San Diego whale watching success

There’s no excuse to miss whale watching in San Diego! The annual migration of gray whales brings them close to shore and it’s a thrill to observe, along with jumping dolphins, basking sea lions and the powerful beauty of the bay.

Yet I’ve heard so many excuses not to go. “It’s too cold, too windy, too sunny, not for kids, not for elders, boring, too crowded, too expensive,” and the list goes on. I debunked every excuse on a Hornblower cruise one bright, winter afternoon.

San Diego whale watching on a Hornblower ship

The adventure begins.

Sea sickness was one excuse. It was a moot concern on the very stable Hornblower ship that slid easily out to sea. Two friends said, “I can’t get away on a weekday.” Fair enough but I hope we can one day take a leisurely sail for a Sunday brunch, birthday party with a weekend departure.

One of several naturalists trained by the Museum of Natural History

One of several, on board naturalists trained by the Museum of Natural History

San Diego bay map

Our route in green dots, but we actually went out past Point Loma, on the left.

The most surprising excuse was “I hate whale watching cruises.’ I respect the choice as I sense there’s a bad boat experience behind it.  However with naturalists on board, a knowledgeable captain narrating and calm seas, our San Diego whale watching cruise was a comfortable, respectful, and informative adventure.

We swiftly slipped away from the San Diego skyline.

We swiftly slipped away from the San Diego skyline.

“I don’t have anyone to go with.” Watching whales splashing is a bonding experience. As the ship slipped out of its berth, it was easy to share the excitement of expectations with other cruisers. While standing on deck, adrenaline fueled conversations and there were interesting visitors from around the world. We cheered as the first whale spouts were spied. Dolphins delighted us when they materialized suddenly, playing in the ship’s wake. It was like watching fireworks – everyone ooooing and awwwwing in unison.

It was easy to get lost in conversations and forget about the views. Luckily the captain kept vigilant, announcing each sighting and what direction to look. We’d rush from side to side, back to front, to better spy spouts and flukes. There were many. The ship was large enough that it stayed steady and maneuvered to a respectful distance from the wildlife for photo opps.

Two dolphins racing on a San Diego whale watching cruise

“The wind, sun, cold or heat is too much.” There many viewing areas on the ship from deep decks to wide-windowed cabin areas. If the weather isn’t comfortable it was simple to shelter inside and not miss the show. I watched a pod of dolphins racing from a window near the snack bar!

Cabrillo National Monument from sea level on a San Diego Whale Watching cuise

Cabrillo National Monument from sea level

There’s much more than wildlife to keep you interested. The route passes many landmarks and there’s the skyline, careening seagulls, sailing ships to ogle, the Coronado Islands and the famous Del Coronado to admire. If you need a closer look there are binoculars available to rent on the ship!

Kids and elders won’t be bored. There’s much to safely explore. The naturalists give fascinating presentations complete with giant whale bones and lots of pictures. Elders or the wheel-chair bound will be comfortable from accessible viewing areas inside or out.

The view from one of the Hornblower decks on a San Diego whale watching cruise.

There’s even a guarantee. If you don’t see whales, dolphins or sea lions you’ll get a ‘whale check’ good for another Hornblower harbor or San Diego whale watching cruise. As the saying goes, “I’ll be back.”

More about San Diego whale watching:

  • Hornblower Cruise schedules and events in San Diego online 
  • The San Diego whale and dolphin watching season runs from from Dec. 13 to April 24th
  • Review whale sighting reports online at
  • If you’re not in San Diego for the whale season there are special cruises year round: celebrating Restaurant week in January, Easter Sunday in April, Valentines Day cruises in February, Pet Day on the Bay at the end of April, Full Moon harbor cruises, birthday and lobster dinner cruises.

Thanks to Hornblower cruises and events for inviting me to experience all this. As usual all opinions are my own.

There’s so much going on in San Diego. Check out this hidden artwork that most visitors miss completely. Share this post! Social media buttons are above and here’s a few pins:

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One of many dolphins spied while on a San Diego whale watching adventure Naturalists on board a San Diego whale watching cruise


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