Whale watching in Southern CA with Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching

Luck was with us the late December day we boarded the whale watching boat out of Dana Wharf. Winter is prime time for whale watching in Southern CA, and the ocean was as calm as glass and the sun was shining warmly. I grinned at the many passengers wearing green and sporting Michigan State gear in prep for the Rose Bowl to be held several days later. I was sure they were basking in the warmth of the SoCal sun and 75 degree temps.

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The captain of the Dana Pride coasted the vessel north along the shore and we enjoyed seeing the beaches that we love to visit. He stopped at a buoy with sun bathing sea lions that barked and swam in the water next to our boat. It was another 30 minutes or so of smooth cruising as we listened to the captain tell us the pattern of the grey whales we were searching for. Between the months of November and April, they make their migrations north and south from the feeding grounds of Alaska to the warm lagoons where they give birth in Mexico. Typically they swim close to shore and thus we were looking for them there.

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The water was so calm that day and the inversion layer so unique that suddenly the captain turned the ship out to sea. He had spotted a whale spout far off the coast. We spent the next 30 minutes speeding out the 5 miles to follow the grey whale swimming south. The boat pulled up alongside the whale and we watched with fascination as it spouted, surfaced several times, then fluked (showed it’s tail), and dove to the bottom to eat. Captain Todd is one of the cofounders of the Grey Whale Foundation and he shared lots of great information with us about their migration, speed, breeding, eating, and more. School groups have the opportunity through the Foundation to get classroom experience and to take field trips with Dana Wharf Whale Watching to see the grey whales in person.

Spotting the whale spout 5 miles off the coast was a truly magical opportunity. We might not have seen a whale that day if it hadn’t been for such calm water. Regardless of the luck of future trips, whale spotting is guaranteed. If a whale isn’t found on a trip, passengers receive free passes for a return trip to spot a whale. As luck would have it, Michigan State won the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Must have been partly due to the luck of the whale!

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Taking kids on a whale watching cruise is a fun experience, but planning ahead can ensure a good trip without some of the difficulties that can arise. It is great for kids at least 3 years or older. It’s helpful if you don’t have to worry about your child running around on a bumpy ship, falling down, or not being interested in seeing a whale (which can be far off and with only the top of it visible).

  • Wear layers. No matter the weather or sun, speeding along the ocean can feel very cold. Bring beanies to keep their heads warm and tuck long hair into pony tails or braids.
  • Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, binoculars, chapstick, and snacks. Drinks, snacks, and burgers are available for sale in the small galley. Salty snacks and full tummies can help prevent seasickness.
  • Most trips are calm and short enough that seasickness isn’t a problem. We prefer using SeaBands because they can relieve and prevent symptoms without the drowsiness of medications.
  • Plan on needing to hold your kid’s hand and have your own hand free to hold a rail. It can get bumpy and you will need to walk around (to go inside if it’s too windy and cold, go to the restroom, etc.) Carry a backpack or bag that is hands-free.
  • Take a few pictures but don’t hold your iPhone over the railing to take a picture. Need I say why? (No, it didn’t happen to me but my heart stopped when I saw other people doing it!)
  • Don’t stress about getting to the front of the boat. There were way too many people up there for us to get to see anything. Ask a crew member which side of the ship to stand on. They know which side of the whale the captain will pull the ship up alongside.

Grey whale watching season is from November to April but going whale watching is a great experience all year long. Blue whales, humpback whales, fin whales and more can be spotted during different seasons. Dolphins typically are found daily and seeing them swim, jump, and play in the boats wake is a thrilling experience. It’s like a front row seat at a SeaWorld dolphin show.

Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching is one of the first outfitters taking guests whale watching since the 70s. Call (888) 224-0603 or book online for future dates.

Date last visited:

December 2013

Distance from the interstate:

Dana Point is located right on the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1).

Rate:

$45/person. Call Dana Wharf for tour times and departures, or check the schedule here.

Michelle McCoy lives in sunny SoCal with her husband and four kids. They love finding all the quiet corners in Orange County when they have time after school, work, and church. Michelle is the SoCal Destination Guroo for Trekaroo and loves sharing her findings with other families. 

Disclosure: Michelle and family experienced whale watching as guests of Dana Wharf, for the purpose of review. All opinions are her own.

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