Los Angeles is lucky when it comes to whales, since grey, humpback, minke, blue and orcas all migrate past our shores at some point every year, heading down to Cabo San Lucas from Alaska and back again.
Marina del Rey is one of the easiest places in L.A. to climb aboard a ship and head out to sea for great views of these large creatures. Marina del Rey Sportfishing is one of a number of companies that offers three-hour tours out into Santa Monica Bay to search for whales.
Located at Pier 52 on Fiji Way, with free parking and easy access to their 90-person boat, the company offers two tours a day on the weekends all year round, and one per day on Wednesdays through Fridays during the winter migration season.
The fluke of a migrating grey whale off the coast of Los Angeles — Photo courtesy of Marina del Rey Sportfishing
Their stable Big Whale boat heads out of the marina channel and begins to roam the bay, as spotters look from the wheelhouse high above the deck. They're on the lookout for a spume of water coming up out of the surf – as the whale surfaces and blows out its hole – or for a whale's fluke (tail) coming up with a splash.
The gray whales are recognized by their lack of a fin and grey-white mottled markings on the body, while humpbacks are recognized by their huge flippers and humps and minke by their small dorsal fin. Once spotters see a whale, the boat makes a beeline for it.
Whale flukes spotted in Santa Monica Bay — Photo courtesy of Marina del Rey Sportfishing
It's a good idea to grab a spot on the prow if you can, to get the best photo opportunities. Don't step away: that place will soon be filled.
But there is plenty of room along all sides of the Marina del Rey Sportfishing boat (and outdoor bench seats in the stern, as well as inside), so getting a good look at the 40- to 50-foot whales isn't a problem.
If you're lucky, you might even see one of the whales breach (jump) right out of the water in front of you!
A humpback whale comes right next to the boat — Photo courtesy of Marina del Rey Sportfishing
And hopefully you'll have the opportunity to experience a pod of dolphins and/or porpoises playing in the water. They love to race along with fast boats, so if the captain of the Big Whale finds a pod, he'll rev the boat's engines and the dolphins will start swimming furiously fast, darting under and beside the boat at an incredible pace.
That alone is a bucket list experience.
Watch for seals, too, who love to frolic in the cool Pacific waters; chat with the on-board docent, who's there to tell you all about the whales and their migration patterns; and then simply enjoy the view, as sailboats drift past, pelicans dive bomb for fish and the breeze gently ruffles your hair.
Spotting a grey whale during its migration past L.A. — Photo courtesy of Marina del Rey Sportfishing
The best time of year to grab your camera, binoculars, sunscreen and a warm jacket (it can get chilly out in the Pacific Ocean) to go catch a whale-watching boat and see those majestic creatures in all their glory is from November to March. These months are when the grey whales head back to Alaska.
Whales generally like to hug the coastline, which means plenty of chances to interact with these massive marine mammals. And they're often spotted off the California coast at any time of year, along with plenty of other sea creatures. Head for Marina del Rey, Redondo Beach, Long Beach or even all the way up to Ventura for the best views.
It's a wonderful way to spend a fall or winter day in sunny Southern California!
The lovely view from Marina del Rey Sportfishing's whale-watching boat — Photo courtesy of Jenny Peters