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Orange County is one of the best places in California to whale watch. Every year, thousands of gray whales make the migration down the California coast from Alaska to Mexico. The best time to spot these specific whales is during the winter months, typically December through April, though you will be able to see other cetaceans, including dolphins, orcas and humpback whales throughout the year. If you visit from May to October, you may be able to see blue whales, which are the largest animals on earth. While there are lookout points along the coast, including spots in Crescent Bay Point Park, there are no whale watching tours that leave from Laguna. You'll have to drive to nearby Newport Beach or Dana Point for charters.

Highly rated tour operators include Captain Dave's Dana Point Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari in Dana Point (about 10 miles south of Laguna Beach) and Newport Coastal Adventure in Newport Beach (about 13 miles north of Laguna). Captain Dave's features two tours, one that is held on a catamaran-like boat that has underwater viewing pods to see the marine life in their natural habitat, and another on a smaller zodiac boat, which allows travelers to get closer to the water, and thus closer to the animals. Newport Coastal Adventures, on the other hand, offers zodiac boating experiences that give visitors not only an up-close experience but also a fast one: The boats can reach up to 30 miles per hour, enabling passengers to catch up to see the various marine life.

Recent travelers who used both of these tour companies said they had very memorable experiences. Visitors said they were able to spot sea lions, dolphins and whales, all pretty close to the boat. Patrons also praised the friendly and knowledgeable staff members who knew just where to go to get up close to the local marine life. Whale watching charters tend to be available year-round and you can expect to pay upward of $66.50 for adult tickets and $56.50 for children's tickets. Tours typically last a little more than two hours and are available two to three times a day. Depending on what time of year you visit, you may want to bring layers. And if you are prone to seasickness, make sure to take seasickness pills well before you board. You can find more info and book a tour on the individual company websites.

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#1 Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park is one of the largest beaches you'll find in the greater Laguna Beach area. The shore measures 3.2 miles long, affording plenty of space for both lounging in the sand as well as long walks. The reason for this is that unlike all the other beaches in Laguna Beach, the beach at Crystal Cove State Park isn't in an enclosed cove. Rather, the beach is backed by seemingly endless bluffs that give way to 2,400 acres of backcountry woodland. 

This section of the park features 15-plus miles of hiking trails that take visitors inland into the park's canyon and up and down pathways that afford beautiful views of the ocean. A good introduction to Crystal Cove's backcountry is the Moro Canyon trail. The trail is 3 miles out and back, but if you cut along the connected East Cut Across Trail down Moro Ridge, you'll eventually hit the coast following the Moro Ridge trail. It's important to know that no matter where you hike in the park, you may encounter wildlife, including snakes and bobcats. Stay on marked trails, don't mess with the environment and remain alert.

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