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Can You See Whales from the Shore in Dana Point?

Gray whale jumping out of the water in front of Dana Point Harbor

Seeing whales from the shore is not an uncommon sighting and has made Dana Point, California, the Whale Watching Capital of the World®. South Orange County is home to some of the country’s best whale watching off Dana Point because our oceans are filled to the brim with various species of dolphins and whales, pinnipeds, turtles, fish, and many seabirds too! Our pristine water and stunning coastline are not the only reasons to visit Dana Point.

Being the first-ever Whale Heritage Site in the Americas is one of the reasons that set whale watching off Dana Point apart from every other whale-watching city around the world. Dana Point whale watching also means you could see a whale from the shore! Our beloved California gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) make their way up and down the California coastline every year. Beginning in November, as they head down to the lagoons of Mexico to birth their young, they follow the coastline to make sure they are on the right path to warmer waters. As they head back to their feeding grounds in the Chukchi and Bering Seas in the cold waters of the Arctic, they pass right by again, using the Dana Point Headlands as their way of knowing they are still on the right track. Some gray whales have gotten so close to our harbor entrance that they have swum right inside before realizing they needed to turn around!

With that in mind, you could see a gray whale from shore while on the jetty rocks of Dana Point Harbor.

With so many animals abundant in our waters, you never know what wildlife you’ll see! Whale watching off Dana Point could be as easy as having a quick seaside lunch and catching a glimpse of friendly coastal bottlenose dolphins who often enjoy playing in the waves just as much as the local surfers nearby.

Suppose you have ever felt the urge to know what it would feel like to swim with dolphins underwater but aren’t ready to surf the waves yourself. In that case, you will love going underwater without even getting wet in our world-famous underwater viewing pods aboard Manute’a. Our super safe state-of-the-art catamaran boasts not one but two eye-to-eye viewing pods (one within each hull) and is the perfect viewing area for the best whale watching off Dana Point.

Passenger watching dolphins from underwater viewing pod on Manute'a

If you are looking for something with a little more adventure and a lot of speed, you can also catch a ride aboard one of our high-paced, action-packed zodiac tours! These hard-bottom rigid inflatable boats are the fastest whale-watching tours in the Dana Point Harbor and can cover a lot of territories. If you are looking for something a little more private and prefer to make your trip more intimate, we can also reserve a boat rental with captain for any of our six vessels. Just ask our friendly reservation staff what would work best for your group, and we will take care of the rest!

Zodiac-style boat Fast Cat with dolphins swimming under the bow

Every day, all year long, whale watching off Dana Point provides passengers from all over the world the opportunity to see whales and dolphins of all types and a plethora of species. Our summer visitors include the largest animal ever to roam the planet, the magnificent blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). With hearts the size of cars and tongues weighing as much as an elephant, these gentle giants are some of our passenger’s favorite parts of summertime vacation fun. While the gray whales make their journey closer to the shoreline, our gentle giants tend to spend most of their time in deeper waters. Whale watching off Dana Point viewings blue whales from a boat also could be an opportunity to catch sight of one of our faster-finned friends.

Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), also referred to as the greyhounds of the sea, can be found all year long. Unlike the blue whales and gray whales with migratory patterns that align with the summer and winter months, fast fin whales are sighted by passengers any day of the week and all year long too! ‘Fintastic’ fin whales, with their unique coloring, are often found riding alongside their colorful dolphin doppelgangers.

Although large baleen whales such as blue whales and fin whales prefer deep, offshore waters and therefore are typically best viewed from a boat, it is possible to see these whales from shore in Dana Point, albeit from a distance. The Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area overlooking Dana Point Harbor and the Pacific Ocean has three miles of public trails, much of which offers ocean viewing opportunities. From one of the viewpoints atop the headlands you might see the tall spout of a fin, blue, or sei whale!

Dolphins are considered whales too, and whale watching off Dana Point also means that you have the chance to see dolphin pods. That is right! Nearly half a million common dolphins call Dana Point, CA, their home! While common dolphins may be common to every ocean everywhere in the world, there are only a few places worldwide where you can see them in such substantial numbers. It is fabulous to watch these zippy little dolphins dazzle us with their impressive numbers. It is also amazing to see them so interested in our passengers when they are following our boats.

Seeing dolphins feed on bait balls filled with anchovies, mackerel, herring, and other small school baitfish is an astonishing sight while whale watching off Dana Point, CA. If you have ever had a family meal with your relatives, you know how loud the dinner table can get. Now try to imagine eating with one thousand of your closest family and friends. Dolphins’ feeding can create a lot of underwater noise, and these feeding frenzies can be heard from miles away.

Sometimes all the commotion will spark the attention of other “locals.” Curious humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei), sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis), and more have all been known to be seen near a dolphin feeding frenzy!

Whether you are whale watching off Dana Point from land or sea, Dana Point, CA, is the best place to be! From seeing our gray whales and coastal bottlenose dolphins from shore or catching a glimpse of what could be thousands of common dolphins swimming nearby or a blow several stories high from the exhale of some of our great rorquals, we KNOW you will have the trip of a lifetime when you decide to visit! So grab your tickets at the Dolphin Deck or purchase them online. Your ticket is your pass to start enjoying your whale watching off Dana Point adventure right away! Any time is the right time, and we look forward to bringing you out on an experience you and your entire family will never forget.

Until next time,

Jess Wright
First Mate and Marine Naturalist
Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari

Gift an unforgettable dolphin and whale watching experience! With year-round whales, dolphins, sea lions, sharks, and more, any time is a great time for your recipient to enjoy their gift.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods…” – Dr. Thomas Gilovich