Whale watching in San Diego

hornblower cruises whale watching in san diego

And I whale always love you. I have kitchen towels with this phrase on them, and ever since Daniel read (and became obsessed with) Moby Dick, whales have been a theme in our relationship. We finally had a chance to see them out in nature when we went whale watching in San Diego.

Hornblower Cruises Whale watching tour review

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We took a four-hour tour with Hornblower Cruises, which conveniently departed from downtown. Make sure to come early and buy your tickets in advance. There was a really long line for the 9 a.m. departure time, that the cruise left 15 minutes late. It was frustrating as they could not scan a bar code to let you on the boat and you had to line up at the ticket booth. Luckily we made it on just in time!

Once we got on we grabbed a spot on the middle outdoor deck for a great view of the whales. If you’re seasick, the boat sells medication, but I brought my own Gravol and took it before we departed. I didn’t get sick at all, but I did get sleepy! I think next time, I would opt for a herbal alternative so I wouldn’t have to nap for the 45 minute ride back into the harbour.

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It took a while to find whales… nearly an hour and forty five minutes. We were instructed to look for water spouts coming straight up from the whales’ blow holes. Crew were looking out for them too and we finally spotted our first set of whales. After a good view, we spotted a group of 3-4 grey whales and we got incredibly close! It was amazing seeing them swim together and flip their tails. I stayed on the upper decks the entire time and got an excellent view and some great video footage.

The cruise was really enjoyable and on the way out into the Pacific Ocean, we were given a brief overview of the history of the harbour and points of interest, including the Point Loma lighthouse, the Naval base and dolphin trainers that were training combat dolphins. Yes. combat dolphins! We also spotted some non-combat dolphins jumping in and out of the water on our way out.

Overall, the tour was a great value and we luckily got to see a lot of whales. The boat was comfortable and not too crowded for the Christmas holidays. It was marvelous being out on the Pacific Ocean and seeing the gorgeous coastline of San Diego.

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Afterwards, we had lunch at Puesto at Headquarters. This used to be the old San Diego Police Headquarters, and there is a mini museum set up in between restaurants, cafes and shops. It was a great place to chill and get over being at sea! We had incredible tacos. They were so delicious and the flavours were amazing. I’d definitely recommend this restaurant for somewhere close to Hornblower Cruises, the USS Midway Museum or Seaport Village. I almost wish we went back for round two!

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Afterwards, we walked around Seaport Village which had lovely views of the Coronado Bridge. For whale watching in San Diego, I wore the Ellayne trench coat from Club Monaco, a striped tee, boyfriend jeans from NYDJ, Prada Minimal Baroque sunglasses, silver Kona mules from Target and a Gucci Marmont shoulder bag.

Shop the post:

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This outfit was perfect for whale watching in San Diego bay, as I could layer up and close up my jacket, while still sporting preppy nautical stripes. These Target mules are so comfortable! For the first time out, I got no blisters and walked all along the waterfront in them. I need to pick them up in rose gold and in black as well.

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After lunch, we headed to the USS Midway Museum. I visited this museum last January, and was excited to come back once again. The self-guided audio tour is excellent, and I enjoyed hearing from the volunteer docents who served on the Midway itself. The ship is incredible and I was fascinated with the city at sea. From medicine, to cuisine to leisure, the vessel has so many interesting exhibits to explore. I’d recommend spending at least 2.5 hours here, and even more (my first visit was 4 hours long) if you’d like to take a guided tour to the tower above the flight deck. Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be climbing up and down and going into tight spaces.

One of my favourite parts is being able to see the ship’s elevator through the glass floor. Not too many were brave enough to step out onto the glass, but this feature really shows how massive the aircraft carrier is! Even more insane was seeing the brand new aircraft carrier docked across the bay. It had just came back from a few months in Korea, so we were lucky to get a glimpse and compare the two.

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It was an incredible day and we had a lot of fun exploring San Diego’s history by the bay. I really enjoyed our time out on the water and will always remember the awe of finding our first whale and seeing a tail flip. I’m looking forward to sharing video footage of our voyage soon!

Thank you to Visit San Diego, Hornblower Cruises and the U.S.S. Midway Museum for hosting us for this post. 

If you’re looking for more San Diego travel guides, check out the posts below

An Old Town San Diego Travel Guide

My review of the Old Town San Diego Trolley + a visit to the Hotel Del Coronado


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  1. Sabina Sohail
    March 2, 2018 / 11:08 am

    Sounds like the perfect way to spend a day with le boyfriend. Also, loving that trench! 😉

    • Natalie Ast
      March 2, 2018 / 11:52 am

      it was a very nice way to spend a cooler day! We love being out on the water. The trench is a must-have. I’m wearing it in dove-grey but the deeper indigo or pale blush look awesome too!

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