Traveling to Monterey, California and wondering if a whale watching tour is worth it?
The answer to that question is, it depends. We went on a whale watching tour this summer and loved it because of the huge number of whales and other sea animals. But others have complained of the cold weather and choppy waters that make them seasick.
Going out on a boat in Monterey Bay will almost guarantee you whale and other marine life sightings but it just depends on if you can brave the cold and windy weather and the possibility of seasickness.
Is Whale Watching In Monterey, California Worth It?
Monterey is one of the few places in the world that you can see whales pretty much all year round. In addition to that, Monterey Bay is also one of the easiest places to spot whales (sometimes even from shore) without having to travel far out into the ocean.
A lot of whale watching tours will even guarantee that you see at least one whale while you’re out there or you can go back out on another trip for free.
The time of year and conditions of the sea will determine what types of whales will be out there and how active they will be, but the probability of seeing them on a Monterey whale watching tour definitely makes it worth it in this coastal California town.
On the other hand, the bay in Monterey is not known for its calm waters so the biggest downside is the seasick inducing choppy ride. Even if you don’t normally have any motion sickness issues, the fact that numerous passengers get sick off the back of the boat might make you sick too.
The most nauseating thing for us was the strong engine smell of the boat which you can somewhat avoid by going to the front of the boat but this is usually the bounciest area.
Despite being warned about the weather and temperature before getting on the boat, a lot of passengers complained about being cold. Regardless of the weather on shore, it will be colder and windier out on the water.
If these two drawbacks are highly unappealing to you, then whale watching in Monterey might not be worth it for you. But if you can prepare and avoid them, Monterey is a fantastic place for whale watching and definitely worth your time.
Best Whale Watching Tours In Monterey Bay
There are lots of whale watching tour options in the Monterey Bay area stretching from Santa Cruz all the way down through Monterey. Most are fairly similar in price and duration of the trip.
🐳 The Discovery Whale Watch is one of the most popular tours in the Monterey area. Their boats, specifically The Pacifica that was designed for whale watchers, make this tour a great option.
➡️ For those wanting a morning tour with one of the most popular whale watching experiences, we recommend booking your tour here with Discovery Whale Watch.
➡️ For those wanting the same tour but in the afternoon, you can book here with Discovery Whale Watch.
🐳 This is the trip we went on this summer and we enjoyed the smaller boat with less people and the long running history of the company (over 50 years). It is also one of the most economical tours available in the area.
➡️ For those wanting a reputable and economical whale watching experience, we recommend booking your tour here with Chris’ Fishing Trips & Whale Watching.
🐳 This tour is another one of the more economical choices leaving out of Moss Landing on a larger boat, which could help some with the issue of choppiness and seasickness.
➡️ For those wanting a larger boat at a reasonable price going out of Moss Landing, we recommend booking your tour here with Sea Goddess Whale Watching.
🐳 The most luxurious and close up whale watching experience leaves out of Moss Landing on a small boat that only takes up to six passengers. Whales are guaranteed, the boat moves faster and the boat sits low in the water so you have a closer view of the marine life.
➡️ For those wanting the most personal whale watching experience, we recommend booking your tour here with Oceanic Expeditions.
🦦 Outside of whale watching tours, this is one of the best tours to see the Elkhorn Slough inside of Monterey Bay (leaving from Moss Landing). The tour is on an electric powered catamaran that will get you close for the chance to see sea otters, sea lions, birds and more.
➡️ For those wanting an eco friendly experience in the Elkhorn Slough, we recommend booking your tour here with Monterey Bay Eco Tours.
Can You See Whales From The Shore In Monterey?
There are times and places where it is possible to see whales from the shore in the Monterey area.
When we were visiting, we met a lady that lived on the coast near Harbor Seal Lookout (just up from Cannery Row) and she said they just had loads of whales right there near the shore because of temporary high algae in the area.
It can depend on the conditions like above, but you can still try searching for whales from land around Monterey. Some typical whale sighting places on land include Asilomar State Beach, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Highway 1 in Big Sur, Cannery Row and Point Sur Lighthouse.
Be sure to bring some binoculars and for pretty much guaranteed wildlife sightings check out Old Fisherman’s Wharf for sea lions, Harbor Seal Lookout for harbor seals, and Elephant Seal Viewing Point to see elephant seals (but be warned that these ones are very smelly).
FAQs & Tips For Whale Watching In Monterey
Below are our tips to help make your whale watching tour in Monterey worth it. They are followed by FAQs for whale watching in Monterey.
✅ Go with a highly rated tour, don’t just choose any tour because it is the cheapest.
✅ Be sure to dress properly for the tour. It is cold and windy and you don’t want to be miserable the whole time you are out there.
✅ Keep a good grip on your phone and camera. I had to hold on to the railing often while trying to take pictures and I’m very glad I had my camera string around my wrist.
✅ Most of your body will likely be covered but even on a cloudy day, don’t forget to put a little healthy and reef friendly sunscreen on your face. The rays still come through the clouds and bounce off the water.
✅ Come prepared for the choppy water even if you don’t normally get seasick.
✅ Both the strong engine smell and inside room seemed to make that nauseous feeling worse so we suggest avoided those areas to stay feeling good.
✅ Most boats do have bathrooms but with the small sizes and bumpy rides, it’s best to use the bathroom before getting on the boat.
✅ Take binoculars if you have them. Hopefully plenty of marine life comes close to the boat, but binoculars are great for any far away sightings.
✅ Get a ride to the wharf or be prepared to pay for parking. We couldn’t find any free parking near the wharf and had to pay $15 for the day.
✅ Know that boat crews generally expect tips at the end of the trip. They usually just have a bucket you can drop it in on the way out and it is completely up to you, but it is good to know all of the extra costs involved with the tour.
✅ You can go on a whale watching tour multiple times in Monterey and see completely different things. Different times of year have different whale species so you shouldn’t get bored if you go out more than once.
✅ You could get lucky and see a full breach, but know that you are most likely to just see the back and tail of the whales.
✅ The boat crew will likely point them out to you, but one way you can try to get ready for a picture or video is by looking and listening for the blowhole. When we were out there, they typically spewed water up in the air right before taking a deeper dive in which we could see their tails.
➡️ How Do You Prepare For Whale Watching?
In Monterey Bay, the two most important things to prepare for are seasickness and wet, cold and windy weather. Even if you never get cold or never get seasick, we recommend coming prepared so you enjoy the tour.
➡️ Will I Get Seasick On A Whale Watch?
Regardless of your past boating experiences, you should take some extra precautions while on a tour in Monterey. We had never gotten seasick before but we both got a little nauseous and one of us did get sick in Monterey Bay.
As we mentioned earlier, it is not just about the choppy waters but the smell of the engine and the frequent seasickness of the other passengers that add to the possible nauseating experience.
We try to do everything as healthy as possible, so we prefer to use remedies like essential oils (ginger, peppermint and lavender are some of the top choices) or organic ginger chews.
➡️ What Do You Wear Whale Watching In Monterey?
No matter what the weather is like on the dock, it is important to dress warm for a whale watching tour on Monterey Bay. It might be sunny and somewhat warm on shore, but the wind on the bay is quite chilly. Besides, it is better to take things off than not have enough to put on.
These are our suggestions for what to wear on a Monterey whale watching tour:
🥶 A beanie or tight hoodie that will stay on your head through the wind.
🥶 A warm sweatshirt and/or long sleeve shirt.
🥶 A rain/waterproof jacket to wear over your other sweatshirt or shirt.
🥶 Pants (we wore leggings and were fine with those).
🥶 Closed toed shoes with good traction (the boat deck does get wet).
🥶 Sunglasses if you can keep them secure or have them on a string or cord.
🥶 A seasick/motion sickness bracelet if that helps you.
➡️ Do You Get Wet Whale Watching?
It is very probable that you will get some ocean spray if you remain outside on the boat. The boat deck and your shoes are likely to get a little wet as well. You shouldn’t get soaked but that is why it is good to have a rain/waterproof jacket.
➡️ Are There Bathrooms On Whale Watching Boats?
Most of the larger boat whale watching tours will have bathrooms on the boats but it’s generally not the best option if you can avoid it. We recommend emptying your bladder as much as possible before getting on the boat and if you feel sick, it’s probably best to go to the back of the boat to feed the fish (the small enclosed space of the bathroom is likely to add to the nauseating feeling).
➡️ How Much Does It Cost To Go Whale Watching In Monterey?
Most group whale watching tours in Monterey range from about $60 to $80 per person. A smaller more personal boat tour will likely be just short of $200 per person. And a fully private charter will likely be in the mid to high $1,000s for the entire boat rental (not per person).
➡️ How Long Is The Monterey Whale Watching Tour?
Most Monterey whale watching tours last for around three to four hours. Some of this time is spent going out to sea and back in to the wharf at the end of the tour.
➡️ Is Whale Watching Better In San Francisco Or Monterey?
Both Monterey and San Francisco are good for whale watching and probably have pretty equal chances of spotting whales. The difference however, is that in Monterey you can take a short ride out to see whales but in San Francisco, it is usually an all day tour (which isn’t the best scenario for those prone to seasickness) to get out to the Farallon Islands.
➡️ What Whales Are In Monterey?
The most common types of whales you can see in Monterey include Humpback Whales, Gray Whales, Blue Whales and Orca/Killer Whales. The sea conditions and times of year determine what types of whales will be out there, but there are almost always whales in Monterey which is why a whale watching tour is worth it here.
🐋 Humpback Whales are typically most active in Monterey during the Summer and Fall from April to November.
🐋 Gray Whales are typically most active two times in the year during Winter and Spring from December to February and again from mid February to April.
🐋 Blue Whales, the largest animals on earth, are typically in Monterey in the Summer and Fall (June to October) with peaks generally in July and August depending on Krill levels.
🐋 Orca/Killer Whales can be seen anytime in Monterey but their movements are much more unpredictable. They do say however, that your best chances are during the months of March, April and May.
We also saw Risso’s Dolphins, Sea Otters and a Sunfish while out in the bay.
What Is The Best Time To See Whales In Monterey?
As stated earlier, Monterey is basically a year round whale watching destination with the only real slow period being between mid November and mid December (but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any whales in that month period).
The types of whales you can see will depend on the time of year and sea conditions like abundance of krill and algae. Below are the typical whales seen during specific seasons.
☀️ Summer ~ Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and possibly Orca/Killer Whales.
🍁 Fall ~ Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and possibly Orca/Killer Whales.
❄️ Winter ~ Gray Whales and possibly Orca/Killer Whales.
🌸 Spring ~ Gray Whales, Orca/Killer Whales and possibly Humpback Whales.
What Time Of Day Are Whales Most Active?
Whales typically don’t have a “best” time of day to see them. They are generally equally active in the morning and afternoon.
Is It Better To Go Whale Watching In The Morning Or Afternoon?
So if whales are active pretty much anytime of day, is there a better time to go on a whale watching tour? Most would agree that mornings are the better time to go whale watching for two reasons.
One, the weather and water conditions are usually better in the mornings. However, when we say the waters are “calmer”, don’t expect flat seas. It was still incredibly choppy once we got out into the open sea.
And two, there are typically less people on the morning tours. Again, that doesn’t mean there won’t be anyone, we had about 20 to 25 people, but it is usually less than the afternoon crowds.
Do Orcas Come To Monterey Bay?
Yes Orcas or Killer Whales do swim in the waters of Monterey Bay but their timing isn’t the most predictable. It is possible to see them anytime of year but they typically seem to be more active in the months of March, April and May, although it is not guaranteed.
Wrap Up: Is Whale Watching In Monterey Worth It?
We think that with the consistent number of whales in Monterey Bay, the whale watching experience is worth it despite the downsides of cold weather and choppy water. If you don’t think you can get past these two obstacles, then whale watching might not be for you, but if you can prepare, you’ll have a great time spotting whales in the bay.