There’s nothing quite like watching a magnificent whale breaching or seeing a dolphin enjoying a bowride alongside your vessel as you traverse open waters. Seeing these giant sea mammals in their natural habitat reminds us how small we are, especially compared to the sheer size of these gentle giants and the ocean’s vastness.
Seattle and nearby Elliot Bay and San Juan Island are fantastic starting points for whale-watching tours. The waters around the city are home to various marine mammals, including orcas, minke whales, humpback whales, gray whales, and more. If you don’t have a boat moored on shores close to Seattle, which tour guides offer the best whale-watching tours?
The best 12 whale-watching tours in Seattle are:
- Puget Sound Express, Seattle
- FRS Clipper, Seattle
- San Juan Safaris, Anacortes
- Island Adventures, Anacortes
- Seattle Orca Whale Watching, Anacortes
- Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching, San Juan Island
- Salish Sea Tours, Seattle
- And more …
The Best Whale-Watching Tours in the Seattle Area
The best time to enjoy whale watching near Seattle is during the spring and summer months. The reason for this is that many whale species migrate to these waters during the warmer months to find food and reproduce. Orcas, for example, frequent the sea waters around Seattle during summer months as they follow the salmon runs.
Another reason why whale-watching during this time is better is because of the longer daylight hours, calmer seas, and the resultant increase in wildlife activity. The calmer seas and more ambient weather make it easier to observe whales in their natural habitat.
Some of the tour operators mentioned in this article are members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA). Members of the PWWA are dedicated to sustainable and responsible marine wildlife viewing. By supporting these organizations, you can support conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest. With that, let’s look at the best tour operators in and nearby Seattle:
1. Puget Sound Express, Edmonds
459 Admiral Way
Puget Sound Express (PGS) is the only half-day whale-watching tour operating from Seattle. They have two vessels, Saratoga and Swiftsure, which they claim are the quietest and fastest whale-watching boats in the Northwest and Salish Sea. Both vessels are sound-proofed, hydrofoil jet boats sans propellers.
PGS is a family business that’s been going for three generations, and their experience makes it possible for them to guarantee you’ll see whales and orcas in what is called “the American Serengeti.” Additionally, PSG is a proud member of PWWA and promises a free trip in the unlikely event the tour does not encounter any whales.
Other departure points for Puget Sound Express include the following:
- Port Townsend (accessible via ferry from Seattle), 227 Jackson Street
- Port Angeles, 115 E Railroad Avenue
2. FRS Clipper
Seattle and Victoria (British Columbia)
FRS Clipper is a large catamaran, or “fast ferry,” operating from Seattle and Victoria. It is the only tour that departs directly from Seattle’s waters, making it a convenient option for visitors seeking a day tour or overnight packages. While FRS Clipper doesn’t offer whale-watching tours, per se, your chances of spotting these large mammals on a summer trip are good.
3. San Juan Safaris, Anacortes
Friday Harbor, Ferry Landing
San Juan Safaris operates whale-watching tours from the San Juan Islands – a couple hours’ drive from Seattle. They offer small group tours that are child-friendly, allowing for a more personalized experience. The San Juan Safari high-speed vessels ensure the tour allows for more marine life watching and less time getting to the hot spots.
Additionally, their tours are led by experienced naturalists who share their expertise about the Seattle waters’ marine life, including minke whales, orcas, and sea lions.
4. Island Adventures, Anacortes
712 Seafarers Way
Island Adventures is a popular whale-watching tour offering the local industry’s highest orca sighting success rate. The tours start in Anacortes, a mere 90-mile drive from Seattle. Their knowledgeable naturalists provide informative commentary during these tours, which can last 5 hours (a typical tour) or longer if you arrange a private charter.
Island Adventures focuses on responsible wildlife viewing, showing their guests the importance of wildlife conservation. While you’ll likely spot orcas on any excursion with Island Adventures, you’ll probably see humpback whales during the spring and summer.
5. Seattle Orca Whale Watching, Anacortes
950 Westlake Avenue N
Seattle Orca Whale Watching offers tours specifically focused on orca sightings. This tour operator partners with San Juan Safaris to combine their resources and provide a fascinating and educational whale-watching experience with a focus on orca conservation. An added advantage of these tours is that the small group sizes ensure a more personalized experience.
6. Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching, San Juan Island
14 Cannery Landing, Friday Harbor
Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching operates from Friday Harbor in San Juan Island. They offer personalized small-group tours emphasizing environmental stewardship and marine education. Their well-informed guides provide insights into the behavior and conservation of marine mammals. They are sure to give a memorable and educational experience.
7. Salish Sea Tours, Pier 57, Miner’s Landing
1301 Alaskan Way
Salish Sea Tours offers tours of the waters of Puget Sound in Elliot Bay. Depending on the season, you can hope to see orcas, humpback whales, and other sea wildlife. Their tour times are season-dependent, and booking is essential (you can do this up to two months in advance). They also offer chartered trips for private functions.
While at Pier 57, you can enjoy attractions like the Seattle Great Wheel and Wings Over Washington and dine at popular local seafood restaurants.
8. Outer Island Excursions, Anacortes
2201 Skyline Way
Outer Island Excursions offers regularly scheduled charters departing from Anacortes mainland, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. Their tours last three to four hours aboard high-speed vessels, and onlookers are guaranteed the opportunity to see whales and other exciting wildlife, like sea lions, seals, porpoises, and bald eagles.
9. Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours, San Juan Islands
1 Spring Street, Friday Harbor
Western Prince offers a 3-hour whale watch tour and private charters aboard their open “Zodiac” and “Fast Raft” vessels. These smaller boats offer a more adventurous experience while remaining stable and comfortable. Western Prince has repeatedly received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence because of their commitment to customer satisfaction.
And, like many of the whale watch operators in the area, they offer a free tour in the unlikely event that you don’t see a whale on your trip.
10. Sea Quest Kayak Tours, San Juan Islands
322 Daniel Lane, Friday Harbor
If you’re up for an active whale-watching tour near Seattle, consider a guided kayak tour where you paddle individually or on a larger kayak. Sea Quest is a well-established kayak tour agency with over thirty years of experience exploring the prime whale waters of the Salish Sea and its surroundings. You can choose from tours lasting one to five days, even if you’ve never kayaked.
The tour guides are also natural history experts, so they share their immense wealth of knowledge along the way. Kayakers get to see whales up close and in an active and eco-friendly manner – offering a truly unforgettable experience. Imagine how awe-inspiring it must be!
11. San Juan Excursions, San Juan Islands
40 Spring Street, Friday Harbor
San Juan Excursions is a locally owned and operated business that offers splendid whale-watching tours. They guarantee you’ll see orca whales and provide a free tour in the unlikely event that you don’t. San Juan Excursions supports local conservation and community programs, and 5% of its profits go to conservation organizations and charities.
Their vessel is a stable and comfortable converted U.S. search and rescue vessel called the Odyssey. Aside from seeing whales and marine wildlife, you can enjoy the magnificent views of the local islands, including Spieden Island.
12. Crystal Seas Kayaking, San Juan Islands
40 Spring Street, Friday Harbor
The San Juans are a hub for thrilling adventure, and Crystal Seas Kayaking has visitors to the area sorted in this regard. They offer sea kayaking and bicycling adventures in and around the San Juan Islands, with the added benefit of whale watching.
Their tour options include 3-hour and day tours of the island’s western shores, navigating through this federally designated whale habitat. They also offer camp-to-camp tours that involve exploring the shorelines on a kayak, camping under the stars, and enjoying locally sourced foods.
Whale Watching Tours in Seattle Are Completely Worth it!
Whale-watching in Seattle’s waters is easy, especially given the many tour operators in the area. These tours allow you to witness magnificent marine life and educational experiences with knowledgeable guides who can enhance your understanding of these mammals and their habitat.
While some sea mammals are common year-round, whale sightings fluctuate according to seasons. It’s recommended to check with tour operators when would be best to see specific whale species. Additionally, consider booking your tour in advance to avoid disappointment. This is especially important during peak whale-watching seasons.