Where To See Whales (and More!) This Season

Photo © 2013 “Mike” Michael L. Baird, flickr.bairdphotos.com

As part of the Coastal Discovery Celebration, why not have a whale of a time whale watching along Highway 1? Nothing brings a sense of awe for nature’s wonders like seeing a whale spout or tail with your own eyes. And on the Highway 1 Discovery Route, whale watching is easier than ever with the Whale Trail

The Whale Trail provides a series of points on the Pacific Coast from which to see marine mammals. Each locale includes interpretive signs and information for whale watchers of all ages. Of the over 100 sites along the trail (and 26 in California), six lie on the Highway 1 Discovery Route.

San Simeon (San Simeon Bay Pier)

A picturesque beachside hamlet full of charm, Old San Simeon also makes for great whale watching. Walk along the 800-foot San Simeon Bay Pier to see a variety of marine birds and mammals. Don’t forget to check out binoculars and guides for viewing San Simeon Bay Wildlife at the Coastal Discovery Center nearby.


Visit six-acre Shamel Park, adjacent to the Leffingwell Landing Trail and Moonstone Beach, to spot a number of species. California Gray Whales are most commonly seen migrating south December through February, and north in early spring through April. Other species to see include White-Sided Dolphins, sea lions, and sea otters.


The recently restored Cayucos Pier provides terrific viewing for marine wildlife. Find the Whale Trail site on the pier and learn about the species that can be seen from there. See gray whales traveling southward in December and January, and northward in March and April. From the Cayucos Pier, the best time for whale watching happens in March and April, as mothers and their babies hug closer to shore. You may even see a humpback whale, dolphin, or sea lion.

Los Osos-Baywood Park

One of the finest points for viewing wildlife in California, Montaña de Oro is home to sea otters, seals, dolphins, birds, and humpback whales that are visible all year. Watch for gray whales during migration, between December and April. And don’t miss the tidepools at Corralina Cove, where sea anemones and sea stars live.

Avila Beach

One of the Central Coast’s newer viewing sites, Avila Beach sees gray and humpback whales every year for feeding. Look for gray whales migrating past Avila Beach between December and April, while humpback whales can be found year-round. Dolphins, sea lions, and sea otters can also be seen at Harford Pier.

Oceano & Nipomo

Spanning one of California’s largest dune complexes, Oceano and Nipomo offer terrific viewing access to whale migration paths. Find the Whale Trail sign overlooking Pismo State Beach, just off West Grand Avenue. There, look for spouts from gray whales (which are shaped like a heart) and those from humpbacks (which are tall and column-shaped). Gray whales typically migrate between December and April, while humpbacks can be seen all year, in addition to dolphins and seabirds.

BONUS: Elephant Seals

No marine mammal viewing would be complete without a visit to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. And during the Coastal Discovery Celebration, visitors can take exploratory tours of the rookery, docent-led educational walks, or attend Life of the Northern Elephant Seal at the Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon. Visit our Coastal Discovery Celebration page for more information on these and other special opportunities available during this time.