Whale Watching Tours

#3 in Best Things To Do in Santa Barbara
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Photo by David Collier, Courtesy of Visit California/Visit Santa Barbara

Key Info

Price & Hours

Tickets vary by company
Tour times vary by company


Sightseeing, Tours Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend


  • 3.5Value
  • 2.0Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

Santa Barbara is a fantastic spot to whale watch because the Santa Barbara Channel's nutrient-rich water is a popular feeding ground for several types of whales. From late spring through early fall, there are regular sightings of humpback whales and blue whales. Minke whales, fin whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, coastal bottlenose dolphins and risso's dolphins, are also often seen. From late November through April, thousands of Pacific gray whales migrate through the channel heading south to the warm water lagoons of Baja California. On their return in the spring, gray whales – most notably mothers with newborn calves – travel along the coastline heading to their summer home in the Bering Strait.

While you can sometimes spot the magnificent mammals from land, the best way to get a closer look is from the water. There are plenty of options for boat tours. Condor Express earns high marks from recent passengers, who said the boat is comfortable and describe the trip as educational. The 15-passenger Sunset Kidd sailboat offers a more intimate outing and wins favorable reviews from travelers who call it a relaxing trip. Other companies recommended by the tourism board include Captain Jack's, Celebration Cruises and Double Dolphin.

Tour lengths can vary by company. Some tours span 2 1/2 hours, while others last more than four hours. Ticket prices can also vary from $25 to $100. Visit the individual website of each company for more information.

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More Best Things To Do in Santa Barbara

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Time to Spend
#1 East Beach

There are three major beaches in Santa Barbara: Leadbetter, West and East. While Leadbetter has the harbor and West Beach is home to the fireworks on the Fourth of July, East Beach is the best stretch to catch some rays without being mobbed by crowds. 

The shoreline may still fill up more on the weekends, but East Beach is a bit more removed from State Street and the downtown area than the other beaches, offering more space to stretch out or take a walk along the sandy shores. You may have to protect yourself from the occasional rogue volleyball though, as there are more than a dozen sandy courts here. 

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