Whale watching in Santa Cruz with kids

The Pacific Northwest coastline is known as a great spot for whale watching.
With a little luck and lots of patience, one can spot whales, orcas and dolphins just sitting on the mainland.
It happened to us while we were having a picnic on the beach at Half Moon Bay, and it was a great experience for the kids who jumped up and down in excitement.

However, these sightings are not comparable to the thrill of seeing up close a group of dolphins jumping on the waves, or watching a whale’s blow from a few meters away.
If you have the chance, don’t miss the opportunity to go on a  Whale Watching Cruise: a guided boat trip in search of whales and other marine life.

Tips for Whale Watching with kids

  • Do not go for more than two hours . 
    Sure, a four hours cruise offers more chances for a close encounters with whales, but do not underestimate the impact of the wind, seasickness and boredom on young children.
  • Prevent seasickness. 
    On cruise day, keep breakfast simple and light. Offer the kids a simple and light snack , such as dry biscuits or a toast. During the the cruise stay in the open air , position yourself at the front of the boat and look at the horizon.
  • Dress for success. 
    The temperatures in the open sea are chillier than on the mainland. Even on a sunny day dress the kids in layers, with warm shoes , and keep jackets and hats handy . Don’t forget sunscreen!
  • Offer distractions
    A small snack, a book, or a favorite toy, will help little ones to overcome boredom.
  • Bring the baby carrier
    If you have a baby, don’t forget the baby carrier: for safety reasons, you can’t carry a stroller on the boat.

Along the central coast of California there are many companies, based in different cities, that offer several types of tours.
The price for a 2-hour tour is around $50 for adults and $35 for children ages three and older. Children under three usually don’t pay.

We used the Santa Cruz Whale Watching company, booked by phone a few days before the trip.
About an hour before the cruise we registered in the company’s offices on Brommer St . in Santa Cruz. From there we moved to the harbor, where we found our guide waiting for us.

At the pier the sky was clear and the temperature pleasant. Once sailing started things changed, the sky clouded over and temperatures got colder. Despite the wind, however, we were all very determined to spot whales.

It was not too long before we got to spot whales and dolphins. After a few minutes of navigation we met a group of four dolphins chasing each other in the waves. The kids started to jump up and down in excitement!
The guide told us about the characteristics of humpback whales, those that approach the coast in the summer, and that we would have seen shortly thereafter, and explained the differences with the gray whales, typical of the winter months.

After the first half hour we spotted our first whales. At first only the backs peeked swaying in and out of the water, and then we saw the tails with their waving movements that seemed like they were greeting us.

Over time the sky opened up again, and the whales kept coming closer and closer to our boat.

Every time we spotted a whale the kids applauded in excitement, while the guide gave us explanations on the behavior of these beautiful animals.
During our cruise we were lucky enough to witness different whales blow, and even one of them jumping out of the water.
Unfortunately I couldn’t capture the moment with a photo, partly because I was too busy living it, and partly because I was assisting one of my young sailors with seasickness.

After just over two hours the boat returned, and we stopped at the marina for a picnic, our eyes still full of the wonder we had witnessed.

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