It’s whale-watching season in Seattle!
If orca spotting is on your bucket list, now is your chance! Although orcas, gray whales, and humpback whales can be spotted in the Pacific Northwest year-round, May through October is the best time to look out for southern resident orcas.
You can embark on a whale-watching adventure from Seattle, but the San Juan Islands are the best place to look out for orcas as they travel through the area. Mid-May is when the largest number of orca whales pass through the islands. You can reserve a guided tour if you have your heart set on seeing whales and orcas up-close.
That said, many Seattle residents have gotten lucky and spotted these majestic creatures from some of our very own parks and beaches. It’s definitely a choose-your-own-adventure type of situation! There is a lot to know about whale watching around Seattle so we put together this compact guide.
Here are the top 5 ways to enjoy whale-watching season in Seattle:
1. Seattle whale-watching boat tours
If you want to ensure that you see a whale, your best bet is to book a boat tour—and be sure you build in time for a potential second trip. Most of the whale-watching boat tours in the Pacific Northwest offer a guarantee that you’ll see a whale. If your first trip isn’t a success, they give you a coupon for a second boat tour!
One excellent Seattle whale-watching boat tour is the FRS Clipper whale watching tour. The FRS Clipper whale watching tour runs from May through October and leaves directly from downtown Seattle. This half-day tour guarantees whale sightings and has an onboard expert naturalist.
A second boat tour option is the Puget Sound Express, which offers whale-watching tours that depart from several locations. Their Edmonds tour is a short drive from Seattle and they also have tours departing from Port Townsend and Port Angeles. You can do a half-day, full-day, or three-day tour. This family-run operation also guarantees whale sightings.
2. San Juan Island whale-watching boat tours
If you’re up for an adventure you could take a boat tour from the nearby San Juan Islands. Here are three excellent options:
- San Juan Excursions takes you out on a spacious yacht that departs from Roche Harbor and guarantees whale sightings.
- You can take a 90-mile drive to Anacortes and enjoy a half-day tour around the San Juan Islands with Island Adventures. They boast a whale-spotting success rate of over 97% since 1996.
- San Juan Safaris operates out of Friday Harbor and offers flight packages! You get there by taking a Kenmore Air seaplane from Lake Union or Lake Washington and after your whale tour, the plane will take you back to Seattle.
3. Whale-watching kayak tours
Did you know you can embark on a whale-watching tour in a kayak? No prior kayaking experience necessary! Here are three whale-watching kayak tours that operate out of the nearby San Juan Islands:
- San Juan Outfitters launches from Roche Harbor on the San Juan Islands with a professional guide. They offer a variety of tours, including family and private tours.
- Sea Quest Expeditions in the San Juan Islands departs from Friday Harbor and offers a variety of tours, including women’s kayak adventures led by women guides.
- Crystal Seas Kayak in the San Juan Islands lets you choose from three-hour tours, day tours, or even multi-day trips. They’re family-friendly as well.
Note: Whether you take a boat or kayak tour, you can’t leave the San Juan Islands without visiting the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. This museum is an excellent bookend for your trip. You’ll get a chance to learn all about southern resident orcas and the Salish Sea.
4. Self-guided whale spotting onshore
If you’re not a fan of being out on the water, you can find plenty of whale-sighting spots on land. You don’t even have to leave Seattle to potentially spot a whale. Several of Seattle’s parks and beaches offer ideal vantage points for viewing orcas and whales as they pass by. Alki Beach in West Seattle, Golden Gardens, and Discovery Park are all local spots with excellent potential for whale sightings.
Here are three more places just outside of Seattle where you can spot whales from the shore:
- You can take the ferry to Vashon Island to see whales. Point Robinson is a great spot to look for whales on Vashon Island.
- In the San Juan Islands, Lime Kiln Point State Park is known to be one of the best whale-watching spots in the world.
- Alternatively, you can drive to Tacoma and look for whales at Point Defiance.
5. Online resources for whale watching
Looking for more whale-watching locations around Seattle? Check out this website and online map called the Whale Trail. The map will show you places in Seattle and all along the West Coast where you can spot whales and other marine mammals from shore.
Hopefully you now feel confident about your chances of spotting whales and orcas this year. Get out there and don’t forget your binoculars!