East Coast Whale watching along the Mid-Atlantic’s coast may not be as magnificent as sites along the west coast, off the coast of Cape Cod, Bar Harbor or Rhode Island, but it is still worth the drive to see. Wherever you are when you see this mighty mammal jump from the water, it will be an amazing experience.
From the flatter shorelines of New Jersey and Delaware, down through Virginia, most of the best whale watching locations will be from a boat. This way, you can observe the whales from a close distance while they peruse their natural habitat.
Check whale watching off your bucket list by visiting one of our favorite locations by planning one of the whale watching excursions near me listed below.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Whales Migrate Along the East Coast
- 2 Whale Watching in Delaware
- 3 Whale Watching in Maryland
- 4 Whale Watching in New Jersey
- 5 Virginia Whale Watching
- 6 Things to Know Before Scheduling your Tour
- 7 What to Bring
- 8 How to Best Enjoy a Wildlife Boat Trip
- 9 Pin it! And start planning!
What Whales Migrate Along the East Coast
Whales, some of the largest animals in the ocean, travel up and down the East Coast of the United States each year as they look for food and head to their breeding grounds. If you live in Washington, D.C. or are traveling through the Mid-Atlantic, whale watching in Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey is a fun day trip or weekend excursion to book.
Keep your eyes peeled as you walk along the beach or book a whale watching tour for your best chances of seeing whales. You could see North Atlantic right whales, Humpback Whales, Minkes, short-finned and long-finned pilot whales as well as dolphins cruising the waters off the coast.
You won’t see killer whales (orca), blue whales or gray whales though. These are seen more on the west coast and up in the San Juan Island of Washington state.
The East Coast whale watching season runs year round depending on which beach you hit. Mother whales head south in winter to give birth in the warm waters south of Florida. Spring and summer see whales heading north to Canada to eat their fill of plankton and other small fish.
Whale Watching in Delaware
The Great Dune at Cape Henlopen
- Address: Cape Henlopen State Park, 15099 Cape Henlopen Dr, Lewes, DE 19958
Walk the 1.6-mile Walking Dunes Trail to the Great Dune. Since the dune is 80 feet high, the added elevation provides a terrific look out over the Atlantic waters as you do some whale watching in Delaware.
Bring your binoculars, a snack and warm beverage; The Great Dune at Cape Henlopen is an excellent spot to plop down and scan the waters for whales.
- Address:107 Anglers Rd, Lewes, DE 19958
- Dates: mid-June through Labor Day from 1:30 to 4:30 PM
- Adults – $45
- Children 6 – 12 years old – $25
- Children 5 and under – free
- Use the promo code 10WEB for 10% off each ticket.
Book a whale and dolphin watching cruise throughout the summer, with select tours available on the off season. Call to inquire before you book on the off-season though, as the boats aren’t always running.
Whale Watching in Maryland
While whale watching in Maryland isn’t as common as other spots in the Mid-Atlantic, people have spotted humpback whales passing Assateague Island National Seashore. Most stay far from the coast, but a few get close enough to spot as they feed on their way too and from the warm Caribbean waters.
Please note that there are no whale watching tours out of Maryland, especially not off the shores of Assateaugue Island, which is part of the National Park Service. You will simply have to get lucky to see one from the shore, or take a ferry to Cape May, NJ, drive up to Delaware or down to Virginia to see the whales.
Whale Watching in New Jersey
The best time to see whales off the New Jersey coast is from May through October, with the season running from March to December.
Often sightings are up in May, June, September and October due to whales feeding on migrating fish.
Cape May Whale Watcher
- Address: 1218 Wilson Drive, Cape May, NJ 08204
- Dates: March through Mid-December (December 13, 2020) 1:00 – 4:00 PM
- Price: $45 for adults, $30 for children 7 – 12 years old, $0.01 for children six and under with a paid adult.
Head through the Delaware Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean to the nutrient-rich whale feeding grounds aboard one of South Jersey’s fastest boat. Their Marine Mammal Guarantee states that if there are no sightings of porpoises, dolphins or whales on your trip, a free pass for another trip is issued.
Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center
- Address: 1231 Route 109, Cape May, NJ 08204
When taking a trip with the Research Center, you become a Citizen Scientist for a few hours as you assist them with their ongoing research.
As you venture out of the Cape May Inlet and past the Cape May oceanfront, watch for Finback, Minkes and Humpback whales. They offer two different whale watching trips:
- Around Cape May Whale, Dolphin and Bird Watch
- 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM
- Adults $40, Children 7 – 12 years old $30, Children 6 and under Free, Additional Children $12
- Each trip offers complimentary juice, coffee, and Danish
- Whale, Bird and Dolphin Watch
- 1:30 PM – 4:30 PM
- Adults $45, Children 7 – 12 years old $30, Children 6 and under Free, Additional Children $15
- Book your trip online 24 hours or more in advance and use the promo code CSE for a 20% discount.
- Guaranteed Sightings of dolphins or whales, or schedule another trip for free.
- Address: Seastreak Ferry Terminal, 326 Shore Drive, Highlands, NJ 07732
- Dates: Saturday and Sundays from 12:30pm – 3:30pm
- Price: $55 for adults and $25 for children 12 and younger
Seastreck’s Whale Watching Cruises offer guests a fully narrated 3-hour journey. Not only will you spot and learn about a variety of sea life, but also local history. No snacks are onboard, so pack a soft-sided cooler of food and non-alcoholic drinks for the trip.
Spirit of Cape May
- Address: 1218 Wilson Drive | Cape May NJ 08204
- Dates and Times:
- November through December 13, 2020, Daily at 1pm
- March 13 – April 18, 2021 weekends at 1pm
- April 24 – October 31, 2021, Daily at 1pm
- Ticket Prices
- Child Age 7-12 $30
- Children 6 and under – $0.01
Board the Cape May Whale Watcher with Captain Jeff as he scouts out Fin and Humpback whales, along with various dolphins, sea turtles and porpoises on this three-hour trip.
Bill McKim’s Jersey Shore Whale Watch Tour
- Address: Belmar Marina, 905 Rt. 35 Belmar, NJ
- Dates: Every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday through Mid-December 2020
- Price: $65
Join Bill and the crew as they sail out of the Belmar Marina towards Sandy Hook. Their 3-hour cruises spot whales 90% of the time. For the other 10%, they will invite you back to join them on another trip free of charge.
You are welcome to bring along food, drinks and beer.
- Address: Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
- Dates: Memorial Day weekend until mid-September 4pm – 7pm
- Price: $59 for Adults, $50 for Seniors, and $30 for children
- Address: 900 River Road, Belmar, NJ 07719
- Price: $65 and Children 12 and under are $35
Climb aboard Ocean Explorers’ whale watching boat. It may look familiar to you if you are a James Bond fan. It is the same boat that was used in the License to Kill movie. The three-hour journey will take you off the Jersey Shore to see some unique wildlife.
Royal Miss Belmar
- Address: Belmar Marina, 905 NJ-35, Belmar, NJ 07719
- Dates and Time: Year-round every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 1:30 PM
- Price: $65 for adults and $50 for children 12 and under
The Royal Miss Belmar offers a three-hour adventure as they search out those humongous whales and sleek dolphins. Along the way, an experienced naturalist will keep you informed and answer your questions.
Virginia Whale Watching
The best time to go whale watching in Virginia is from December through March, when the mama whales are headed south to give birth to their calves.
- Address: Rudee Tours, 200 Winston Salem Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
- Dates: winter trips generally run from just before Christmas through mid-March.
- December tours run daily (except Christmas Day): 10:00, 11:00, 1:00, and 2:00.
- January – March tours: Saturdays and Sundays (plus holiday Mondays): 10:00, 11:00, 1:00, and 2:00 AND Wednesdays through Friday: 1:00 and 2:00 PM
- Prices: $30 for adults / $25 for children 4 – 11 years old / Children 3 or younger are free / Season Pass $250
The captain and crew will take you on a two-hour educational tour through the Atlantic Ocean waters off the Virginia Beach coastline as they search out the migrating whales as well as seals, dolphins and large birds.
The boats are ADA compliant, house a snack bar/beverage bar, bathrooms, and a heated indoor cabin when you need to warm up. Their upper deck is chillier but offers a terrific spot for locating those huge aquatic mammals.
Rudee Tours does offer you a second whale watching trip for free if they are unable to locate any whales.
TIP: When booking online or on the phone, mention the promo code FBWhale3Off and get $3.
Virginia Aquarium Winter Wildlife Boat Trips
- Address: 717 General Booth Blvd, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
- Dates: Mid-December through early March
- December 19 and 20 at 2:00 PM
- December 26 – January 3 at both 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM
- January 6 – March 7
- Saturday and Sundays at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM
- Wednesday – Friday at 2:00 PM
- Whale watching tour rates are $31.95 for adults and $26.95 for children aged 3 – 11.
- For those with memberships to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, the tour rates are $28 for adults and $24 for children.
- If you are planning on exploring the Aquarium before or after your whale watching experience, the add-on trip tickets are $29.95 for adults and $24.95 for children.
- Online Ticket Link
Let the ocean come to you and board the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center’s Atlantic Explorer for a 2½-hour ocean exploration. You will accompany some of the best local marine educators and researchers as they will share their expert knowledge and spot a variety of fascinating winter wildlife along your journey.
The Atlantic Explorer provides a heated cabin for those who wish to observe from a warm setting. There is also a snack bar and bathroom aboard the boat.
As part of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center’s continuous conservation, research, and educational initiatives, part of your ticket goes to support these causes.
First Landing Charters
- Address: Chick’s Oyster Bar, 2143 Vista Cir, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
- Price: $325 – $400 for up to 6 passengers
First Landing Charters gives you a small group option when it comes to hitting the seas to watch the whales jump, play, and feed off the Virginia Beach coast.
With First Landing Charters, you will board Susan C at Chick’s Oyster Bar, off Shore Drive along the northern edge of Virginia Beach.
This trip begins in the Lynnhaven Inlet and heads out the Chesapeake Bay, passing the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse, and into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Susan C provides up to six guests a more intimate and personalized trip than a larger boat.
With no snack bar, you are welcome to bring food from home or pick up a take-out order from Chick’s Oyster Bar before heading onto the boat. Bottled water and ice will be onboard.
Read more about Whale Watching in Virginia
Things to Know Before Scheduling your Tour
- Call the tour boat office to make sure they have been sighting whales.
- Check the weather, since trips head out whether it is rainy or the sun is shining. If possible, choose a day with calm seas and clear skies.
- Find out what amenities each boat provides.
- Des the tour company have any concessions if no whales are seen during the trip?
- What is the best time of day to schedule your trip? Any time, morning or afternoons are good, so make it convenient for your schedule.
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What to Bring
- Medications, including motion-sickness medication if necessary
- Camera (zoom lens for that whale close-up)
- Warm clothes
- Sunglasses (polarized if you have them)
How to Best Enjoy a Wildlife Boat Trip
- Wear flat shoes that have traction. Boat decks and stairs can become slippery out on the water.
- Wear layered warm clothing and socks. It is much colder and windier on the water as you are sailing along. Think about including gloves and a scarf to your whale watching outfit too.
- Before reserving your trip, check the weather. Depending on the seas, many trips still go out on rainy days. Trip cancellations occur when sea conditions become unsafe.
- Before heading to your boat, call and confirm your trip and make sure weather conditions have not canceled your trip.