Unpretentious and laid-back, Dana Point is the Southern California surf town with a magnificent thriving harbor and awesome beach vibe. Located an hour or so up the coast from San Diego, it’s a great place for a getaway.
One of our favorite draws to this small town? Dana Point whale watching! This area is renowned as the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World. In January of 2021, Dana Point became the first destination in the Americas honored as a Whale Heritage Site. So we were super excited to receive an invitation to go and check it out ourselves.
To the delight of locals and visitors, these magnificent denizens of the deep can be spotted year-round off Dana Point. In addition, there more dolphins per square mile here than anywhere else in the world (over 450,000). And, the best way to see the whales, dolphins, along with other magnificent wildlife is to head out to the Pacific…on a Dana Point whale watching tour!
DANA POINT WHALE WATCHING TOURS
Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching
There are several whale-watching companies in Dana Point to choose from, but our favorite is Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching. This pioneer whale watching company is celebrating their 50th anniversary of sailing excited passengers on board its catamarans to open waters in search of whales. They are not only the local’s favorite, but they guarantee the best whale watching experience in Southern California. Book your tickets here>>
Both group and private charters are available. The company’s best-selling trip is a two-hour whale and dolphin cruise aboard the Ocean Adventure, a luxury eco-friendly catamaran with a raised EYE-SPY viewing platform. They also offer an 8-hour Ultimate Whale Watch a few times each year as well as a combined whale watching/sports fishing tour.
Cruises depart picturesque Dana Point Harbor with numerous booking times available. These trips are narrated by expert marine naturalist captains and crew who display charts of sea life frequenting the area, and discuss the fascinating behaviors of the water wildlife.
Guides are highly knowledgeable and engaging, encouraging questions and interaction from passengers. And whale watching captains network on the radio. If one of the tours spot whales, the captains share the information so all boats have an opportunity to view these gentle giants.
There’s plenty of seating areas in the spacious catamaran, and snacks, food, drinks, and alcoholic beverages are available for purchase.
Every trip is a different experience. Seasonally over 1,500 gray whales are spotted offshore, and summertime brings the blue whales. And it’s so hard to beat the expansive azure Pacific views and charming beach towns surrounding these waters. To boot, you may even catch a sailing regatta as we did. Book your Dana Wharf Whale Watching Tour here>>
Additional Dana Point Whale Watching Tours:
- Dana Point Whale Watching and Dolphin Watching Eco-Safari: 2.5-hour catamaran whale watching eco safari with underwater viewing pods.
- High-Speed Zodiac Whale Watching Safari from Dana Point: small group (max 12 people) RHIP whale watching adventure.
- Five-Hour or Nine-Hour Shared Fishing Trip Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching: If you like fishing AND whale watching, this tour is a great option!
WILDLIFE AND MARINE MAMMAL SIGHTINGS DANA POINT
Grey whale season extends from November through April when more than 20,000 gray whales up to 65-feet long make the arduous journey from Alaska to Southern Baja, California. Along the way they feed, gather, mate, and reproduce in the safe, warm waters off Baja. Dana Point is right on the migration path, so you get to spot so is many of these whales here.
As we stood on the platform of the catamaran, flocks of birds began to gather. Where there are birds, there are fish, and where there are fish…yes, there are whales. Two spouts appeared in the distance, then suddenly one immense fin whale appeared on the horizon, and another’s tail emerged from the water. Always an amazing sight!
Blue whale season runs from May to November, and these marine mammals are the largest animals on the planet, growing up to 100 feet and weighing up to 100 tons. Fin whales, humpbacks, minke whales are spotted year-round. Dolphins, ever the playful frolickers can be spotted in pods around the boat and throughout these Pacific waters.
Sea lions, pelicans, and other seafaring birds like masked boobies were also our companions throughout the cruise. And naturalists say they’ve also spotted mako, hammerhead, and great white sharks. Check out the website for a daily log of whale and sea-life spotting. It’s fascinating.
DANA POINT STAY AND PLAY PACKAGES
Why not make your whale watching adventure a little getaway?
Thanks to Dana Point Marina Inn and DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Doheny Beach, whale watching packages are available with an overnight stay. These include accommodations and parking, grab and go breakfast, and two tickets aboard one of Dana Point’s whale-watching vessels. Rates start at $159 per night, and that’s quite a deal.
We loved our well-appointed surf-themed suite at the DoubleTree which included an ocean view, king bed, balcony, spacious living room with full-size sofa bed and gas fireplace. Two 55-inch flat screen televisions, spacious bathroom with full shower and jacuzzi tub, and luxury Crabtree and Evelyn bath products were icing on the cake.
The location is just steps from Doheny Beach and a mere five-minute drive to the harbor. A rooftop patio bar sports comfortable seating, firepit, nighttime lighting, and magnificent Pacific views. Other amenities include a pool area with loungers and a work-out room. Book your stay here>>
DINING OPTIONS IN THE DANA POINT HARBOR
Why not treat yourself to lunch, happy hour, or dinner following a whale-watching cruise? There are numerous restaurants located in Dana Point Harbor, but two of top favorites are Wind & Sea and Harpoon Henry’s.
Wind & Sea
Mere steps from the wharf and harbor, Wind & Sea is the perfect name for a restaurant surrounded by water on three sides. The eatery’s large outdoor patio area overlooks the harbor, and the restaurant features delectable Pacific Rim fusion cuisine with appetizers, salads, fish, sandwiches, and house specials.
Harpoon Henry’s, a harbor staple restaurant for 44 years, boasts stunning waterfront views from its heated outdoor patio. Seafood is king here with many impressively fresh options. From small plates and salads to seafood and beef entrees, we always rave about the food and service here.
FAQs FOR YOUR DANA POINT WHALE WATCHING TRIP
Dress casually in comfortably layered clothing. Even on a 70-degree sunny day, Pacific breezes can be chilly, especially when the boat is moving at a good clip. Wear tennis shoes or non-skid shoes. No heels. You’ll know why if you do. Masking per California guidelines is mandatory, so make sure to have one with you.
Advance purchase is highly recommended, especially with limiting seating due to health restrictions and during high season. Book your tickets here>>
Photo courtesy of Dana Wharf Whale Watching
Dana Wharf asks that passengers arrive 30 to 45-minutes in advance as they may have to fill out paperwork and waivers.
We recommend you bring your camera, and binoculars if you have them. You’ll want to get those closer views of the whales and wildlife as they’re spotted.
Photo courtesy of Dana Wharf Whale Watching
You can bring a brown bag lunch or snacks aboard, however, no ice chests or alcoholic beverages.
Nope, we’ve seen littles in strollers as well as great-grandmothers. Children up to 12 pay a reduced price, and toddlers 2 and under are free.
We’ve been fortunate on past trips that when whales or dolphins are spotted, people get their photos then make room for others to take their shots as well. So, don’t hog the rail, and be considerate of others.
Photo courtesy of Dana Wharf Whale Watching
Whales dance to their own tune, so, there’s no guarantee. However, if for any reason, whales and dolphins are not spotted or the adventure doesn’t produce good sightings, Dana Wharf provides passengers free return tickets that never expire. You just can’t beat that. We’ve been on trips where we’ve only spotted a few, and others with numerous sightings.
Gratuity isn’t required, but we recommend leaving around $5 per person. The crew works really hard to make your trip enjoyable.
They are both really nice. We enjoy going on whale watching tours in San Diego a lot. It is close to home and you get to choose from many different offers. Dana Point Whale Watching is smaller, more intimate, and feels a bit more like an expedition rather than a “tour” and we LOVE it!
Here’s hoping you take advantage of one of Dana Point’s packages, enjoy a day out on the beautiful cerulean seas, and that the whales, dolphins, and other sea life put on quite a show for you!
Dana Point Whale Watching Capital Of The World was written by Noreen Kompanik for San Diego Explorer.
Of note: Common to the travel industry, the destination hosted some of the activities mentioned in this post. However, this does not influence my review.
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Last Updated on March 3, 2021 by Maria Haase