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Whale tail breaching out of water
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The Best Whale Watching Destinations in the U.S.

SmarterTravel

From the coast of Massachusetts to the beautiful beaches of Maui, the U.S. is home to some prime whale-watching spots. Read on for a few of our favorite whale-watching destinations around the country — plus when to visit, where to stay, and more. 

Editor’s note: Some services and amenities at these locations may be altered/halted due to the pandemic. Save these ideas for when it’s safe to travel again, and always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, rules, and safety regulations both at your destination and upon returning home.

San Juan Islands, Washington

Humpback whale breaching near the San Juan Islands
kpeggphoto | Adobe Stock

The San Juan Islands — about 90 miles from Seattle — are home to orcas (killer whales) year-round. Here, you can spot humpback whales, minke whales, and gray whales. For the best views on land, head to Lime Kiln Point State Park and San Juan Island National Historical Park. Alternatively, head out into the water: There are several whale-watching tour operators to choose from, including Maya’s, San Juan Island Outfitters, San Juan Excursions, or San Juan Safaris

Where to Stay: Friday Harbor House, located in the isle’s main town of the same name, offers cozy accommodations in a laid-back ambiance. Every one of the 24 rooms offers waterfront views and King-sized beds. Don’t miss the on-site restaurant and raw bar. 

Maui, Hawaii 

Whale tail breaching off the coast of Maui
manuel | Adobe Stock

The best time to go whale-watching in Maui is from November through May. During this time, thousands of North Pacific Humpback Whales migrate down south for the winter. The whales are best spotted via boat tour, and, fortunately, there are a range of options to choose from. Traditional whale-watching tours are available via Pacwale Eco-Adventures, while more adrenaline-pumping options include snorkeling whale-watching excursions from Ultimate Whalewatch, along with kayaking whale-watching tours from Maui Kayak Adventures

Where to Stay: The luxurious Fairmont Kea Lani resort offers something for everyone in your group, from kayaking to walking tours. The 22-acre, 450-room property features a wellness-centric spa, island-inspired food and drink offerings, and several swimming pools. 

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Provincetown, Massachusetts

Whale breaching between two boats off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts
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Located on Cape Cod, this quaint, vibrant town — nicknamed P’town by locals and travelers — is best known for its welcoming atmosphere. It’s also a top whale-watching destination from mid-April through October. Here, you can expect to spot dolphins plus a variety of whale species, including finbacks, humpbacks, orcas. While you may be able to spot whales from land (Herring Cove Beach and Race Point Beach are both popular spots for whale-watching), your best bet would be to book a guided boat. Check out Whale Watch Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown or Seasalt Charters.

Where to Stay: At The White Porch Inn, guests can relax in one of ten nautical-inspired guest rooms — each with private balconies and soaking tubs — (some also have en-suite fireplaces!) before browsing the on-site art gallery. The intimate bed-and-breakfast is housed in a 19th century-era home that’s full of charm.    

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Monterey, California

Whale breaching among flock of birds off coast of Monterey, California
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Monterey is an idyllic coastal California town that’s best known for its expansive aquarium — followed by exceptional whale-watching opportunities. While whale-watching is popular almost any time of year since the feeding season and the migrating season overlap, March through November is considered peak season. Princess Monterey Whale Watching, Monterey Bay Whale Watch, Discovery Whale Watch, Chris’ Whale Watching are all great options for sightseeing tours. You may also be able to spot whales from the shore in Monterey, but you may have better luck in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (which also has an on-site whaling museum). 

Where to Stay: With its central downtown location, Hotel Pacific puts you within walking distance of many Monterey must-see sights. The all-suite boutique property boasts upscale accommodations — each with luxe touches like hardwood flooring, gas fireplaces, and private balconies.  

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Bar Harbor, Maine

Crowd of tourists on whale watching boat from Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.
Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

Whale-watching season in Bar Harbor — a cozy yet vibrant waterfront town in Maine — begins in mid-April and stretches all the way into October. You can expect to spot (mostly) humpback whales and perhaps a few minke, finback, and North American right whales during this time. The popular summer locale offers some of the best sightseeing opportunities to spot the creatures in action. For the best views, hop aboard a sightseeing cruise led by Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.  Alternatively, bring a pair of binoculars to try your hand at whale-watching from shore at one of the area’s many beaches. 

Where to Stay: The waterfront Bar Harbor Inn & Spa dates back to 1887. Today, on-site activities and amenities abound: There’s a spa, swimming pool, cooking demos, history tours, waterfront yoga, and, of course, plenty of children’s programming. Accommodations are spacious and spread across three buildings. You’ll also find several dining venues here, too. 

Cape May, New Jersey

Tourists watching whale swim underneath their boat
Cape May Whale Watcher

Whale watching may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Jersey Shore, but the truth is, Cape May offers (almost) year-round whale and dolphin sightings. While excursions typically run from March through December, the “peak season” for prime viewing is June through November. Humpback whales are the most commonly spotted. No visit is complete without a narrated tour aboard the Cape May Whale Watcher. The Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center also offers informative, guided tours. 

Where to Stay: With its grand Victorian-era, bright yellow-hued exterior,  it’s hard to miss Congress Hall. The property is located in downtown Cape May right along the beach. Rooms here are whimsical, with vibrant colors, playful patterns, and sun-drenched surroundings. The four on-site dining options are sure to please foodies, while the spa offers beach-inspired body treatments, services, and massages (think algae masks, sand scrubs, and more). 

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Newport, Rhode Island

Tourists onboard a Classic Cruises of Newport ship
Classic Cruises of Newport

The Ocean State is chock-full of whale-watching opportunities from June through October — so grab your cameras and hop aboard a boat via Classic Cruises of Newport. You can even book a private charter and have the entire vessel to yourself. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot finbacks, humpbacks, or right whales. 

Where to Stay: The design-forward Wayfinder Hotel is best known for its eclectic eats (plus indulgent cocktails!). The property boasts an overall laid-back vibe with funky rooms complete with custom furniture, vintage accents, and a coastal-inspire color palette. 

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Jacksonville, Florida

Boat from Jax Boat Rentals in Jacksonville, Florida
Jax Boat Rentals

Florida may not be known for its abundance of whale-sightings, but hundreds of endangered right whales migrate here during the winter months. You may be able to spot from a distance via the Jacksonville Fishing Pier. Otherwise, your best bet would be to head out onto the water with River City Charters or Jax Boat Rentals

Where to Stay: The centrally located Sheraton Jacksonville Hotel makes an excellent (budget-friendly!) home base for exploring. Rooms and suites are standard with comfy beds, basic furnishings (i.e., seating, desks), and marble-tiled bathrooms. 

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Montauk, New York

Close up of a whale breaching
Viking Fleet

Sperm whales are often spotted along Montauk’s shallow waters — along with humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins, and other majestic wildlife creatures. Summertime is usually prime time for whale-watching in Montauk (think July through September). Viking Fleet offers marine biologist-led boat tours. 

Where to Stay: With 96 rooms, Marram offers a central Mountauk location right on the ocean. Rooms are sun-drenched and feature warm colors inspired by the surrounding beach. Activities include biking, beachfront yoga, nature walks, meditation, and evening bonfires. No stay is complete without a meal at the on-site Mostrador restaurant.

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Depoe Bay, Oregon

Andrea Izzotti | Adobe Stock

The Oregon coast is teeming with thousands of gray whales from mid-December to mid-January and late February and May. Depoe Bay is the best place to spot ‘em all. Visit the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center, which has friendly, helpful staff and a heated indoor viewing area. Or, if you’re brave enough to battle the weather, head out onto the water: Dockside Charters, Tradewinds Charters, and Whale Research Eco Excursions all offer whale-watching cruises.

Where to Stay: SCP Depoe Bay is an eco-friendly surf lodge. The low-key, laid-back, and minimalist-inspired property seeks inspiration from its coastal surroundings. Rooms here are done in soft whites, grays, and blues with reclaimed wood furnishings adorned with fishing artwork. 

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