for marine wildlife lovers, from its world-famous aquarium to the unforgettable encounters with whales in its waters. The deep submarine canyon near the shore creates an ideal habitat for many different species of marine mammals, including whales! So it comes as no surprise that this is one of the best places in the world to see these impressive creatures.

When planning your visit, your first question will likely be “when is the best time to whale watch in Monterey Bay?” The good news is there no bad time of year for whale watching! Read on for more on when to see whales.

Best Time of Year to See Whales in Monterey Bay

The Monterey whale watching season lasts all year long, but there are a few things to know about whale migration, especially if you’re hoping to see a particular species.

aerial view of a blue whale swimming underwater

Summer – Fall: Humpback & Blue Whales

You can spot humpback whales in Monterey Bay almost any time of year, but they’re most prevalent in the area in the summer and fall. In the winter, humpback whales travel toward the warm waters of Mexico to breed and calve.

In the summer, they make their way back toward central California. The best time to see humpback whales is mid-April to mid-December. It’s a thrill to watch these active whales as they breach, slap their fins, and lob their tails.

This is also the best time of year to see blue whales, the largest animal on earth. There’s no experience quite like seeing these gentle giants glide through the water. You can find them feeding on krill (tiny crustaceans) off the California coast from mid-June through October, when the food source is abundant.

You can spot their bright blue color beneath the surface and spot parts of their body as they breach the water. Because they’re so large, reaching lengths of up to 100 feet, you’ll typically only see one part of them at a time. Blue whales begin their migration toward the waters south of Mexico in November. We don’t know for certain where they breed, but we’re lucky to see them here in Monterey Bay in the summer and fall.

This time of year, you can also spot some of Monterey’s year-round residents, like orcas (killer whales), dolphins, sea otters, seals, and more!

Winter – Spring: Gray Whales

Did you know gray whales have one of the longest migrations of any mammal? Every year, they travel about 6,000 miles from the Arctic to Baja California, where they breed and calve before making the trip back. They begin their swim south around September, arriving in California in December.

December to mid-April are the best times to see gray whales in Monterey Bay as they enjoy the warmer waters. The calves are born between December and February, and they’re always a delight to see on a whale watching trip. Curious calves and their mothers are known to approach boats and interact with passengers, which is sure to make your encounter unforgettable!

You can also see orcas and sperm whales during this season, as well as a variety of wildlife including dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, seals, and more!

the tail of a humpback whale breaching out of the water

Best Time of Day for Whale Watching

Once you’ve decided on the best season for your visit, you just need to choose a time of day for your whale watching tour. You’re likely to see whales on your trip regardless of the time of day, but we recommend taking your tour in the morning.

The main benefit of morning trips are the ocean conditions. The waters tend to be calmer in the morning, making for a smooth ride. This is great if you or someone in your group is prone to seasickness. The gentler winds in the morning make the whole experience more enjoyable, and the flatter waters make it easier to spot whales and other marine life!

Morning whale watching tours also tend to be a little longer, giving you more time on the water. An added benefit of the morning is there is less traffic and easier parking in Monterey. You can also get back in time to enjoy some lunch and another fun activity in Monterey (or a nap, depending on how tired you are!).

That being said, afternoon trips can be great fun for adventurers who don’t mind choppier waters. Whale sightings are common any time of day in the area, so you really can’t go wrong.

Ready to come face to face with some of the most amazing animals on the planet? Book your whale watching tour today!