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Winter Whale Watching Wonders Not to be Missed!

Winter Whale Watching of Gray Whales Near Dana Point, California

From dolphin and whale watching safaris, premiere Southern California Christmas boat parades, and a hometown holiday light exhibit that will have your social media accounts poppin’, check out our list of Southern California Christmas events not to miss list!

Fun in the California sun this winter isn’t just saying – it’s the real deal and seeing some of the world’s largest animals on earth is a gift that will last a lifetime. Did you know that winter whale watching is the best time to see some of our favorite marine mammal visitors, like the Pacific white-sided dolphin and the gray whale? If you haven’t already decided to book a whale watching trip for your friends and family this holiday season, be sure to add this to your list of fun-filled winter whale watching wonders this year!

Take a Ride With Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari!

Imagine yourself surfing the seas on the Pacific Ocean and as the pull of the ship glides through the water dolphins begin to crest through the surface of the waves all around you. As your excitement grows, the dolphins suddenly multiply and now you are surrounded by hundreds of these beautiful creatures all at once. At Capt. Dave’s, we are committed to ensuring you and your guests have an incredible experience, creating a life-long connection with the sea and all that it holds inside.

If an excursion on one of our adventurous zodiac-style boats (rigid inflatables) or an experience in our high-tech underwater viewing pods aboard our state-of-the-art catamaran Manute’a, sounds like the perfect gift for an out-of-towner or someone you won’t see until after the holidays; you are in luck! Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari offer something for everyone and seats are available all year long. If you are looking for a winter whale watching and want to experience a more intimate private charter, or prefer to cruise the seas in style on one of our popular public whale watching tours, your boat ride is sure to have you in awe of the ocean and all of the beauty it holds inside.

Gray Whales of All Sizes!

Winter whale watching wonders making it to the top spot on this year’s winter whale watching list has to be the main attraction itself. That’s right! Known as Eschrichtius robustus or gray whale, these incredible species are the true stars who first made Dana Point a famous whale watching location. Using the land-based landmark of Dana Point, these stunning creatures captivate us as they grace past our harbor entrance during the last leg of their vast migration to warmer Mexican lagoons where they will breed and give birth to their young each year. Seeing and hearing the sound of an animal coming to the ocean’s surface that weighs approximately 66,000 lbs. and reaches lengths of up to 49 feet is something you will never forget.

Having the opportunity to see one of the great rorqual whales is a sight in and of itself and to have the opportunity to potentially see more than one whale is extraordinary! Lucky for our visitors and locals alike, these graceful giants are commonly seen through the winter and into the spring and it is not uncommon to see multiple whales in a day in our little seaside town located in Orange County, California. While it is possible to catch a glimpse of the spout or fluke of these miraculous animals from the shore, we highly recommend booking a trip out with us at Capt. Dave’s, giving you the best seat to get an up-close and personal look and interaction with some of the larger animals in the sea and the world.

Pacific White-sided Dolphins

Winter whale watching is at its best when dolphins who wear a built-in smile surface, their gregarious nature, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens often referred to as “lags” are little winter whale watching wonders we anxiously anticipate the arrival of each year. More commonly known called Pacific white-sided dolphins, these elaborately colored animals are some of the most playful creatures in the sea. Loved by nearly all cetaceans, this very surface-active dolphin is one creature that will have you wanting to come back for more playful interactions out at sea. These beauties are commonly seen accompanying other species of whales and dolphins, making seeing them an opportunity for checking more boxes on your list of whales and dolphins to see while out to sea! If winter whale watching is on your list of things to do this holiday season, seeing lags will certainly make its way to the top of your “things I loved about this winter holiday season” list. Don’t wait! book your trip with us today!

Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade

Giving the gift of incredible experiences isn’t only enjoyable, they are also unforgettable, especially when you are centered in the heart of the whale watching capital of the world! If winter whale watching is something you want to keep doing once the sun goes down, then the Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade is a fabulous opportunity to sail into the festive holiday spirit before Christmas.

Our harbor parade is a favorite among locals and vacationers and is a huge annual hit. Watch as boats come to life in true Southern California Surf’s Up flare. The 47th annual Parade of Lights commences December 9th and lasts through December 11th, 2022. The boat parade starts at 7 PM on December 9 and at 6 PM on December 10 and 11. Joining the fun again this holiday season is Capt. Dave’s with both public and private cruise options and the guaranteed best seats on the water. Our boat parade cruises will depart promptly to have plenty of time to get into the perfect position inside the harbor to see all of the incredible sights of Santa and his reindeer living it up “surf style.” This is one of the top-rated recurring Christmas events held in Southern California and one you DO NOT want to miss.

Lighting the harbor with thousands of twinkling lights, Santa will be in his favorite board shorts hanging ten as boats cruise around the harbor making this event a local’s top choice for the entire family. Book your ticket now!

The competition is fierce this year, with $10,000 in cash prizes across several award categories for all boat parade entry participants.


If you cannot attend the Dana Point Harbor Parade of Lights on the water because your calendar is already full during the weekend of the Southern California Christmas boat parades, that is ok! We ‘whaley’ do go out on the water seven days a week, and our amazing Southern California weather allows us to be out on the water all year long. You and your family have the chance to see all of your favorite winter whale watching wonders this year!

Merry Kiss Me & Dana Point Harbor Light Display

Stroll into a holiday light extravaganza in the Dana Point Harbor this year! The annual holiday light display consists of over 700,000 LED lights, set to illuminate the Harbor starting November 16. The Happy Harbor Days lit-up sign lighting the entrance to the Dana Point Harbor is the perfect spot to snap picture-sharing-worthy photo opportunities with your friends and family this holiday season. A walk-through whale exhibit created with twinkling holiday lights is the perfect winter whale watching wonder to get you into Southern California’s festive spirit. If winter whale watching is on your list this holiday season, this is the perfect display to “kick-start” your Christmas spirit.

A few additional hours in the Dana Point Harbor are a “must,” and one of the most notable local spots to capture the perfect Christmas photo is located under the dazzling Merry Kiss Me light display next to Coffee Importers. Be sure to pick up award-winning hot cocoa or hand-scooped ice cream while you are there. Just like the community knows that Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari is the best venue to spot winter whale watching wonders like the great rorquals and dolphins all year long, locals also know Coffee Importers serves the absolute best hot cocoa, coffee, and treats around town.

Santa Paws

After joining us for winter whale watching, on Saturday, December 17th, bring Fido to Dana Point Harbor to meet Santa. Between 10 AM and 3 PM, the Pet Project Foundation is hosting their 10th Annual Santa Paws event in the Clock Courtyard. Photos of your pet will be available for a small donation. All proceeds support the Pet Project Foundation, a registered 501 (c)(3) non-profit that has helped rescue and find furever homes for lost and abandoned animals for nearly 40 years.

A dog holding a Santa hat in its mouth

Whatever Southern California winter whale watching or Christmas-specific events you decide to participate in this year, we want you to know that you are part of our family too. We wish you a very merry, safe, and healthy holiday season and best wishes as we look onward toward 2023. And when you do book a trip this holiday season, wearing your best ugly sweater and Santa hat aboard one of our trips is most certainly encouraged!

Ugly Christmas Sweater illustration

Until then,

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