Whale watching is a beloved year-round activity along the entire Pacific Coast, with good reason. While summer and early fall are the best times to see blue whales, late winter and spring are when almost 20,000 gray whales migrate close to shore. You can see them on a boat tour, but the best hikes in San Diego also give you a bird’s-eye view of these majestic sea mammals. Strap on your hiking boots, grab a pair of binoculars and hit these trails around San Diego to see whales in April.

Birch Aquarium / Scripps Institute of Oceanography

Birch Aquarium offers several activities to learn more about sea life, from tide pool exploration to whale watching San Diego. One spot to look for whales on land is found at Scripps Pier, but for an easy hike, check out Scripps Trail. This pathway is part of the California Coastal Trail, a 1,200-mile pedestrian trail running the length of the state. Explore this trail above La Jolla Cove to spot gray whales migrating up north after their winter trip to Baja California.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

This almost 2,000-acre park seems to have it all: desert landscapes, challenging cliffs, and sweeping ocean views. You could easily spend a day exploring the trails, but for the best whale watching opportunity, head for these locations:

  • Razor Point Trail, an easy to moderate 1.4-mile hike that rewards you with stunning ocean vistas
  • Guy Fleming Trail, an easy 0.7-mile loops with Torrey pine forests and several lookouts for viewing whales and dolphins

When you visit the park, be sure to stop by the Nature Center to get information on recent whale sightings.

Cabrillo National Monument

This national park has a dedicated whale watching overlook at Point Loma, just a short walk from the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. From this vantage spot, you have the Pacific Ocean to the west and Coronado Island to the east. Access the overlook by taking the Bayside Trail, a 2.5-mile roundtrip hike that takes you by other sites of historical interest and natural surroundings. Save time for standing under the sail-like awnings and use the telescopes to look for tails and spouts that indicate whales on the move.

Hiking Tips

Here are a few more suggestions to make your whale-watching hike a success this April:

  • San Diego’s hiking trails are part of a larger system that runs the whole length of the US Pacific Coast. Known as The Whale Trail, this system of over 100 sites for land-based whale watching gives you plenty of hiking options with ocean views to spy whales any time of year.
  • Check out a San Diego whale watching report before your hike to find out what species have been spotted recently as well as the best location for viewing.
  • Hiking at a higher elevation puts you closer to the sun; don’t forget to use plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat to protect yourself.
  • Stay hydrated during your hike. Plan to carry enough water for each member of your group, and count on at least a half-liter for every hour of your hike.

Do not despair if you do not see gray whales in April, as it is late in their migration season. Look out for other species, including humpbacks, finbacks, minkes, and dolphins, and you won’t be disappointed.