best whale watching spots

There’s nothing more majestic than a pod of whales leaping through the water unbridled and free. A whale-watching expedition is awe-inspiring and thrilling, and fortunately, you don’t need to travel far to experience the beauty of whales. There are excellent whale-watching spots on both the east and west coasts of the United States, including California, Washington, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and New York. While each region has its own peak whale-watching times, most range from April to October. For best viewing, enlist a  professional tour guide who knows not only when and where to spot the whales, but provides special passenger amenities like binoculars and blankets (weather and conditions can be unpredictable). Whale watching expeditions typically last at least a half day, if not a full day. Pro tip: book as far in advance as possible, as boat spots fill up quickly. Here are seven whale-watching spots to put on your list. 

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Known for its beach towns, the Massachusetts peninsula Cape Cod is also an excellent place to go whale watching. Expect to see humpbacks,  endangered North Atlantic right whales, and fin whales, the second-largest whale species. April to October is best for viewing. Base yourself in Chatham, where the Chatham Bars Inn has been welcoming guests since 1914, and the Chatham Inn, a Relais & Chateaux property, shines on Main Street. The Chatham Bars Inn can book you a tour directly, or you can choose a company like Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises. 

San Juan Islands, Washington 

The San Juan Islands in northwestern Washington are not only stunning — think lush, emerald-green forests, rugged coastlines, and blue waters — they are also perfect for whale watching. Orcas are the big draw here, and companies like San Juan Outfitters and Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching offer day trips. If based in the San Juan Islands, opt for Friday Harbor House; in Victoria, British Columbia, try the  Fairmont Empress.

Monterey Bay, California

Home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and historic Cannery Row, Monterey Bay is also known for its superior whale watching. Lucky seagoers can spot humpbacks, blue whales, and orcas with outfitters like Discovery Whale Watch. Stay at Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, or Pebble Beach, a golfer’s dream.

Kennebunk, Maine

Besides being a Presidential vacation favorite, Kennebunkport, in the southern part of Maine, is a classic whale-watching spot. Look for  North Atlantic right whales, minke whales, and humpback whales. Auberge’s White Barn Inn and Hidden Pond are centrally located nearby. Book with First Chance Whale Watch or New England Eco Adventures, and be sure to add a lobster roll at The Clam Shack, a local institution, to your stay. 

Montauk, New York 

There’s something special about whale watching in Montauk, which is the furthest point of Long Island. Whale species in the area include fin whales, minke whales, and humpbacks, and many in Montauk choose to book with charters like Viking Fleet. Stay at Gurney’s Montauk Sea Water Resort & Spa, a classic that’s been at the tail end of Long Island since 1926. It’s the only hotel in Montauk directly on the beach, where you might be able to spot whales on your own with a pair of binoculars and a bit of patience.

Southern California

Southern California is, of course, known for whale watching. Often called the whale-watching capital of the west coast, whale spotting is common up and down the coast from Newport Beach to the Channel Islands to Santa Barbara to Dana Point. Whales come during the winter months on their way to warmer waters. Expect to spot blue whales, humpback whales, gray whales, and fin whales. Good home bases include Dana Point, where The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel and the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach are located, and Santa Barbara, where Santa Barbara Harbor is the launchpad for whale-watching tours like those given by the intimate, 15-passenger Sunset Kidd. Stay at El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel, or out of town, at San Ysidro Ranch.

Cape Lookout, North Carolina

While it might not seem that you can spot whales from more southern, warmer waters, you can. Cape Lookout in North Carolina, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, is a marine life haven. Humpback, fin, and North Atlantic right whales migrate through twice a year, from February to April and from October to December. Center yourself in the picturesque town of Beaufort, where you can link up with outfitters like Crystal Coast Lady Cruises to take you out on the water. Keep watch from this stunning seven-bedroom beachfront home, tranquil in its soft beige and light blue palette, and be sure to visit Beaufort’s Bonehenge Whale Center.

Featured image courtesy of Todd Cravens on Unsplash.