Throughout the summer, tourists crowd the Virginia Beach oceanfront while enjoying the sun, sand, and passing dolphins. When the chillier winter weather visits between December and March, many of those tourists disappear, and a new crowd comes to town.
Annual winter visitors like the humpback and other species of whales pass through the region as they migrate down from Canada and New England to the warmer Atlantic Ocean waters. This makes Virginia Beach Whale Watching one of the best winter activities in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Don’t let a little cold weather scare you away. There is still much to see and do along the Virginia Beach shores.
Take a whale-watching trip and watch the humpback whales breach, do some tail and flipper slapping as they play, and eat along the coast.
A boat trip is your best way to see these creatures because:
- The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Center do not house large marine mammals like dolphins, porpoises and whales.
- The shoreline is flat, unlike the prime elevated west coast whale watching locations.
For those without boat access, three area businesses offer whale-watching excursions in the coastal waters each winter. Below is all the information you will need to plan a terrific whale watching trip.
Please keep in mind that these animals are in their natural habitat, and unfortunately, there is no guarantee that every trip will spot a whale. The likelihood of a sighting varies from year to year.
During a good year, sightings are at around 90%. You can even spot whales, dolphins and seals as you walk along Virginia beach. Other years it can be as low as between 40 and 50% when the whale sightings are down in the area. You will always see a variety of Atlantic Coast species of birds though.
Things to Know Before Scheduling your Tour
- The prime sighting months are usually January and February.
- Call the tour boat office to make sure they have been sighting whales, especially if you are scheduling early or late in the season.
- 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, including toilets and sanitizing stations on the boat.
- Do the boat companies 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 times to go in search of whales and dolphins, so make it convenient for your schedule.
Boat Trips from Virginia Beach
Three different companies provide Virginia Beach whale watching excursions throughout the winter from various marinas.
- 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
Rudee Tours provides a convenient location near the south end of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront at the Virginia Beach Fishing Center at Rudee’s Inlet. You will be searching for whales within minutes of leaving the dock.
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 waterfowl.
The boats are ADA compliant, house a snack bar/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 humongous mammals.
Rudee Tours does offer you a second whale watching trip for free if you do not spot anything on your trip. .
TIP: When booking online or on the phone, mention the promo code FBWhale3Off and get $3.
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Virginia Aquarium Winter Wildlife Boat Trips
- Address: Virginia Aquarium, 717 General Booth Blvd, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
- Dates: Just before Christmas until about the first weekend in March
- 2020 Tour schedule:
- December 19 and 20 at 2:00 PM
- December 26 – January 3 at both 10pm and 2pm
- January 6 – early March: Saturday and Sundays, 10am and 2pm AND Wednesday through Friday, 2pm
- Tour rates:
- non-members: $31.95/adults and $26.95/ children aged 3 – 11
- Virginia Aquarium Members: $28/adults and $24/children
- Aquarium Add-on tickets for non-members: additional $29.95/adults and $24.95/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 researchers, marine and aquarium educators. They will share their expert knowledge and spot a variety of fascinating winter wildlife along your journey.
Shortly after leaving the dock, you will be scanning the waters for not only those energetic humpback whales jumping in the air and blowing their spouts, but bottlenose dolphins, harbor seals and harbor porpoises.
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
- Tour rates: $325 – $400 for up to 6 passengers
First Landing Charters gives you a small, more personalized group option (up to 6 passengers) when it comes to hitting the seas to watch the Virginia Beach whales jump, play and feed off the 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.
With no snack bar onboard, 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.
What to Bring on a Virginia Beach Whale Watching Tour
- Sunscreen (even in winter the sun will burn you)
- Medications, including motion-sickness medication if necessary
- Camera + telephoto lens
- Warm clothes (it is colder on the water!)
- Warm wind-resistant jacket
How to Best Enjoy a Winter 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 in search of whales. Think about including gloves and a scarf for your trip wardrobe 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.
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Wildlife you may see while on the water
- Humpback whales
- Fin whales
- Minke Whales
- Bottlenose dolphins
- Harbor porpoises
- Harbor seals
- Brown pelicans
- Northern gannets
- Double-crested cormorants
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Virginia Beach Hotels
Looking for a Virginia Beach hotel? Check out the following!
- Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront : free parking
- Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront: Family rooms at affordable prices
- Residence Inn by Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront : oceanfront suites
- Hampton Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront North: 2020 TripAdvisor Travelers Choice + free breakfast
- The Historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club: luxury a few blocks off the beach
Looking for more? Search for a great deal on Booking.com!
Virginia Beach Airbnbs
Looking for a rental instead? Check out a few of our favorite oceanfront Virginia Beach Airbnb options:
- Oceanfront Penthouse
- Oceanfront/Boardwalk – VB Studio
- VB Oceanfront Studio Balcony,Beach,Boardwalk, Pool
- Beach Paradise Studio on the Boardwalk w/Pool
- Beach Quarters Resort – The Continental Suite
Need more? Search for a great deal on the Airbnb map below.