Best Inns for Whale Watching on the California Coast
Through winter and early spring, over 25,000 gray whales cruise the California coast during their annual migration. Every year, the whales swim between their feeding grounds in the Arctic to the warm lagoons of Mexico, where they mate and give birth to calves. The 10,000 to 14,000-mile round-trip trek is the longest annual migration of any mammal on earth.
The whales usually travel within a couple of miles of land, making it visible from shore. Along the California coast, you can catch sight of migrating gray whales spouting, diving, and breaching between December and April. But the best months for whale watching are March and April when mothers and calves travel closest to shore to avoid predators on their journey north.
Whale-watching tours depart from numerous harbors up and down the coast, but for a more tranquil whale-watching adventure, book a stay at one of California’s coastal inns. With creature comforts and panoramic ocean views, these inns offer cozy perches for gazing out in wonder.
Inn of the Lost Coast
Perched on the cliffs in Shelter Cove, the Inn of the Lost Coast offers spectacular ocean views and whale-watching opportunities from each of its 18 guest suites. Most of the suites feature private balconies. Some even have in-room hot tubs from which guests can gaze out across the ocean. But the most luxurious perch is the inn’s Oceanview Penthouse Suite. The inn provides complimentary high-powered binoculars upon request. It also offers a Whale Watching Package with a 50% discount off the second night of any two-night stay during whale-watching season. Whale watching in Shelter Cove peaks in the spring and while grey whales are the main attraction, humpback and killer whales are occasionally spotted offshore as well.
From Little River to Westport, the Mendocino Coast plays host to whale festivals through the entire month of March. In addition to the festivals, guests can watch the majestic whales from the comfort of the balcony rooms at the historic Westport Hotel. The beautifully renovated hotel stands directly across from the Pacific Ocean and offers stunning views from its balcony rooms and on-site restaurant, The Old Abalone Pub. In March and April, guests can book the Wine and Whales special, which includes 10% off a two-night stay, a complimentary bottle of Mendocino County wine, and use of the inn’s binoculars. The special also includes the inn’s signature two-part breakfast which includes a tray of scones delivered to the room with coffee or tea plus a full breakfast served in the parlor. The offer is valid Thursday through Saturday nights only. Blackout dates apply. Use promo code WineandWhales to book online or call 707-964-3688.
Inn at Newport Ranch
Set along a mile and a half of rugged Mendocino County coastline, the Inn at Newport Ranch is a stunning destination with a myriad of sites to watch for migrating whales. Guests can hike trails atop the coastal bluffs, settle into oceanfront picnic spots built into the cliffs, gather around an oceanfront fire pit, or soak in a rooftop hot tub overlooking the sea. Several rooms, including the Captain’s Quarters and suites in the Redwood House, have extraordinary ocean views as well. Between mid-February and the end of April, the inn offers a whale-watching package that includes an afternoon cliffside picnic, cocktails by the fire, dinner for two, and a 10% discount off any room.
Mendocino Seaside Cottages
On the quiet northern side of Mendocino village, Mendocino Seaside Cottages stands just 70 yards from the ocean. Each of the four spacious suites has private decks with sweeping ocean views and spotting scopes for whale watching. One of the best views is from the spacious Penthouse Suite on the second floor. The suite features panoramic vistas from its private deck, spa tub, and dining alcove inside a light-filled bay window. Directly across the road from the inn, guests can also wander the blufftop trails at Mendocino Headlands State Park for more opportunities to catch sight of whales and other wildlife.
Little River Inn
Just south of Mendocino Village, Little River Inn overlooks the Pacific from atop a bluff and offers the chance to see whales from every single room. Guests can relax in rocking chairs lining the decks or even outdoor hot tubs to take in the views. For mixing whale watching with cocktails, head to Ole’s Whale Watch Bar. With sweeping ocean views, the historic bar got its name from Mendocino’s classic pastime. Owned and operated by the same family for five generations, the Little River Inn is the perfect place to whale watch in cozy comfort. Binoculars can be borrowed upon request.
Inn at Schoolhouse Creek
Nestled on a rise above the Mendocino Coast, the Inn at Schoolhouse Creek features historic cottages and cozy guest rooms, including several that are ideal for whale watching. Among the most unique is the Water Tower Cottage. During World War II, the water tower served as a lookout equipped with an anti-aircraft battery for the U.S. Coast Guard. Today, the tower is a prime perch to watch for whale spouts and sunsets. The base of the tower holds a private hot tub, and a spiral staircase leads to a platform with breathtaking ocean views. Other cottages and guest rooms offer private or shared decks with views of the sea.
Elk Cove Inn & Spa
Further south on the Mendocino Coast, Elk Cove Inn & Spa sits high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and provides a comfortable perch for whale watching. Guests can gaze out to sea from the gingerbread-trimmed gazebo, outdoor dining deck, and the oceanfront restaurant. Many of the guest rooms also offer stunning ocean views, including the Oceanfront Junior Suites with their private decks. The window seats in Surfsong Cottage, Seascape Room, and Baywatch Room also make for a cozy spot to watch for whales. In addition, a private trail connects the inn with trails leading down to the beach and up along the bluffs at Greenwood Creek State Beach.
Timber Cove Resort
Perched on 25 acres of breathtaking coastline, Timber Cove Resort offers unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean along with abundant wildlife and moody winter skies. Trails running atop the cliffs and a stunning oceanfront fire pit provide the best outdoor spots for whale watching. Inside, most of the guest rooms offer panoramic ocean views as well. The best choices are the Ocean View and Ocean Cove View rooms or any of the suites. The rooms and suites are equipped with binoculars and feature private decks or patios with outdoor furniture. The most common whales seen on the Sonoma Coast are gray whales. Humpback, blue, and orca whales can also be spotted a little further offshore. Guests will also spot a variety of sea birds, harbor seals, and the occasional sea lion.
Green Gables Inn
With its enviable position at the water’s edge, the newly revamped Green Gables Inn in Pacific Grove offers a front-row view of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and its abundant wildlife. Whale watching is a year-round activity on the bay, featuring migrating gray whales in winter and spring and humpback and blue whales in summer and fall. From the inn’s dining room and lounge, guests regularly spot whales as well as dolphins, seals, and sea otters. The best guest rooms for whale watching include the Balcony Room with its panoramic ocean views and the Chapel Room with its charming window seat overlooking the bay. The inn provides binoculars upon request. For guests who want to get a more up-close view, the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail is just steps away.
Along the same stretch of Pacific Grove’s rocky coastline and scenic trail, the historic Martine Inn offers daily wildlife sightings from its oceanfront dining parlor and ocean-view guest rooms. Over breakfast each morning, guests can enjoy the sight of whales breaching or spouting columns of water into the air. Of the ocean-view rooms, Marie’s Room and the Parke Room on the second floor provide the best views. Steeped in a Victorian milieu, guests can watch the whales pass by while relaxing in antique chairs next to a crackling fire. The inn is located just three blocks from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Seven Gables Inn
Also perched on the Pacific Grove coastline, Seven Gables Inn has a prime spot near Lover’s Point. Every room of this 1886 landmark Victorian estate offers sweeping views of the Monterey Bay. Guests often spot whales and other wildlife just outside, including harbor seals that pup on the beach across the way. The largest room at the inn is the elegant Cypress Room with a 22-foot bay window that offers spectacular 180-degree ocean views. Another popular choice is the Breakers Room with cozy seating in a bay window directly overlooking the water. Breakfast in the oceanfront dining room provides yet another setting to watch for whales.
Fireside Inn on Moonstone Beach
With its oceanfront location on Moonstone Beach, the newly renovated Fireside Inn is a great choice for whale watching on California’s Central Coast. The inn’s ocean-view rooms offer furnished patios with unobstructed views of the water and whales passing offshore. Upon request, guests can borrow a pair of binoculars from the front office. Directly across from the inn, a mile-long wooden boardwalk weaves among cypress trees, sandy coves, and rocky headlands. Along the way, benches allow couples to admire the breathtaking views and watch for whales and other marine life. Just three miles from the inn, guests can also visit the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.
On the Beach Bed & Breakfast
Cayucos is another great spot to watch for humpback whales and migrating gray whales on the Central Coast. Overlooking the water and the sands of Cayucos State Beach, On the Beach Bed & Breakfast provides excellent vantage points from its second-floor rooms (rooms 201-204) and rooftop deck. The spacious, second-floor rooms each feature private balconies with cozy seating and full ocean views. On the rooftop deck, guests can watch for whales while relaxing in the hot tub or around the fire pit. Guests can also stroll out on the historic Cayucos Pier to catch sight of more marine wildlife.
Blue Lantern Inn
Perched on a bluff above Dana Point Harbor in Southern California, the Blue Lantern Inn offers unparalleled ocean views and whale-watching opportunities. The views can be enjoyed from the inn’s terraced patio and many of its guest rooms, including the Tower Rooms and Pacific Edge Rooms with private balconies or patios. Guests in the third-floor Luxury Tower guestroom have the best views of all, aided by a private, in-room telescope. For even more panoramic views, the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area behind the inn offers bluff-top hiking trails and scenic overlooks. Down at the harbor, whale-watching cruises depart several times daily providing an up-close view of the whales.