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San Francisco Whale Tours

Golden Gate Whale Watch

Quick Details

  • Hour Glass Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Map Marker Meeting Locations: Pier 39, just off The Embarcadero (San Francisco, CA)

Info   Not Included:

Food and beverages are not included in this cruise. Please feel free to bring your own food and beverages with you! Keep in mind that beer and wine are allowed on board, but hard alcohol is not.

Whale Watching at the Golden Gate Bridge

Enjoy a scenic cruise of San Francisco’s beautiful coastline and the fantastic wildlife of the Bay Area. Each trip is a unique experience — don’t miss the boat! Pack some grub, grab a camera, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime on the adventurous Pacific Ocean.

  • Humpback whales May-November
  • Gray whales December-May
  • Harbor seals, dolphins, porpoises, and abundant sea bird colonies
  • Views of the Golden Gate Bridge and gorgeous shorelines

What to Bring

  • Warm clothes, jackets, hats, and gloves (waterproof)
  • Comfortable non-slip shoes
  • Sun protection
  • If you think you may be prone to seasickness or are a first-time whale watcher, you may want to consider motion sickness medications.
  • Chevron down What kind of whales and marine life have been sighted recently?

Yes! We are seeing whales! — Humpback whales are typically seen from Spring into Winter months while gray whales have been feeding in and around the San Francisco Bay in the winter and Spring months. Check out our Instagram and Facebook pages for recent sightings @SFWhaleTours. Other marine mammal sightings include Harbor Seals, Harbor Porpoise, California Sea Lions and many pelagic sea birds. Join us on board!

  • Chevron down Do I have to purchase tickets in advance?

Advance purchase is required, and trips often sell out quickly. To maximize your chances of getting the day and time you prefer, please buy your tickets well in advance. Tickets can only be purchased with a Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express.

  • Chevron down What if I want tickets for a trip in the future not listed?

If the date you are looking for is further along than our schedule shows, please click on the “Contact SFWhaleTours” link to request a tour on a specific day.

  • Chevron down What happens in the event of bad weather?

Trips will continue rain or shine. In the case of severe weather, you will be notified of the cancellation and offered to refund or reschedule to another time depending upon availability.

  • Chevron down Are children allowed?

Children of all ages are welcome on board.

  • Chevron down Is the cruise suitable for pregnant women?

Pregnant women should consult with their doctors before participating in any active activities. For safety reasons, we do not recommend that pregnant women attend. If you have any questions, please click on the “Contact SFWhaleTours” link to discuss further.

  • Chevron down Do your trips depart on time?

Yes, our trips do depart promptly! We kindly ask that you arrive 30 minutes early for check-in, our crew will arrive 15 minutes before your trip. Don’t miss the boat! Tickets are non-refundable less than 48 hours prior to the tour.

  • Chevron down How far are you from the major airports?

We are approximately 30 minutes from San Francisco and Oakland airports depending on traffic.

  • Chevron down Do you guarantee whale sightings on every trip?

Yes! If you don’t see a whale your next trip is on us.

  • Chevron down What kind of whales will I see?

We have seen Gray and Humpback whales throughout the year depending on the season. See our sightings report for the most recent sightings.

  • Chevron down How close up can we view whales?

We will stop 300 ft. from the whales and let them come to us, following federal whale watching guidelines. We do not touch, swim with, or feed the wildlife.

  • Chevron down What happens if I don't see a whale or any dolphins during my trip?

We will try our best to make sure you have a great experience on board with us, but we cannot control where the whales are at any given time. If you don’t see any whales or dolphins during your trip, we kindly invite you to come back again for another trip!

  • Chevron down What other marine life should I expect to see?

The other marine and wildlife include: Harbor Porpoise, Harbor Seals, California Sea Lions, California Gulls, Western Gulls, Pigeon Guillimot, Brandt’s Cormorant, Double Crested Cormorant and so much more!

  • Chevron down How far do we have to travel to view whales?

Our goal is to find whales in the wild. The destination depends on where the whales are feeding any given day and time.

  • Chevron down How long is the trip?

The tour duration is about 2.5-3 hours depending on weather conditions.

  • Chevron down Will I get off of the boat at any point?

No, you will not get off of the boat at any point during this excursion.

  • Chevron down Where do the trips end?

The trips end at the same dock which they departed from.

  • Chevron down Which boat will I be on?

All trips take place on the 65 foot catamaran, Kitty Kat. If the vessel is no longer available an equal vessel may be substituted.

  • Chevron down Will I get seasick?

If you are prone to motion sickness, then there are a few great remedies out there to try. Please be prepared and take preventative measures after consulting with a doctor. Keep in mind that this is an intense expedition and the boat WILL stop (but you will NOT get off) which may result in some light rocking. Fortunately, our boat is one of the best out there and its modern technology helps make every trip a great ride.

  • Chevron down Are there restrooms on the boat?

Yes, there is a gender neutral restroom.

  • Chevron down Are the boats safe?

Safety is our number one priority! Our boat meets the current United States Coast guard regulations, and our experienced captain and crew make every effort to ensure a fun and safe adventure.

  • Chevron down Are there life jackets on board?

Yes. We carry life jackets on board for all passengers.

  • Chevron down Are your boats handicapped accessible?

Unfortunately, there are 4 steps you must take to board the boat, but if you are mobile enough our crew would be glad to assist you onto the boat with the best of their ability. The bathrooms on board are not wheelchair accessible but can be used by a passenger with limited mobility. If you’d like to make a request for any special accommodations, please click on the “Contact SFWhaleTours” link.

  • Chevron down Can I smoke on the boat?

No, smoking is not permitted on board.

  • Chevron down Are pets allowed on board?

We cannot allow pets on board, with the exception of service animals.

  • Chevron down Can I bring my own food and beverages on board?

Yes! Please feel free to bring your own food or non-alcoholic beverages on board. Beer and wine are allowed on board, but hard alcohol is not.

  • Chevron down Can I bring alcohol on the cruise?

You may bring beer or wine on the trip. Harder alcohol is discouraged because we are a family- friendly experience.

  • Chevron down How should I dress?

Dress warm and in layers. Waterproof jackets are great and comfortable, sturdy shoes are a must. Depending on the weather conditions it is always a possibility that you may get wet. Please plan accordingly.

  • Chevron down Do you offer SFWhaleTours merchandise?

Yes, please click on the “Contact SFWhaleTours” link for more information and merchandise will be provided on board for purchase.

  • Chevron down Can I purchase a gift certificate?

Yes, gift certificates make a great gift for any occasion! If you are interested in purchasing a gift certificate, please click “Buy a Gift Card” button on the top right corner in red on our home page.

  • Chevron down Do you have translators for non-English speaking people?

Trips are narrated in English, but the scenery is enough to take in even if English isn’t your first language.

  • Chevron down Can I book a private trip?

Yes, we do offer private charters. To inquire further, please click on the “Contact SFWhaleTours” link for more information.

  • Chevron down Refund/Rescheduling Policy

Tickets may be cancelled up to 48 hours prior to the tour, tickets cancelled less than 48 hours prior to the tour cannot be refunded, but may be rescheduled depending on availability.

  • Chevron down Weather Policy

Activity may be cancelled due to severe weather.

The activity usually runs in light rain and other moderate weather conditions, but the seller may cancel the activity up to an hour before the start time in the event of severe or unsafe weather conditions. If the seller cancels the event, ticket-holders will be offered a refund or receive a credit for a future event.

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Whale Watching in San Francisco

whale watching tours in san francisco

This post covers options for whale watching in San Francisco.

We include details about the best times and places to go, what species you may see, and tours.

As local tour guides, we get asked questions about whales by our guests quite regularly, mostly about tour recommendations.

So, we decided to put this post together to answer your questions.

And, as guides who offer free walking tours, we've even thrown in a place where you could watch whales for free.

Because whales visit this part of the West Coast throughout the year, there is no 'best' time to see whales.

What does vary by season is the species of whales you may see at different times of the year.

In our opinion, the best time for whale watching in San Francisco is from  December – May .

This is because you’ll have the best opportunity to see more than one type of whale.

That said, you can spot other species during different months.

So, you shouldn’t discount an opportunity just because it doesn’t fall within this time frame.

The only time you should avoid going on a whale-watching adventure is from mid-November to mid-December .

This is the tail end of migration patterns for one group of whales and the very beginning of the season for another species.

As a result, you probably won’t see as many whales during this timeframe.

  • Types of Whales
  • Whale Watching Tours
  • Free Locations
  • Other Day Trips
  • Things to Do in San Francisco

WHAT TYPES OF WHALE CAN YOU SEE?

Depending on the time of year you go whale-watching in San Francisco, you’re going to see different species.

a whale leaping out of the water during a whale watching tour

This is because each type of whale has its own migration pattern, and many of them don’t pass by the city at the same time.   Keep that in mind and pay attention to the migration dates for these whales when planning out your trip ahead of time.

  • Humpback whales (May - November)
  • Gray whales (December - May)
  • Killer whales (December - May)
  • Sperm whales (December - May)
  • Orcas (December - May)
  • Blue Whale (July - October)

On whale-watching trips, you'll see other marine life as well! Year-round you can expect to see:

  • Dolphins: Bottlenose, Northern Right Whale, Pacific White-Sided, Risso's, Common
  • Porpoises: Dall's Porpoise, Harbor Porpoise
  • Other Animals: Sea Otters, California Sea Lions, Harbor Seals

WHALE WATCHING TOURS

There are several different companies that offer whale-watching tours in San Francisco.

In this section, we cover some of the more popular options in the SF Bay area.

We also include a breakdown of the pros and cons of taking a whale-watching tour. 

Oceanic Society

This conservation group offers multiple whale-watching tour options throughout the year, including at least one that lasts for almost 8 hours!

These excursions are led by marine biologists and naturalists who know where to look for whales.

You'll not only have a good chance of spotting a few, but you'll also learn a lot about these magnificent creatures along the way.

These tours are a bit more costly than others because of the experts on board.

However, if you really want to see and learn about whales, it might be worth the cost.

Here are some of the most important details about each tour they offer:

Farallon Islands Whale Watching

  • Tickets: Starting from $450
  • Dates: April - November
  • Availability: Saturday & Sunday
  • Hours: 9:30 am - 5 pm
  • Duration: 7 ½ hours
  • Learn more or book this tour .

Golden Gate Sailing Cruise

  • Tickets: Starting from $180
  • Dates: May - November
  • Availability: Thursday & Sunday
  • Hours: 9:30 am
  • Duration: 3 hours

This company has an overall rating of 4 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor, indicating they're pretty darn good at what they do.

San Francisco Whale Tours

If you're looking for a tour that operates right out of the heart of San Francisco, this company departs from Pier 39, making this one of the easiest whale-watching tours to take.

That being said, prices are a bit more costly for this outing than they are for others listed in this post, so it might not be affordable for everyone.

Here are the details you'll need to know before climbing onboard:

  • Tickets: $120 per person
  • Hours: 12 pm and 3 pm
  • Duration: 2 ½ hours
  • Book this tour or find out more .

Like many of the other services listed in our post, this company also has a rating of 4 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor, so you can rely on them to provide excellent tours.

Sea Goddess Whale Watching

This company operates out of Monterey Bay, but it is a great alternative to some of the other options on our list for those willing to make the trip.

One of the nice things about Sea Goddess is that it lists its whale-watching tours on Groupon, allowing you to save money on tickets.

This discount site frequently offers additional deals on top of their already low prices, so depending on when you decide to get your tickets, you could save an additional 10% - 20% off.

Here are the standard prices for their whale-watching tours:

  • Tickets: $65 per person
  • Dates: All year long
  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 9:30 am, 12:30 pm, 3:30 pm
  • Purchase tickets or learn more .

Although they currently have less than 1,000 reviews, this company enjoys a 5 out of 5-star rating on TripAdvisor.

Although there have been a few negative reviews, an overwhelming majority of guests have given them a perfect score.

Skyline Sightseeing (formerly City Sightseeing)

Although this company is known more for its hop-on-hop-off bus tours, they also provide an excellent whale-watching tour.

This tour will take you down San Francisco’s coastline to see all the marine wildlife in the Bay Area.

At over 2 hours in length, you should have plenty of time to find a few whales in the area and get a close look at them without causing a disturbance.

This service only operates from Spring to Fall. Depending on when you book your tour, you will likely see different types of whales.

Check our section on whale migration dates for more details about what to expect.

This tour does not include snacks or beverages, but you are allowed to bring food and drink with you.

It is recommended to wear layers of clothing so that you are prepared whether it’s warm or cold out on the water. 

Be sure to wear sunblock and bring any cameras or binoculars you might want to get the best view of whales on your trip.

  • Tickets: $45/Adults | $35/Children
  • Dates: March – October
  • Availability: 8 am, 11 am, 2 pm
  • Not Currently Available.

With an overall rating of 4 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor, it’s safe to say that this is one of the best whale-watching tours in San Francisco. 

Other Whale Watching Tours

If you’re looking for a longer whale-watching tour or an outing that will take you to different whale-viewing locations near San Francisco, there are plenty of great opportunities.

While some tours focus on Monterey Bay , others take you on a full-day trip to the Farallon Islands.

Ticket prices range from $65 - $99 per person depending on the length and structure of the service.

For more information on all of your options, make sure to check this list of whale-watching tours . 

Be sure to check out Groupon as this website often offers disc ounted whale watching tours .

NOTE: If all else fails and you can't find a company offering whale-watching tours in the Bay Area, you might still spot some whales on one of the many cruises available in San Francisco .

a whale's tail sticking out of the water

Pros and Cons of Whale Watching Tours

There are a few things to consider before deciding whether or not to take a whale-watching tour. 

Pro: Best Way to See Whales  

If you want to get really close to some whales, it’s hard to beat a boat tour that takes you out into the Pacific Ocean.

Pro: Very Affordable  

These services are priced about as low as a traditional boat tour. Anytime you can get out on the waters of the Bay area for about $15/hr, you’re getting a pretty good deal. Pro: Great for Kids  

With the possibility of seeing orcas and blue whales during the spring/summer months, children and families will love this activity.

Con: Seasickness  

Travelers who aren’t used to the choppy waters near San Francisco might get a little nauseous, as the boat will be moving up and down quite a bit.

Con: Might Not See a Whale  

None of these companies can guarantee that you’ll see a whale because it’s impossible to know whether or not they will be in the area or near the surface on the day/time you choose to go. Sometimes it's about luck.

FREE LOCATIONS TO GO WHALE WATCHING

The best way to see whales in San Francisco is to take a boat out on the water, but that activity won’t be free.

If you’re working with a tight budget, you might want to consider visiting one of the following locations instead.

The video below is of whale sightings from Point Bonita Lighthouse , which is a short drive ( map ) from the city center.

While there’s no guarantee that you’ll see a whale, your chances are much better at these sites along the California Coast than anywhere else in the city.

  • Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Rod eo Beach (in the Marin Headlands)
  • Point Montara Lighthouse
  • Pigeon Point Lighthouse

In addition to these locations, you might also find a few good spots to stop and look for whales along Highway 1 near Pescadero.

Alternatively, if you are heading that far south, you might also want to stop in at Año Nuevo State Park which offers great views of both elephant seals and whales! 

Related Posts:

  • Day Trips from San Francisco
  • Free Tours by Foot

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

  • Dress Warmly ( layers )
  • Bring Food & Beverages
  • Cameras & Binoculars are highly recommended

San Francisco Whale Watching

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VIDEO

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COMMENTS

  1. The Guide to Whale Watching in San Francisco

    Enjoy a scenic cruise of San Francisco’s beautiful coastline and the fantastic wildlife of the Bay Area with the Golden Gate Whale Watch tour. Each trip is a unique experience. Pack some grub, grab a camera, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime on the adventurous Pacific Ocean.

  2. Whale Watching Tours

    The Bay's Best Whale Watching. Join us aboard one of our whale watching vessels for an exciting day exploring the San Francisco Bay. On our whale watching tours, you have a unique opportunity to see majestic giants such as humpback, and gray whales up close.

  3. San Francisco Whale Tours

    San Francisco Whale Tours. 2,779 reviews. #8 of 86 Boat Tours & Water Sports in San Francisco. Dolphin & Whale Watching. Closed now. 12:00 PM - 6:00 PM. Write a review. See all photos. About. The focus of the expedition is a search for the majestic giants of the oceans-whales- including Gray and Humpback Whales!

  4. Golden Gate Whale Watch

    Whale Watching at the Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy a scenic cruise of San Francisco’s beautiful coastline and the fantastic wildlife of the Bay Area. Each trip is a unique experience — don’t miss the boat! Pack some grub, grab a camera, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime on the adventurous Pacific Ocean.

  5. Whale Watching in San Francisco

    WHALE WATCHING TOURS. There are several different companies that offer whale-watching tours in San Francisco. In this section, we cover some of the more popular options in the SF Bay area. We also include a breakdown of the pros and cons of taking a whale-watching tour.

  6. Top 10 Whale Watching Tours Near San Francisco, California

    Best Whale Watching Tours in San Francisco, CA - San Francisco Whale Tours, Ocean Safaris, Sea Goddess Whale Watching, Santa Cruz Whale Watching, Oceanic Society Whale Watching, Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry, Riptide Charters, Sanctuary Cruises, Bay Aerial Service, Canada Guided Tours.

  7. California Whale Adventures: San Francisco Whale Watching At Its

    California Whale Adventures offer year round Whale Watching Tours out of San Francisco ’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The waters surrounding San Francisco and the Gulf of the Farallones offer a variety of Marine life viewing opportunities.

  8. San Francisco Golden Gate Whale-Watching Tour 2023

    San Francisco Golden Gate Whale-Watching Tour. 418 Reviews. San Francisco, United States. 2 hours 30 minutes (approx.) Mobile ticket. Offered in: English. Don’t worry—here are some similar options. San Francisco, California. Straight to the Gate Access: Golden Gate Bay Cruise. 1,003. from £31.11. San Francisco, California.