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Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips. 

A close encounter with whales can become the highlight of your next vacation. The thrill of witnessing a whale surface next to your boat is arguably one of the most memorable moments you can experience in nature. Plan your next vacation around when these massively beautiful ballerinas of the sea make their annual cameos in waters off both U.S. coasts. Below is some guidance, along with tours and hotels you can book on Orbitz.

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Maui

Massive humpback whale playing in water captured from Whale whatching boat

When: December–April

Type of whale: Humpack

Did you know: The annual winter migration brings thousands of whales to Maui’s warm waters to breed, birth, and raise their calves. These babies aren’t little: A newborn calf weighs a ton (2,000 lbs.). Adults can weigh anywhere from 25 to 40 tons (up to 80,000 lbs.).

Book it: Hawaiian Ocean Rafting is one of the many whale watching tours that depart regularly from Maui’s seaside town of Lahaina.

Stay: Andaz Maui At Wailea Resort – a concept by Hyatt is a hip, luxury resort that boasts a stunning multi-level infinity pool with ocean views. It also has direct access to Mokapu Beach, where whales can be spotted in peak season.

Ketchikan, AK

When: May–September

Type of  whale: Humpback

Did you know: From April to September, Humpback whales inhabit the nutrient-rich waters of the northern Inside Passage to feed. While Ketchikan is considered a “Humpback hotspot,” humpbacks aren’t the only whales hanging out here. Killer whales, otherwise known as orcas, can be spotted when the salmon population peaks, typically between May and early June.

Book it: Eagle One Enterprises, a locally owned and operated tour company, will take you on a 2-hour whale watching and wildlife viewing excursion roundtrip from Ketchikan.

Stay: Cape Fox Lodge is nestled into the hillside edge of the Tongass National Forest, and it features dramatic views of downtown Ketchikan, as well as artwork and native artifacts by the local indigenous community, the Tlingit.

San Juan Islands, WA

Three orcas in a row at Telegraph Cove at Vancouver island, British Columbia, Canada

When: March–October

Type of whale: Orca (aka killer)

Did you know: Appropriately, one of the islands in this archipelago is named after its most famous oceanic residents: Orcas Island. Orcas, also known as killer whales, aren’t the only whales you may spot in these Pacific Northwest waters; humpbacks and minke whales are also regular visitors.

Book it:  San Juan Safaris takes guests for whale watching tours aboard its ship outfitted with a 360-degree viewing deck. Tours depart from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, the biggest island in this archipelago, but you can also find tours elsewhere across the island chain.

Stay: Rosario Resort & Spa on Orcas Island offers a 40-acre resort setting tucked into gorgeous woodland. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cape Cod/Boston/Cape Ann, MA

Fin Whale blowing off the California coast

When: May–October

Type of whale: Fin (aka finbacks)

Did you know: Finbacks are considered the “Greyhounds of the Sea” for their speed and agility underwater. The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is an excellent feeding ground for these whales, which is why most whale watching tours between Cape Ann and Cape Cod travel here.

Book it: Join a 4-hour whale watching tour roundtrip from Boston with 7 Seas Whale Watch. Whale sightings are guaranteed on this voyage that will bring you to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Stay: If you want a quintessential Cape Cod experience, reserve a room at the Beach Breeze Inn in Falmouth. It’s a restored and renovated Cape Cod home originally built in 1858. Most rooms come with ocean views. For something more cosmopolitan, consider The Liberty, a Marriott Luxury Collection Hotel, Boston. This upscale hotel in the Beacon Hill neighborhood is housed in a former prison.

San Diego

GREY WHALE eschrichtius robustus, GROUP, AERIAL VIEW, BAJA CALIFORNIA IN MEXICO

When:  December–April

Type of whale: Gray

Did You Know: San Diego’s 78 miles of coastline is directly in the migration path of Pacific gray whales. More than 20,000 of these whales travel 10,000 miles roundtrip from Alaska to Baja Mexico, making it the longest migration of any mammal on earth.

Book it: Forget about sharing a boat with dozens of strangers all vying for views and photo opportunities. Get in a kayak instead. Hike Bike Kayak Adventures offers a 3-hour whale-watching kayak excursion that paddles roundtrip from San Diego’s oceanfront neighborhood of La Jolla.

Stay: Just north of San Diego, the L’Auberge Del Mar is a luxurious seaside resort that’s welcomed a steady stream of high-profile guests over the years. It’s situated near Torrey Pines State Reserve, where whales are often spotted from the trails.

Oregon Coast

When:  December–January, April–October

Type of  whale: Gray

Did you know:  Depoe Bay is a popular launching pad for whale watching tours, as its home to roughly 200 resident gray whales—many of whom have names and stories that you’ll learn while on a boat tour. These whales choose to linger in Depoe Bay rather than travel the full Mexico to Alaska migration path with the more than 20,000 other gray whales that pass through the area each year.

Book it:  Catch a whale watching tour from Depoe Bay or opt to spot them from land—for free—at the state-run Whale Watching Center. The center is equipped with binoculars, and park staff and volunteers are on hand to help you spot whales and answer questions.

Stay: Book one of the 13 rooms at the SCP Depoe Bay. All are decorated in an elegantly minimalist style, which includes the use of sustainable and regionally sourced materials. Each room has views of the harbor.

Bar Harbor, ME

Two Dwarf Minke whales (Balaenoptera sp.) displaying courting behaviour: male in background presents belly to female in foreground. Underwater photograph. Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

When:  May–October

Type of whale: Minke

Did you know:  A wide variety of whales make cameos in the waters of Bar Harbor come spring, including minke whales. It’s easy to identify one: Look for the distinctive white “armbands” on their pectoral fins (front flippers).

Book it: Sail Bar Harbor aboard a tall ship cruise with Wow A Tour. The 2-hour voyage offers stunning views of Acadia National Park and the opportunity to spot wildlife such as moose, bears, seabirds and–yes—whales.

Stay: The Bar Harbor Grand Hotel puts you within strolling distance of whale-watching tours and at the doorstep of Acadia National Park.

Monterey, CA

Blue Whale and Calf

When:  May–October

Type of whale: Blue

Did you know:  The diversity of aquatic life in Monterey Bay makes it the marine equivalent of going on a safari in Africa. While a variety of whales can be found here year-round as they migrate seasonally through the area, it’s a great spot to catch the largest whale in the ocean: the blue whale. It can grow up to 100 feet long and weigh up to 400,000 pounds—equivalent to approximately 33 elephants. Blue whales migrate to feed in the Monterey Submarine Canyon, especially during the prime months of August–September.

Book it: Discovery Whale Watch will take you on a 3-hour whale-watching tour led by a marine biologist or naturalist guide. It departs from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

Stay: The Spindrift Inn is a beachfront boutique hotel with gorgeous views of Monterey Bay. It’s on the north end of Cannery Row, a waterfront street home to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Tagged: Alaska, Boston, California, Cape Cod, Hawaii, New England

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Erica Bray

Erica Bray

Erica is a practical free spirit who loves travel, yoga and ice cream. A Northwestern University-trained journalist with more than 15 years of experience straddling digital and broadcast media, Erica can be found doing handstands everywhere she travels -- even risking arrest in some cases. Learn about her at www.erica.media.

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