Looking for the best spots to go whale watching at the Oregon coast? You’ve come to the right place.
I’m a lifelong local who spent most of my childhood summers exploring the breathtaking coast. I’ve lost count of the number of times my mom would take us to the Oregon coast for whale watching.
The impetus for this Oregon Coast Whale Watching Guide was my assumption that most Oregonians had similar childhood experience.
So I was surprised to learn that a few of my coworkers have never experience whale watching a the Oregon coast, alas — I took matters into my own hands and created this guide to share with them.
I thought it might be helpful to others as well, which is why I’m posting it online as well. Hope you enjoy!
Whale Watching at the Oregon Coast
People from all over the country travel to the soaring cliffs of Oregon’s coast for whale watching opportunities. As the marine mammals travel up and down the western shoreline on their twice per year migrations, visitors can easily observe from the shore as the whales quietly roam the waves searching for food and raising their young.
Indeed, whale watching has become one of the state’s most beloved activities for folks of all ages, and is something the whole family can join in on any time of the year.
You’ll mostly be seeing Pacific gray whales, but other species have been spotted close to shore. Orcas–the notorious “killer whales” of Hollywood fame–are usually further north but sometimes swim into warmer southern waters off of Oregon to hunt.
Playful bottlenose dolphins sometimes frolicking in the waves in search of fish. These waters also tend to attract the occasional Humpback and Blue whale, though they are much more rare and prefer to feed in deeper water.
There are so many wonderful places to spend some time scanning the horizon for the characteristic spouts of the whales as they pass the shore. We’ll take you through the best spots to go whale watching at the Oregon coast.
But first, we want to set you up for success. So let’s cover some helpful things to know about whale watching in Oregon.
Best Time to See Whales at the Oregon Coast
To increase your chances of seeing some solid whale action, consider visiting the coast during spring or fall.
Spring typically has the highest migration numbers and viewing opportunities because whales come in as close as a mile off shore (sometimes closer if the eatin’s good!).
From late March to early June somewhere around 20,000 Pacific grey whales pass through Oregon’s coastal waters heading northward.
That’s 20,000 chances to get a look at these gentle giants as they travel to spend their leisurely summer months basking in the clear waters off of Alaska.
Oregon Coast Whale Watching in Winter
December through January whale sightings begin to increase again as the whales travel south again to the warm waters near Baja California, Mexico. That’s one heck of an annual family vaycay!
Although you’ll have to brave the blustery cold of the coastline to see the whales, winter also means less crowds and a good excuse to gather the fam around a warm bowl of fresh clam chowder at one of the many local restaurants.
Helpful Tip: Official Oregon Whale Watching Weeks Occur in December & March
Every year, like clockwork, the official Oregon coast whale watching week takes place (exact dates can vary). During the week, volunteers are stationed at up to 20 of the best spots to see whales at the Oregon coast.
The helpful volunteers share knowledge about the whales, offering education resources, help spot them, and answer any questions folks may have.
Did you know? The Oregon coast has resident whales you can see year-round?
While the spring and fall months are the best times of year to see migrating whales, the Oregon coast has one peculiar thing to note (that’s lucky for us whale lovers!). The Central Coast town of Depot Bay harbors a small population of roughly 200 gray whales who don’t migrate at all.
These whales have, for reasons unknown to marine biologists, chosen to make their home in the shallow waters off this bay and remain there year round. This makes Depot Bay a great town to visit if you’re short on time (read more about this town and the whale sighting opportunities below).
Best Spots to See Whales at the Oregon Coast
Right in the center of the Oregon coastline lies the world’s smallest harbor, Depoe Bay. Unrelated to its small scale, Depoe Bay is also known as the “whale watching capital of the world,” and that’s no exaggeration.
The unofficially official epicenter for whale watching, Depoe Bay is the best all-around choice for seeing whales year round. While there will of course be much more activity during migration season, a small population of gray whales live right off the shore–an oddity for sure, but lucky for us!
This population of about 200 individuals have snubbed the whole migration thing (“We have to swim how far each year…?”) and chose to hunker down near this quaint little harbor full time.
With so many whales congregated in a relatively small area, the chance of spotting them is high. You’re virtually guaranteed to see at least one wandering whale as it scopes the sandy beach bottom for crabs, krill, and shrimp.
Depoe Bay has built itself around the presence of the whales. The area has a smorgasbord of shops, visitor centers, boat tour options, and viewing platforms all designed with whale watching in mind.
You could choose a new whale-related activity every day and not run out for weeks! The Whale Watching Center, mentioned above, is a great place to begin your journey and learn about the whales and how to spot them in the water.
We also recommend visiting the small Whale, Sea Life, and Shark museum right on the highway for more info about marine mammals, birds, and more.
Plenty of options for food are ready and waiting to satiate the hungry traveler, including the Depoe Bay-kery with coffee and fresh breads, as well as the infamous Gracie’s Sea Hag for delicious fish n’chips.
Good to Know: The Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center
Ready to see some whales but feeling wary about heading out on your own? We’ve got you covered! Well, the wonderful Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay does. The center has knowledgeable staff and volunteers to fill you in on fun facts and offer binoculars to use during your visit.
Booking a whale watching tour is another way to whale watch–if you’ve got your sea legs, that is. The rolling waves can have you leaning over the deck, seeing more of the boat than the whales if you’re prone to motion sickness. If not, there are many companies who provide short excursions into the water to view whales and other marine life up close.
Alright, enough with the who’s, what’s, why’s, and hows! The rest of this guide will take you into the belly of the whale (so to speak!) to fill you in on the “where’s” as we share the Oregonian way to whale watch.
Although foul weather certainly makes an appearance here at times, this area just south of Depoe Bay is only foul by name. The cape was actually designated as such by Captain Cook when his ship encountered a storm upon discovering Oregon in the 18th century.
But fear not! This scenic viewpoint is spectacular, even if the weather does get a little rainy. Cape Foulweather juts high above the ocean, providing an eagle-eye view of what feels like the entire Oregon coast.
Speaking of eagles, sometimes you can even watch them soaring below you. Have you ever seen a bird in flight from the top down?
It reminds you of how high up you are, which makes a perfect vantage point for spotting whales–and everything else!–far off into the distance.
Gray whales can be seen here regularly, flashing their fabulous flukes as they dive to scoop up food.
Easily one of the most Instagram-worthy photo opportunities on the coast, the vistas Cape Foulweather offers will leave you speechless.
Take an occasional break from whale watching to admire the spruce-lined cliffs to the north as they gently sweep down into the sea.
Waves crash and spray seafoam over low-lying rocks that are a safe harbor for intertidal zone marine life like sea stars, crabs, and anemones. Gulls are sure to be flapping around, screaming their shrill cries into the salty breeze.
In 1910 a ship sank, disintegrating into the sea. Only its boiler remains and can be viewed at low tide, giving this magnificent viewpoint its iconic name.
This State Scenic Viewpoint north of Depoe Bay is the perfect spot to pull over along your drive down Highway 101.
Offering a large parking area and plenty of flush toilets, this wayside is a convenient place to rest even if whale watching at the Oregon coast is nothing more than an afterthought.
That being said, you’re likely to see a few even if you’re just stopping to stretch! Awesome sweeping views of the curved coastline are totally unobstructed, allowing you to take in the deep blue green ocean as far as the eye can see.
Spread out on the grassy area for a picnic and snack on some goldfish crackers, imagining that the whales swimming below are likely doing that exact same thing (except with actual fish, of course).
You’ll mostly find our usual gray whale friends, but packs of orcas are seen here a few times each year. Boiler Bay also happens to be an incredible place to spot sea birds like jaegers, oystercatchers, and loons, each with a funkier name than the last.
Whip out those binoculars and enjoy some leisurely time taking in the wildlife and panoramic ocean views before either moving on south toward Depoe Bay or heading north to our next favorite whale watching destination.
It’s all in the name! Cape Lookout is the perfect place to…well, “look out” for whales as they ramble along the coastline. From a vantage point on a sand spit slicing into the ocean, Cape Lookout State Park is a popular place to visit for recreation opportunities of all sorts.
Stop for just a day or stay overnight in the developed campsite to serve as a home base for whale watching (and everything else!) up and down the coast. There are 5 miles of easy hiking trails that wind up, down, and around the headlands here, providing countless spots to peer down into the rolling waves to glimpse whales and other sea life.
Hike through Sitka spruce and hemlock as you make your way out to the point of Cape Lookout, where the most stunning view of all awaits. From here you can look north to see Tillamook Head looming 40 miles away, and south to find Cape Foulweather (also about 40 miles away) in all its rocky glory.
If you’re planning on spending a few days here, there are no shortage of activities to keep you busy. Excellent tide pools lie ready and waiting to be discovered on the pristine stretch of beach.
Stroll along the sand collecting shells and other trinkets, fly kites, or relax with a good book while the kids build sand castles near the sparkling waves.
If you’re up for a drive, consider puttering along the Three Capes Scenic Route which takes you from Tillamook to Pacific City. On this route you’ll be able to see Cape Meares, Cape Kiwanda, and Cape Lookout, each just as awe-inspiring as the other.
Are you seeing a theme here? The dramatic capes of Oregon’s coastline provide the perfect overlooks to perch on as you pick out whale spouts among the waves.
Cape Perpetua is another beautiful slice of coastal land situated south of Newport. Rising a dizzying 800 feet, Cape Perpetua is the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the entire Oregon coast! What better place to head to spend a day watching out for whales?
Nestled between the rugged sea shore and lush temperate rainforest (green is everywhere), this state park gives visitors the best of both worlds. Explore the overgrown trails of Siuslaw National Forest and consider signing up for a ranger-led tour of the trails to learn more about this diverse ecosystem.
Stop by the visitor center to discover the fascinating cultural and natural history of the area (people have lived around the cape for 6,000 years!). If you’ve had enough whale watching for the day at Cape Perpetua itself, roam around the rest of the 2,700 acre area to discover tons of interesting natural formations.
The Devil’s Churn is a cool rock close to shore that the waves flood into, creating a “churning” effect you can see from a pullout along the highway.
Access the sprawling Cape Cove Beach via car or hiking trail for general seashore activities. Head further south to explore the colorful tidepools snuggled between the rocks at the base of the basalt headlands.
With so many trails and roads connecting us with the sea and the forest, Cape Perpetua is our favorite place to visit when we want more than “just” a day on the beach.
Last but not least, the southernmost cape on our list: Cape Arago State Park. This one is sure to be a hit for whale watching if you’re in the area.
Driving down the Cape Arago highway has numerous pullouts where you can park and scope out the ocean for signs of breaching whales off in the distance. Located Coos Bay, this is a great stop if you’re already out exploring the incredible sand dunes nearby.
Also along the Cape Arago highway is the Cape Arago Lighthouse, a defunct structure that is no longer open to the public, but still a neat little feature of Oregon’s lighthouse-riddled coastline.
While the pullouts along the highways as well as the cape itself provide wonderful chances to get plenty of whale watching in, heading down to the shore is a must.
The south cove trail takes you down to crystal clear tide pools studded with chunky sea stars and crusty barnacles. Stay here to play(or lay!) in the warm sand, or continue exploring other trails in the area.
The north cove trail provides access for fishing and beachcombing. Here you can also see Shell Island rising just off shore where protected seals and sea lions congregate in noisy colonies.
Why whale watching?
The great thing about whale watching is that anybody can (and should!) participate. Many Of the best viewing opportunities take place right outside of your car overlooking the ocean, so even visitors with small children or mobility concerns can join in on the fun.
Whale watching also takes zero special knowledge or equipment, which is an understandable barrier to entry for a lot of other nature experiences. For the casual family day trip to the coast (and even for seasoned explorers!) A sighting of a whale gliding through the rolling waves is sure to be a memorable experience for all.
The best way to spot a whale is to scan the horizon (no binoculars needed) to see if you can catch the distinctive spot of water whales spew from their blowholes.
Oftentimes this display is followed by a glimpse of their tail (also called “flukes”) as the whales dive back down. Once you spot a spout or a fluke, grab a pair of any ol’ binoculars if you have them and try to zero in on the area. It’s likely you’ll be able to observe the whales spout and dive a few more times as they swim around the coastline.
Oregon Coast Whale Watching Tips
Now that we’ve covered the best places to see whales at the Oregon coast, it might be helpful to cover a few key tips.
Clothing If you’re at all familiar with the Oregon coast–or Oregon in general–you probably know it rains a lot. Don’t get caught with soggy flippers while scoping the tides for whales. Bring along a rainjacket, comfortable shoes (waterproof if you plan on going to the beach), and a heavy coat for those windy days.
Gear No gear is required, but I find binoculars or a spotting scope make the experience that much more memorable. Who doesn’t love an up-close look at a mammal we usually only get the chance to see on a screen?
Safety Even though gray skies and rain are real here in Oregon, sunscreen and a hat should be kept on hand in case the sun decides to make an appearance. I’ve been caught unaware–and nursing a spicy sunburn!–many times when a cloudy day suddenly turned to sun.
Be prepared for any type of weather, keepy an eye on the ocean tide, and keep children and pets away from cliff edges.
Oregon Coast Whale Watching (Post Summary)
Although mysterious and sometimes elusive, whales have been intertwined with humans throughout history. Ancient coastal people believed whales and humans were closely related and honored these gentle giants through legend and song.
Today our culture still brims with fantastical tales of these massive creatures who are at once mighty enough to ravage ships but friendly enough to befriend scuba divers.
There’s no doubt that whales have a special place in our hearts. Although getting right up close to a whale in the wild is a tall order for the average person, these mystical creatures can often be observed in their natural habitat right from the sea shore. Specifically from Oregon’s shore, no less!
Map of the best places to see whales at the Oregon coast
P.S. On a recent trip to Hawaii I saw the coolest scene! A mother whale was playing around with her new pup, see video below.