Whale Watching from Shore

Whale Watching From Shore in Crystal Cove State Park

It’s gray-whale season again! The best way to see our majestic Baja-bound friends is, of course, by boat, but sharp eyes can spot them from shore too. Get in a good hike while admiring this great annual migration. One of the best shorebound spots is the 6-mile (round-trip) Bluff Top Trail, a multiuse trail in Crystal Cove State Park. It’s mostly flat and nicely paved as it stretches along the coastal terrace from Morro Cove (near Laguna Beach) to Little Treasure Cove (near Newport Beach).

The ocean views are consistently amazing. Scads of turnoffs along the way lead to viewpoints or down to the beach. Most of the viewpoints have benches, making them perfect spots to set up for an afternoon of whale watching. Tip: Bring a hot beverage to help keep you warm in the chilly winter air!

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Gray whales migrate off the Orange County coast from November to April—southbound through January, then northbound—while fin, humpback, and minke whales can be spotted year-round. There have also been sightings of a pod of orcas! Dolphins and sea lions also hang out. Some experts say that gray whales breach more often near Laguna Beach (the Reef Point section of the park) than anywhere else along the California coast. Talk about an amazing sight to see!

As the trail weaves across the top of 80-foot bluffs, it passes through coastal sage scrub and annual grasses. Signs along the way tell you about the park’s flora and fauna, as well as the expansive protected underwater area of Crystal Cove. Added bonus: It’s tough to beat the sunset here, with views of Catalina off in the distance.

From the 91 freeway, take CA-55 south toward Newport Beach. Take Exit 5A to merge onto CA-73 south. Exit onto MacArthur Blvd., then turn left onto East Coast Hwy. The entrance will be on your right. Fee parking available in either the Pelican Point or Reef Point parking lot. Crystal Cove is open from 6 a.m. to sunset daily. Trail is dog-friendly, but dogs are not allowed on the beaches.

Whale watching photo by Soren Riise/Creative Commons Whale photos by Joe McKenna/Creative Commons

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