By Land or Sea: Whale Watching for Newbies


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Every mother has her share of discomforts during pregnancy, but imagine being pregnant for 13 months and traveling 10,000 miles round-trip to deliver your baby! This is the life of a Pacific Grey Whale, who leaves the cold waters of the Bering Sea in October to reach the warm lagoons of Baja California by roughly January. Who wants to give birth in cold water, right? The whales pass through San Diego waters from December through April, when the last whales migrate back north. Here are our kid-friendly recommendations for viewing these majestic creatures by either land or sea.

For Those With Their Sea Legs:

theNAT and Hornblower Cruises: The San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT) is a fantastic place to learn about animals such as the Pacific Grey Whale, so it only makes sense that they’ve partnered with Hornblower Cruises during whale watching season. For 3.5 hours, you and your kiddos will scout for whales with a Museum-trained naturalist and learn about local environmental efforts. Hornblower Cruises actually guarantees a whale sighting from their fast and comfortable yacht. The cruises run two times per day through mid-April.

Price: $37/person

Birch Aquarium at Scripps and Flagship-San Diego Harbour Excursion: If you’re going whale watching, you might as well tag along with a naturalist from the world-renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography. For the 13th year in a row, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is partnering with Flagship–San Diego Harbor Excursion to teach families fun facts about the migration at sea during twice-daily cruises. Get all of your whale trivia answered during this 3.5-hour, interactive journey that runs daily through April 14. Visit the Birch Aquarium website to download a $5 off coupon.

Weekday pricing: $37/adult, $32/seniors and $18.50/children ages 4-12
Weekend pricing: $42/adult, $37/seniors and $21/children ages 4-12

800-44-CRUISE (27847)

San Diego Maritime Museum and Next Level Sailing
Board the 139-foot America, a replica of the low black schooner famous for winning the historic Royal Yacht Squadron’s “100 Guinea Cup” (now known as the “America’s Cup”) race around the Isle of Wight. The unique 4-hour whale watching experience with a notoriously smooth ride includes a guarantee that you won’t get sea sick. If you do, you’ll receive a $40 gift certificate to the Fish Market restaurant! The whale watching excursion runs through April 14, includes admission to the Maritime Museum (up to a $14 per person value), guarantees a whale sighting, allows guests to bring a picnic lunch (including adult beverages), and for every adult ticket purchase, one child is free (call for this promotion).

Weekday pricing: $65/adult and $34/children under age 12
Weekend pricing: $85/adult and $44/children under age 12


For the Sea Sick Prone: 

Cabrillo Monument
The park’s Whale Overlook and Old Point Loma Lighthouse are the best places to spot a whale, any time during park hours. Staff is available to help look for whales. A movie about Pacific Grey Whales is shown several times per day during the migration. Also, check with the Visitor Center for whale-related ranger talks.

Fee: $5/vehicle and $3/walk-in, bicyclist or motorcycle

Torrey Pines State Park
The panoramic ocean view provides plenty of opportunities to see whales. Take a family hike and keep an eye out. Just remember that the park only allows water so leave the Puffs in the car.

Fee: See website for vehicle fees as parking options vary

And, For A Whale Of A Deal:

Big Bay Whale Days, sponsored by the Port of San Diego, is happening during the entire month of January. Bay front businesses are uniting to promote whale watching season with special deals, including reduced admissions to the Maritime Museum and USS Midway and discounted cruises. Head to the Port Pavillion on the Broadway Pier for the Big Bay Whale Festival on January 26, 2013. A myriad of family-friendly activities will include a walk-through grey whale, live sea animals, face painting, bounce house, live entertainment and more. Admission is free.


Insider Tips: If you’re whale watching at sea, don’t forget to dress in layers as the temperature can vary from warm to cool. Also, bring sunscreen, a hat and binoculars. Whales migrating north at the end of spring will be too far from shore to see from land, even with binoculars. Visit your favorite seaside spot in mid-January for better odds of seeing a whale. Don’t forget your camera!

Have you gone whale watching by land or by sea with your kiddos? Any advice on making the most of your trip? 

— Katie Dillon

*Photo credits: Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Torrey Pines State Park by Brain Dearth on Flickr

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