Best Monterey Bay Whale Watching Tour: Princess Monterey

When visiting Monterey, one of the best activities for you is whale watching with Princess Monterey. While there are must see local attractions Cannery Row and the Aquarium, the spectacular Monterey Bay is among the world’s best spots for whale watching. What’s more, you can see whales and other marine life all year long onboard …

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A large whale leaping (breaching) out of the Monterey Bay

When visiting Monterey, one of the best activities for you is whale watching with Princess Monterey. While there are must see local attractions Cannery Row and the Aquarium, the spectacular Monterey Bay is among the world’s best spots for whale watching. What’s more, you can see whales and other marine life all year long onboard the most popular whale watching tour operator, Princess Monterey. After all, it has the two largest ships and it’s the among the best rated in California. Now that you know who’s the best around, here’s a handy guide to provide you with the most important details.

Spectacular image of a humpback whale breaching in the Monterey Bay
Humpback Whale Breach, Monterey Bay (credit: Mike Doherty)

Princess Monterey Whale Watching

96 Fisherman’s Wharf No. 1
Monterey, CA  93940
(831) 372-2203

In business for over 30 years, Princess Monterey Whale Watching is the No. 1 whale watching operator on the Monterey Bay. Locally owned and operated by Benji Shake, whose parents are also well-respected local entrepreneurs. In fact, the late Sabu Shake Sr and wife Isabella has owned popular local restaurants, including Old Fisherman’s Grotto on the wharf. Today, Benji continues to lead Princess Monterey and is backed with an outstanding staff. This includes captains Brent “Duke” Williamson and William “Bill” Williamson, in addition to guest services staff and the onboard crew.


Adults $70, Children ages 3 to 11 $45 (no children under 3), Adult VIP Upper Deck Seating $90, Children VIP Upper Deck Seating $65

Tickets can be purchased online or onsite. Although online bookings are recommended, if you’re a guest or member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you can receive a $10 discount off a ticket if you purchase in person. On the other hand, it’s always a good thing to book online in advance, especially during the peak summer months. Note: While Princess Monterey can’t guarantee you’ll see whales or dolphins, they have a success rate of 98-99 percent. But if you don’t see whales or dolphins during your trip, you can receive a rain check for another whale watching trip on the Monterey Bay.

Current Schedule for Whale Watching Tours

9 a.m., 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. (Sunset with the Whales).

Please call or email the office for the current schedule. Princess Monterey operates all year long, weather permitting. This includes trips on major holidays like Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s Day.


Approximately 2.5 to 3 hours, with onboard narration provided by an expert crew who have decades of experience with marine navigation and sea life.

Is Whale Watching Ethical?

Yes, Princess Monterey Whale Watching strictly adheres to ethical guidelines to protect whales and their environment. During your tour, your boat will operate at a same distance from whales and other marine life to avoid any distress.

Best Time of the Year for Monterey Bay Whale Watching

Although you can book a trip with Princess Monterey Whale Watching year r0und, you might want to know when it’s the best time to see whales. The summer months are certainly obvious, yet it really depends on what you what to see. As noted previously, the gray whale season is from December to April. In the summer, you’ll see humpback whales, with peak sightings said to be in July and August. Equally important are the fall months, with humpbacks still abundance, as well as blue whales from May through October. By the same token, you can contact Princess Monterey ahead of time for recommendations and additional information..

Historical sign at the entrance to Old Fisherman's Wharf
Old Fisherman’s Wharf Entrance (credit: Randy Yagi)

Directions to Monterey’s Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Depending upon where you’re staying, you can reach Old Fisherman’s Wharf via local streets like Lighthouse Avenue or Del Monte Avenue. As for reaching the wharf via Highway 1 from Marina or Seaside, you can take the Del Monte exit. If you are driving from Big Sur or Carmel, take the Munras Avenue exit and follow the signs for Old Fisherman’s Wharf. If you are driving there directly, set your GPS to 201 Washington Street for the main lot. Alternatively, there is an adjacent lot at 245 Figueroa. In case you want to leave your car at the hotel, Uber, Lyft and taxis all operate within the Monterey Peninsula.

Related: Best Attractions Along the Monterey Peninsula

Public Transportation to Old Fisherman’s Wharf

If you’re visiting this summer, you can take the free Monterey-Salinas Transit trolley to the wharf. With several stops available in downtown Monterey and through Cannery Row, it’s a convenient way to reach Old Fisherman’s Wharf. If that’s not enough, the free MST trolley makes inbound and outbound stops at Old Fisherman’s Wharf. From the trolley stops, it’s short walk to the entrance to wharf. As you walk past the many retail stores and restaurants on the wharf, you’ll reach Princess Monterey Whale Watching. The MST Trolley runs through September 4 and operates every 10-15 minutes. Even after Labor Day, you can still take MST routes 1 and 2 to Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Princess Monterey Whale Watching visitor center at Old Fisherman's Wharf
Princess Monterey Whale Watching Visitor Center (credit: Randy Yagi)

Before and After Boarding

Before you board a Princess Monterey vessel, you must sign-in at the visitor center. Moreover, it’s recommended that you arrive at least 30 minutes prior to boarding. Yet prior to your arrival, it’s a smart idea to familiarize yourself with guidelines in which to see marine life. In the first place, you know you’ll see magnificent sea creatures on your tour. However, you must not harass or harm any marine animal in any way. You must also be aware that you may experience rough waters across the Monterey Bay. Your crew will advise you of additional guidelines, including safety procedures. Please know that safety is of the utmost importance for you and all others onboard.

Risso's dolphins traveling through the Monterey Bay
Risso’s Dolphins (credit: Randy Yagi)

What to Expect on a Monterey Princess Whale Watching Trip

One reason why Monterey whale watching is among California’s best is its waters is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In other words, you can traverse along beautiful waters that’s part of a federally protected habitat. As a result, these waters are helping protect endangered species of marine life, in particular whales. With all this in mind, you will be treated to a diverse collection of marine life during your whale watching trip. For instance, aside from sea birds, the first sea creatures you’ll likely see are native sea otters and harbor seals. That’s because they’re typically resting on a jetty as you leave the dock. In fact, sea otters are so prevalent, there’s otter 841 residing on the opposite side of the bay that’s become an internet sensation. But of course, the main attractions are the whales and dolphins you’re bound to see on your trip.

Whale Species in the Monterey Bay

There are seven whale species that can be found in the Monterey Bay. This includes gray whales, blue whales, killer whales and humpback whales. Incidentally, killer whales is actually the largest dolphin species and seen during the spring. While the gray whale can be seen locally from December through May, its peak appearance is mid-March. Of these seven species, the most common is the humpback, typically spotted from April to early December. Not only is the humpback the most common, it’s also an internet sensation, known for its majestic leaps. That’s not to mention the blue whale, the world’s largest animal in history and found locally from June to October.

Dolphin Species

Like whales, there are many dolphin species that can be seen in the Monterey Bay. For instance, Risso’s dolphins are quite abundant as are the Pacific white-sided dolphin. But not only can you see these dolphin species but the northern right whale dolphins, bottlenose and common dolphins. What’s more, you might even see Dall’s porpoises and/or harbor porpoises.

Related: FAQs for First Time Visitors to San Francisco

What To Bring On Your Monterey Princess Whale Watching Trip

Even during the summer months, you should wear layered clothing and a good pair of shoes. Although the local weather might be pleasant, it can be quite windy and chilly while traveling across the Monterey Bay. Of course, you’ll want to take photos so your smartphone and/or personal camera. In addition, you should consider bringing a hat, binoculars and wear sunglasses and sunscreen. That’s not to mention lip balm and if necessary, something to prevent sea sickness. For example, over the counter medications like Dramamine or natural remedies like chamomile or ginger. For breakfast, be careful to avoid greasy foods prior to your trip. Lastly, you can bring your own snacks and water, although there is a snack bar onboard.


Embarking upon a Princess Monterey Whale Watching trip at Old Fisherman’s Wharf will be an extraordinary experience for you. Not only will you be able to see these magnificent creatures, you’ll better understand the importance of preserving marine life and the oceans. What’s more, you’ll come away with memories to last a lifetime while enjoying these captivating whales, dolphins and more.

Related: Best Hotel in Monterey: Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa

About the Author

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS from 2012-2019. More than 900 stories still appear in syndication across over 20 CBS websites, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget,, and He earned a Media Fellowship from Stanford University in 2012.