Sea life has a way of fascinating kids but as they get older, visits to the aquarium may not produce the same awestruck response. When traveling out to Southern California with my eleven year old son, we decided to go bigger, as in an ocean bigger.
After surfing in Huntington Beach and en-route to San Diego, we made a stop off of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) at Dana Point Harbor. The day’s adventure was whale watching with the folks from Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari.
The tour generally lasts about 2 to 3 hours and the boat leaves right on time so to avoid missing your tour be sure to arrive at check-in (usually 30-minutes before departure to complete the registration process). Free parking in the marina was easy to find on our weekday tour though on busier days you may end up in a spot further away from the dock area.
As we pulled out of the harbour the crew of three went over a few safety rules and suggestions for getting the most out of our tour experience. At first we slowly slipped out of the protected harbour, passing a number of sea lions basking in the sun, but quickly the boat picked up speed, heading out to our fist sighting.
It wasn’t long before we came upon a pair of grey whales moving up the coast. The captain did a pretty good job judging the direction and speed of the whales as they moved so we could see them a few times they came above the water. It seems the various tour boats communicate to one another as soon after we visited one pair of whales we were off to spot another pair. In total we experienced 4 different grey whale sightings on our trip.
On one sighting we discovered a pod of common dolphins, a species that likes to travel together. They were playful, cavorting in the boat’s slipstream. Watching them in front of the boat gave the illusion that they were pulling us along. Of course my favourite part had to be entering the catamaran’s viewing pods below the water. It felt like you were swimming with the dolphins without getting wet.
Not every moment of the journey was full of sightings. There were many moments of just sailing, enjoying the vastness of the ocean and views of the shoreline. That plus the sea life encounters made this an adventure even the unadventurous will enjoy (including those finicky teens and tweens).
My son and I put this little video together to give you a sense of what you can expect on the Safari:
In case you have never gone whale watching before (this was a first for us too), here’s a few tips:
- Take your Gravol (or equivalent) before embarking on the boat as even on a calm day the boat ride can get a little choppy at higher speeds.
- Visit the bathroom ahead of time. The 49 person Manute’a catamaran we sailed on had two small “washrooms” below deck but you can image how tricky they would be to navigate on the ocean.
- Bring a snack/water as the tour can run anywhere from 2 to 3 hours and there is no food for sale on board (though you can bring snacks).
- Dress in layers. The sun can feel warm on shore but chilly when the wind is whipping by you on the boat.
- Apply your sunscreen. Like the point above, you may not notice the sun when out on the water but your skin will.
- Wear non-slip shoes you don’t mind getting wet. As my son will suggest, the front (bow) of the boat by the splash zone will offer the best view (and aids on feeling better if you do feel seasick) but your feet may get a little wet.
Since we arrived early for our afternoon tour we grabbed a bite of fish tacos in the Marina at Harpoon Harry’s right on the water. It was an easy walk along the marina to and from the boat launch, soaking in as much sea air as we could.