Thar she blows! Ready for a whale of an adventure? Winter whale watching season is in full swing and the great gray whales are migrating south down the coast to Baja. Through April you can catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures by land, by sea or at a festival. Here are 3 ways your wee ones can see these gentle giants.
photo credit: Renata Kanclertz
Since your little captain goes gaga over the guppies in the pond at the park, imagine their delight when you spot a spouting 50 foot, 40 ton gray whale! And the story behind why the whales are so visible from January to April along the SoCal waters makes your own pregnancy discomfort memories pale—the gray whale is pregnant for a year and makes a 10,000 mile round trip journey from Alaska to Baja to deliver her 1500 pound baby. Now that’s a birthing story.
photo credit: Ryan Harvey via Creative Commons
Have a Whale of a Time at the Whale Festival
The biggest festival for whales in the area is back. The Dana Point Festival of Whales takes place every March when 40–50 whales pass by Dana Point each day, using the Dana Point Headland’s 200-foot cliffs as a landmark to check their migration path. On this festive weekend, you can find the perfect whale watching excursion for everyone, from several whale watching boats with tours of varying length (and price) to the opportunity to get a glimpse of these amazing mamas from land by hiking through the Headlands Conservation Park.
There are also tons of activities that entertain the kids while the whales are submerged, like a Rubber Ducky Race, Classic Car Show, Fishing Clinic, Diamond Dig (for treasure!) and more. The festival runs for two weekends, March 2 & 3 and March 9 & 10. Check the schedule of events for details.
photo credit: Barry Curtis/dolphinsafari.com
Hit the High Seas
If you’ve got your sea legs, the best way to see whales is to go to them. While no company can guarantee that you’ll see whales, it’s pretty much a given that if you keep peepers peeled, you will at least get up close and personal with some playful pods of dolphins and barking seals and sea lions. Most companies offer special rates for kids as well as tons of information about whale migration patterns, characteristics, and other interesting facts that will make your kid a whale expert.
photo credit: Renee Flanagan
Over the years, we’ve found that these are the best companies to trust with your first whale watching trip. Davey’s Locker and Newport Landing Whale Watch both depart from Newport Beach. Harbor Breeze Cruises is located in Long Beach, Captain Dave’s out of Dana Point is well worth the drive, and if you’re looking to stay closer to the LA area, Marina Del Rey Sportfishing Cruises is our local pick.
Remember, when you’re on the boat, you’re stuck (in the best possible way), and there’s no turning around for snacks or jackets or anything else you might need. As always, when traveling with tots, it’s best to be prepared, and we have found these tips invaluable when sailing over the bounding main:
- Bring sunscreen and layers. Sunshine reflects off the water on the most overcast of days, and even when it’s hot as blazes on land, it’s a good 20-30 degrees colder when you are on the water. Little fingers get cold; if you have ski mittens, now’s a good time to get extra use out of them.
- Bring a waterproof jacket, because the spray from the ocean can get you wet.
- If you’re worried about upset tummies on the water, go early. The seas tend to be calmer in the morning.
- Forewarned is forearmed! Talk to the kids about all the animals they might see, so they’re as excited to see seagulls as the grays. Even in high season, you might not see a whale. But bring a notebook to record everything you do see, and treat each viewing with raptures and they won’t be disappointed. (We’ve never gone without at least seeing a load of dolphins!)
- That notebook does double duty as a tic-tac-toe board or drawing pad. Bring it and/or something else to entertain the youngest members of your expedition who can get bored if there’s a long stretch with no sightings.
photo credit: Cash Burton via yelp
You’re the type that glamps, not camps, and your idea of a nautical adventure is Ralph Lauren boat shoes. Rocking is for chairs, not the deck you walk on. We’ve got two spots where you never have to leave land to catch sight of enough whales to satisfy Ahab.
Elegance with Mimosas and Sea Mammals
If hotels were sea creatures, Terranea would Moby Dick. It’s the big one, the one that stands out from the crowd. Years ago, the area was home to the largest oceanarium in the world, but now it’s the lap of luxury. It’s also a front-row seat to the migration show where you can lap up food and drinks while you peruse the pacific for the great grays. Here’s how we play it: park in the lot (for a fee) and explore the walking trails post-brunch. Keep your eye on the water—whales swim right past the point.
photo credit: Rancho Palos Verdes Parks & Recreation Department
Point to the Point
If your budget or timeline doesn’t allow for a hotel trip, grab your binoculars and follow the trails to Point Vicente Lighthouse. Right next door, you’ll find the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, one of the best shoreline spots for whale watching. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s where the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society conducts its annual whale migration census. Every day from December to May, trained volunteers record the number, species and behavior of migrating whales, so you’ll find loads of people who can answer your budding mammologists questions.
Can’t squeeze a whale watching adventure into your packed spring schedule? (We get it! It’s t-ball to tutu’s all weekend, all spring.) May brings the start of the big blue whale season with the warmer waters.
We’d love to hear your tips for spotting these magnificent creatures! Let us know where and how you go whale watching.