Above: Whale watchers on the Condor Express tour in Santa Barbara, California

Whale Watching Off the Coast of Southern California

Whenever I’ve gone whale-watching, I’ve always gotten lucky, and these two cruises off the Southern California coast were no exception.

Channel Islands

Of the world’s 89 species of cetaceans, 29 have been spotted in waters around the Channel Islands. Based on recommendations from friends, we chose Condor Express in Santa Barbara, a company that has been leading whale-watching tours since 1973. As we bought our tickets, the staff member told us that it is one of the few firms in the area to offer a “whale-watching guarantee”: If whales are not seen, passengers are issued “whale checks,” which are good for a free trip on another tour.

The Condor Express whale-watching tour David Collier / Visit California/Visit Santa Barbara

We boarded a quad-jet-powered catamaran and headed inside to the teak cabin. This houses a snack bar that serves hot and cold food and offers a surprisingly large drinks menu. The captain then led us upstairs to the spacious observation deck where he introduced us to our guide. A 10-minute presentation highlighted the different kinds of whales, dolphins, porpoises and birds that we would most likely see that day.

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