Whale Watching in Monterey – California Part Two

Whale Watching in Monterey – California Part Two

For the next stage of our California Road Trip we headed South.  From San Francisco we took Highway 1 over the Golden Gate Bridge, following the same route we had taken only two days previously on our bikes and started our journey down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) along one of the most spectacular and dramatic scenic routes I have ever traveled.

The highway literally hugs the cliffs, winding along the coast and giving you open views of the Pacific and the beaches below.  There are frequent pull off points for cars and it is almost impossible to avoid stopping to take a picture whenever you can and to just stand and stare at the view.  Brought up near the coast in Norfolk, I am naturally drawn to the sea but this was like nothing I had ever seen.  It is overwhelmingly beautiful.


  • Carmel/Monterey

As well as viewing spots to take photographs, there are also many places to park and enjoy a picnic with seating areas looking out to the Ocean, in fact I challenge anyone to find a finer place to eat a sandwich.  Our destination was Carmel which allowing for stops along the route was approximately  a 3 hour drive.  Carmel is a town in Monterey County, well known for its famous mayor Clint Eastwood and its multitude of art galleries.  In fact there are reported to be 100 in the town itself and with such stunning scenery to inspire them it is not hard to see why.


A charming oddity of the town is that it is illegal to wear high heels on the cobbled pavements, which made me smile as the town, although small is full of designer boutiques and perfectly coiffured ladies walking their picture perfect dogs along the streets and would in my opinion seem the ideal place to take a stroll in a pair of Manolo’s.

Carmel is, however, a convenient spot for visiting the more touristy town of  Monterey for a spot of whale watching which is why we were there.  Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey is home to various whale watching tours but a keen diver Mr MoT had booked in advance with Monterey Bay Whale Watch as the trips are conducted by experienced marine biologists.

Despite my love for being near the sea, I am not keen on boats and tend to avoid them at all costs, so on the day of the trip I was feeling mildly nervous.  My husband kept assuring me it would be fine whilst pointing out that the sea was like a “mill pond” so there really was nothing to be afraid of.  However, that was the bit of the sea that we could see immediately in front of us, you didn’t need to be a brain surgeon to work out that the bit with the whales in would not be like that.  Informed by the shore staff that it was “choppy” on the day of our trip we took motion sickness tablets and prepared to board.

Anyone prone to sea sickness will tell you that the only place to be is at the back of the boat with your eyes on the horizon and that is where I sat.  The boat was small in comparison to the others we had seen in the harbour yet I had been assured that a single hulled boat in choppy waters is better for managing the nausea.   We were soon to find out.

As we left the harbour we were surrounded by sea lions basking in the sunlight on the piers and old abandoned boats in the harbour and as we headed out to sea the cacophany of their barks rang in our ears.  As promised it was choppy.  In fact I had to avoid looking at the swell of the waves to maintain my calm and all this whilst being quizzed by a friendly group of Californians on Brexit!  Nothing like taking your mind of it I suppose.

Every now and then the skipper would kill the engines as we were confronted by a huge wave and we would all whoop with delight as we went up and down as if on a roller coaster.  A lovely lady who spends all her spare time on whale trips kept regaling me with tales of her previous whale watching trip in the Antarctic which was apparently alot calmer.  I am sure she meant well!!

After about an hour and a half of heading out beyond the headlands of Santa Cruz, we stopped.  It was at this point that many passengers hit by the sudden stillness after the continual swell, promptly dashed to the back of the boat for a quick chunder.  This included Teen 2 who encouraged by her father had been enthusiastically enjoying the views from the front of the boat which clearly took the brunt of the ferocity of the waves.  Sickness over it was time to take in the view.

Shouts rang out around the boat “Whale 2 o”clock” “Dolphins 7 o’clock” this being the agreed language for us all to alert each other to any sightings rather than “Over there!”  It was a tried and tested method and it worked.

There are two seasons for whale watching in Monterey Bay, mid-December through mid-April to see gray whales, dolphins and killer whales migrating, or alternatively mid-April through mid-December to see humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins and killer whales.  So October was the right time of the year for whale sightings but nevertheless as with anything there are no guarantees.  We were lucky.  Not only did we see schools of dolphins jumping in the water we saw what we had all paid for really a whale and not just one, several.  In fact on the day of our trip the guide and biologist recorded a total of 12 humpback whales.

What you see varies obviously, but the first indication is a rainbow spout of water as the whale prepares to surface then it might be its back you glimpse or its tail as it dives down.  On our trip, however, we were also lucky enough to see a bait ball.  This is when fish swarm in a tightly packed spherical formation, in a last ditch attempt to defend themselves from predators.  It was a spectacular sight and was followed by the fish looking as if they were jumping out of the water as the whales came up from underneath with open mouths to feed.  It was spectacular.

Even Teen 1 who spent the early part of the journey terrified that we would overturn and be consumed by sharks and is rarely in awe of anything in the natural world, was rendered speechless and exclaimed afterwards that “This is the kind of thing you only see on the telly!”  It really was that good.

The whale trips vary in length.  We booked a 4 hour tour which with an hour and a half there and back left us with an hour just drifting out at sea spotting the whales.  Sitting on a relatively small boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean watching whales was surreal and was without doubt one of the most incredible experiences for all of us and one we will never forget for sure.

Whale Watching in Monterey


This post is the second in a series, you can read the other posts here:

A California Road Trip with Teens – Part One

The Big Sur – A California Road Trip – Part Three

Los Angeles – A Californian Road Trip – Part Four

Las Vegas – The Road Trip Finale




  1. December 7, 2016 / 11:22 am

    Oh my word you got so close to them and got some amazing views. They are simply stunning animals aren’t they. I have done a few whale watching trips but never been lucky enough to get so close. Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

    • Jo
      December 7, 2016 / 10:02 pm

      Yes I think we were certainly blessed that day as everyone we have spoken to who has done these trips before has said similar to you that they just weren’t that lucky. #MondayEscapes

  2. November 30, 2016 / 4:51 pm

    Brilliant! I just posted about whale watching too, funnily enough. Luckily our ride was choppy but not too vomit inducing. We did see a few whales but it wasn’t quite as action packed as your ride! It’s very cool that you saw a bait ball, and dolphins too. What a great trip 🙂

    • Jo
      November 30, 2016 / 5:50 pm

      Oh wow what a coincidence. I have popped over to compare stories particularly as you were in Alaska which is where my fellow American whale watching friend had just been and had regaled me with all her tales. You have some great shots – it is tough to get a photo of the whales and you are right that you need to down tools sometimes and just appreciate the moment. Glad you had a great time and thanks for stopping by.

  3. November 30, 2016 / 2:54 am

    What a gorgeous day out, stunning photo’s. It must of been breathtaking seeing all those majestic creatures! Pitty about the Amercian quiz though! Thanks or sharing with us at #globalblogging

    • Jo
      November 30, 2016 / 9:45 am

      Thank you, it was. In fairness to the lovely lady on the boat she did help to distract me from the lurching of my stomach. #globalblogging

  4. November 27, 2016 / 7:21 pm

    Brilliant excursion and so so lucky to have seen such a variety of animals! Suppose the sickness was forgotten after all of that! Thanks for linking up to #familyfun

    • Jo
      November 28, 2016 / 5:37 pm

      Ha ha yes it was and ironically I was OK, my poor daughter was the one who was definitely green around the gills. #familyfun

  5. November 27, 2016 / 5:46 pm

    Aaah I am so envious of this holiday. Whale watching must be amazing the photos looks gorgeous. What an experience you all have and what a strange law not to be able to wear heels – do people actually abide by it? Thanks for sharing at #familyfun xx

    • Jo
      November 27, 2016 / 6:32 pm

      Yes it was great and choppiness aside, we were blessed with good weather in that it was sunny so the photos were spectacular. Rain and cloud and it probably wouldn’t have been so idyllic. I didn’t actually spot anyone wearing heels but it could be one of those old bits of gossip that is no longer true. #familyfun

  6. Amie
    November 26, 2016 / 8:12 pm

    Sounds like you’ve been having an amazing time! I would LOVE to go whale watching 🙂 #MarvMondays

    • Jo
      November 27, 2016 / 9:46 am

      It’s great to have had a holiday with such fabulous memories.#marvmondays

  7. November 26, 2016 / 12:50 pm

    we did a similar trip with 4 of our kids aged 7 – 18 in 2007, we loved Monteray and Carmel. We’ve also done Durban and Cape Town trips for Whale watching when we lived in SA with the two youngest

    • Jo
      November 26, 2016 / 3:49 pm

      It is a well travelled route for sure. You sound like a seasoned whale watcher then. I am sure you saw some great whales off SA. Thanks for commenting.

  8. November 26, 2016 / 1:34 am

    Oh honey I feel you with the sea sickness it is so bad! But sometimes we have to do it for moments of such rareness and wonder. You are so lucky to have that experience it just sounds magical! So nice that you can share it with the family, it will be a moment you will all treasure! I am so happy for you! Funnily enough my daughter April remembers when we saw a whale on holiday because she was so excited she ran to the balcony and forgot there was a glass door ouch! But seeing the whale was breathtaking, they are so big yet the way they can leap is inspirational! #mg

    • Jo
      November 26, 2016 / 11:15 am

      No pain no gain as they say. Am so glad we all got to do it together and actually I am glad we were blessed with a dry sunny day, I may not have been so brave if it had been stormy! I am not a huge animal person but there is something to be said for seeing animals in their natural habitat and in this instance it was very special. Glass doors have a lot to answer for don’t they – certainly a moment your daughter won’t forget. #mg

  9. Mindful Mummy Mission
    November 25, 2016 / 10:16 pm

    Wow – what an experience! The photos give a real flavour for how spectacular the trip was. #familyfun

    • Jo
      November 26, 2016 / 4:03 pm

      Yes it was fabulous. Thanks for dropping by. #familyfun

  10. November 25, 2016 / 11:04 am

    It’s my first visit here and I really enjoyed this post. You transported me on your lovely (I’ll ignore the chundering and sickness) trip to see the whales. It is so amazong to share things like that together. Sometimes it’s worth the queeziness to see it in real life rather than from a sofa! #bloggerclubuk

    • Jo
      November 25, 2016 / 2:55 pm

      Hi Jane so glad you enjoyed your first visit and that the post was realistic enough for you too. Ironic though that the sickness wasn’t mine. It was a truly amazing experience and I wasn’t sure I could communicate that effectively but I am glad you think I did. Thanks for commenting. #bloggerclubuk

  11. November 24, 2016 / 2:00 pm

    Wow! Just wow! Whale watching is on my bucket list, I want to watch Orcas in their natural environment off of the coast of Iceland!


    • Jo
      November 26, 2016 / 4:05 pm

      You must move it further up your list. It was spectacular. I with you on going to Iceland, my sister went a couple of years ago and said it was totally amazing. #globalblogging

  12. November 24, 2016 / 9:55 am

    Wow, this looks amazing! It’s not something I thought Iwould want to do until my friends did it on honeymoon this year and described how incredible it was. Now I can’t wait until the kids are old enough for us to enjoy something like this together #MarvMondays

    • Jo
      November 24, 2016 / 12:27 pm

      I was exactly the same, when my husband mentioned it my immediate reaction was “Are you totally mad?” Then similarly some friends went and said it was totally incredible. There were moments when I nearly didn’t get on the boat but am so glad I did. Thanks for your comment. #MarvMondays

  13. November 24, 2016 / 9:39 am

    I’ve never been to that part of the States despite growing up there. It looks beautiful. And what am amazing whale picture you got! I’ve never seen wild whales like that. I think I went on a whale trip once near Seattle where I grew up, but we didn’t see anything. #familyfun

    • Jo
      November 24, 2016 / 12:41 pm

      Similarly, there are parts of the UK I haven’t visited. But with the States it must be even more difficult to as it is just so big and this really struck home when we were driving. There was just so much space. If you do get the chance do take a look. #familyfun

  14. Jo
    November 22, 2016 / 8:13 am

    Ha ha yes nothing like a harsh dose of reality mixed in with all the good bits. #MarvMondays

  15. November 21, 2016 / 5:56 pm

    This is my actual dream, I would love to go whale watching. What an amazing experience! #MarvMondays

    • Jo
      November 22, 2016 / 8:12 am

      I hope you get a chance to do it one day. #MarVMondays

  16. November 21, 2016 / 5:35 pm

    I would love to do this – we are going in 2018 so one for the list

    • Jo
      November 21, 2016 / 5:41 pm

      You are planning well ahead! You will love it.

  17. Lucys Locket
    November 21, 2016 / 11:58 am

    Love the photos, especially that one with the sun at the beach. Illegal to wear high heels! How strange! #mg

    • Jo
      November 21, 2016 / 3:23 pm

      Yes I thought the high heel rule was odd too! Photos of sunsets on the beach are endlessly fabulous aren’t they? I never tire of them. Thanks for commenting.#mg

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