I have visited San Diego twice in my life, once as a child and once last year. Unfortunately, as a child, I cannot recall going as I was so young, and last year we’d left before we’d really arrived, the only option was to go back! This time in San Diego we had more time, but even then I wish we’d had longer in this beautiful spot in California. We wanted to go whale watching on the previous visit to San Diego but didn’t get a chance, therefore on this trip, we made sure we’d booked on a Hornblower whale watching tour in San Diego.

Whale Watching San Diego

We were in luck because not only had we booked onto a whale watching tour but at the time we’d be going, the whales were migrating north, meaning the possibility of a sighting would be higher! Grey whales, reproduce in the south then travel with their young to the north to feed. Whilst San Diego is one of the best locations to see whales all year round, this migration meant there would be a better chance of seeing them.

Hornblower whale watching San Diego

Hornblower Cruises and Events

Hornblower whale watching tours have been operating for many years, however, they don’t just stop at whale watching. The company, Hornblower Cruises and Events, has whale watching as just one aspect of their offering. This company deliver a broad range of options including corporate events, private parties, dinner cruises and of course, tours.

Beyond San Deigo, Hornblower operates their fleet in a number of other ports too; San Francisco, Sacramento, Berkeley, New York, Marina Del Rey, Newport Beach and Long Beach.

Hornblower Whale Watching in San Diego

Booking tickets for tours are simple, either book online, or purchase tickets at the specific ticket booth in front of the boat dock. We purchased online, but we collected them from the booth on North Harbour Drive close to the US Midway Museum. The booking and collecting process was a smooth transaction, with friendly and attentive staff.

best whale watching tours in San Diego

Volunteers from the San Diego Natural History Museum were greeting fellow tour guests during boarding. These volunteers gave visitors information about the whales and answered any questions guests might have throughout the tour. Personally, I felt this was a fantastic touch to bring on board, particularly during this exciting whale migration.

On board

Setting sail from the Hornblower San Diego dock, the cruise began to make its way out of the bay. The boat was large giving people the option to sit on the top deck or lower deck. Many sailing boats were dotted about taking in the glorious views of San Diego from the sea. The first marine animal sighting being a sea lion who was indulging in the sunshine on a buoy. We were all somewhat jealous of his perfect bay spot!

whale watching tours in San Diego

Staff and facilities

Leaving the bay area the sea was choppy, but staff advised all attendees prior to departure on the necessary health and safety protocol, including dealing with seasickness. After moving further into the open sea, husband and I took advantage of the onboard food and drink facilities. Options for food and drink were extensive with hot and cold beverages (including alcoholic), with numerous snack choices.

It was chilly once we were in the open sea if stood out of the sunshine. I strongly suggest taking a jumper and a coat if you decide to take a tour! Avoiding seasickness is quite simple, either with medication or simply looking to the horizon at the front of the boat. I deem the best view is at the front of the boat, due to spotting a pod of dolphins soon after we left the bay.

Whale and dolphin spotting

Dolphins appeared a number of times during the tour, splashing around alongside the boat. It was truly amazing watching them together and having the opportunity to spot them more than once. After the second pod of dolphins, there were sightings of two grey whales. These were easy to spot due to their size and distinctive colour, approximately 49ft in length with mottled skin emerging just above water. These two grey whales, (Eschrichtius robustus) stayed close to the boat for the majority of the tour, which was incredible. The tour guide was as astonished as we at the sighting lasting for so long.

The grey whales would sense the boat and change direction, but the captain was able to follow them. This allowed guests to obtain those all important photo captures. Everyone on board attempting to get a photo was desperate for the classic tail splash, but unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky. None-the-less, the fact we were present at this remarkable sighting, gaining extensive new knowledge on the whales from staff and seeing the whales constant 3ft water blows, was more than we could have hoped for.

Due to the two whales staying close by, the tour didn’t need to find any more. All were mesmerised by the situation of seeing these Eastern Pacific Gray Whales in front of us, myself included. The boat soon made the journey back towards the bay, gaining another sighting of sea lions and dolphins. It was one of those experiences I will continue to gush about to anyone who will listen.

How can you go on a Hornblower whale watching tour?

There are currently two tours operating on a daily basis for whale watching in San Diego. Please check the Hornblower whale report before booking.

Whale & Dolphin Watching Adventure – Tour 1 – AM

BOARDS: 9.15am CRUISES: 9.30am – 1.00PM PRICE: $48.00 per person – Tax, service charge and landing fee may apply

Whale & Dolphin Watching Adventure – Tour 2 – PM

BOARDS: 1.15pm CRUISES: 1.30am – 5.00PM PRICE: $48.00 per person – Tax, service charge and landing fee may apply

I strongly suggest if you visit San Diego to join Hornblower on a whale and dolphin tour. Time went by quickly even though we were out at sea for hours, the experience was just incredible. Being able to look for these magnificent creatures and finding them, was time well spent, and for that I believe it cannot be missed!