The West Coast of the United States ranks among the great whale-watching seacoasts in the world. And with a California RV rental, you’ve got the perfect setup for a whale-watching road trip up this dazzling Pacific shore!
The Northeast Pacific hosts an impressive diversity of native cetaceans (whales and dolphins), from little harbor porpoises to titanic blue whales. The celebrity is the gray whale, which migrates between Baja California and Alaska every year; the grays often pass close to shore on their 10,000-mile (round-trip) odyssey. Spring and fall are the main seasons for gray-whale watching, although some grays spend the summer off Oregon and Washington.
But humpbacks, blues, orcas, and other whales are also commonly seen. In short, there’s plenty to spot in the West Coast’s nearshore waters without ever stepping into a boat. Here’s a roundup of some of the best shore-based vantages for viewing West Coast leviathans, with your RV as your own personal whale-watching vessel!
Cabrillo National Monument (California)
Set at the foot of San Diego’s Point Loma Peninsula, this park–the site of the first European landfall on the West Coast–makes a premier site for witnessing the southbound migration of gray whales in winter. The Whale Overlook and Old Point Loma Lighthouse are especially fruitful viewpoints.
Point Lobos State Reserve (California)
Point Lobos, just south of the marine bonanza that is Monterey Bay (and within easy reach of California RV parks), is among the West Coast’s most productive–and outright gorgeous–whale-watching perches. Scout for migrating grays in spring and autumn, and, in summer, humpbacks and blues drawn to baitfish and plankton schools.
Cape Perpetua (Oregon)
Looming better than 800 feet above wild Pacific surf, Cape Perpetua is the loftiest headland accessible by vehicle on the immediate Oregon coast. When it’s clear, you can see nearly 40 miles offshore and up and down some 70 miles of rugged shoreline: an epic viewshed to glimpse spring-through-fall gray whales (and the odd springtime orca).
Depoe Bay (Oregon)
Home to the Whale Watching Center run by Oregon State Parks, the charming little hub of Depoe Bay is whale-watching central on the Beaver State’s breathtaking Pacific margin. In addition to those migrating past in spring and autumn, a semi-resident population of gray whales often hangs out in the small cove here in summer to munch mysid shrimp.
Lime Kiln Point State Park (Washington)
This historic park on San Juan Island’s western coast is one of the globe’s best places for viewing orcas from land. It’s not uncommon to see these fleet, acrobatic hunters within a few dozen feet of the shore.
Tip: For all these sites, keep in mind that certain weather and ocean conditions–overcast skies, calm flatwater, etc.–improve your chances of spotting whales. Scouting in the afternoon or early evening, particularly on a clear day, can be challenging because of glinting sunlight, while choppy seas can hide whalespouts amid plentiful whitewater.