Beachcombers NW

Whale Watching in Washington State

May 3, 2013

Categories: Washington Coast

Gray whale breaching

Updated 02/08/2023 ~

Washington State offers residents and visitors alike a wealth of opportunities for a close-up look at marine life in its natural habitat. Whale watching is popular here, and you don't have to sail far away from the shore to catch a glimpse of some of the world's largest mammals. That's why some of the best spots to experience whale watching are in Washington State.

So, where to go whale watching in Washington state?

Here are a few best spots known to be good for whale watching:



Whale watching has become a popular activity in Washington state, especially in Westport. The town is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and it’s known for its accessible whale-watching tours.

The best time to see whales in Westport is from March to early May. The gray whale migration is one of the most amazing things you can see off the coast of Washington. They swim from their feeding grounds in the Arctic to their breeding grounds in Baja, California. The migration is not as good for seeing the whales as it is further offshore and they travel faster to their breeding grounds.

Several species can be found here: gray whale, harbor porpoise, humpback whale, and Pacific white-sided dolphin (which are common). 

There are a lot of things to do in Westport all year round, but visiting and having a vacation in Westport during whale season is one of the best experiences.


North Jetty at the Southern end of Ocean Shores

North Jetty Park is a true ocean shore. The sunsets here are breathtaking; the beach seems to glow at this time of day. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the view and the sound of the waves.

The best time to go whale watching in North Jetty is just as the sun sets. You can see them right before dark if you're lucky while you can see gray whales close up if conditions are right on clear days.


Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula

The most accessible spot for whale watching in Washington is Cape Flattery, located in the furthest northwest tip of the contiguous United States. Here, you can see different marine animals. If you head over to Cape Flattery, you might be lucky enough to spot whales swimming in the waters. If you're at Makah Marina, keep your eyes peeled for sea lions.

A $10 Recreation Pass is required for visitors to Cape Flattery, and is available at the Neah Bay Tribal Council, Warm House Cafe, Makah Marine, Big Salmon Fishing Resort, Washburn's General Store, and Raven's Corner.


The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

An awesome place to see whales is at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment State Park is 200 feet above the Pacific Ocean on the cliffs of Cape Disappointment. Located off HWY 101, four miles southwest of Ilwaco at the foot of the Long Beach Peninsula that offers spectacular views.

Whale Watching in Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

Each winter from late December through to the end of January, you can witness the Pacific Gray Whale migration as they pass the Peninsula after spending the summer feeding in the waters of the Arctic. The whales are leaving their feeding areas off of Alaska and heading to their breeding and calving lagoons along the Baja Coast, south of California. 

The spring migration heading back north is another great time for spotting whales beginning mid-March through May.

When the surf is smooth, expect to see 10-25 whales per day. Bring binoculars as most whales are spotted traveling 3-5 miles offshore. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is open year-round. For specific seasonal operating hours and current admission rates, please call the park office at (360) 642-3029.


San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands offer whale-watching trips that afford travelers a chance to see orca (or killer) whales in the Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. The islands are home to these magnificent creatures year-round, making them one of the best places in the world for whale watching.

Other spots for whale watching in Washington State:

  • Puget Sound Express
  • Spirit of Orca
  • Island Adventures
  • Western Prince


Whales in Washington Coast


Gray Whales

Gray whale spyhopping in beautiful blue ocean waters.


The gray whale makes the longest journey traveling 10-14 thousand miles round trip from feeding grounds to breeding lagoons. Gray whales migrate close to the coastline making it great for viewing from the shore or better yet from a whale-watching excursion boat!

Gray whales are the only species of whales that feed off the ocean floor, they dive down to feast on tons of small shrimp-like crustaceans, called amphipods which can be found in astounding numbers. They usually feed for 3-5 minutes but can stay down for up to 15 minutes. While floating or swimming they have been seen feeding on small schools of fish and kelp. Instead of teeth, they have baleen bristles which form a filter for straining food from the sea's sandy floor.


Orca Whales

Orca whale full body breach.


Orcas, or killer whales, are part of the dolphin family. They are the largest and most powerful of dolphins. Orcas live in every ocean and in every climate, even the coldest climates. They eat fish, squid, octopus, and other marine mammals such as seals and sea lions. Orcas are very intelligent and extremely fast swimmers, capable of reaching speeds of up to 33.5 mph (54 kph). They travel in family groups called pods, which are led by an older female whale. Pods can consist of up to fifty whales. In Washington State, there are three pods of orcas that spend their time in Puget Sound.


Humpback Whales

Whales tale exposed while diving downward.

Humpback whales, also known as humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae), are the largest of the baleen whales. These marine mammals are found in all major oceans and are easily identified by their long pectoral fins and distinctive humps and bumps along their back. Humpbacks have a diverse diet that includes krill, fish, shrimp, and small crustaceans known as amphipods. Whales consume between 5 and 30 percent of their body mass so they need to eat large amounts to stay healthy.


Whether you're a first-time whale watcher or a veteran of the sea, visiting the state of Washington is sure to be a rewarding experience. So plan your next vacation on the Washington Coast for the best whale-watching opportunities and book your Washington Coast vacation rental lodging early! Choose from our list of vacation rentals along the Washington Coast for your lodging needs and relax in a private rental home, cabin, or condo. Enjoy yourself! You won't regret it.


Serving Vacation Rental Owners since 2001
Beachcombers NW