Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Whale Watching at Fort Flagler

Whale watching around the Seattle area

Grab your binoculars and try to spot orcas, minkes, grays and humpbacks

The Seattle area is one of the best places to go whale-watching. There are plenty of whale-watching tour options that take you out to sea, but there are plenty of spots, on shore, that you just can’t miss. Look out to sea, and if you’re lucky, you may spot a whale spout in the water or a whale tail hitting the top of the surf. If you’re really fortunate you might spot a whale breaching.

Here are a few places to go whale watching around the Seattle area and resources on how to spot them. There’s so much to learn about these majestic mammals of the sea, while observing from land. Bonus, no seasick tummies!

There are seveal types of marine animals that you might see while whale watching

Who’s out there (and what do they look like)

First you’ll need to know what you’re looking for out there. Two organizations in Washington provide excellent information on the whales that travel the Salish seas. The Whale Trail and Orca Network teach people about the various whale pods in the sea through awareness and advocacy.

Learn about the different types of whales

Provided by The Whale Trail, illustrated by Uko Gorter

While whale watching keep an eye out for other marine life

Provided by The Whale Trail, illustrated by Uko Gorter

There are typically five types of whales roaming the waters of the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea encompasses the Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca and Strait of Georgia. There are the iconic Southern Resident orcas and Bigg’s (transient) orcas, which are identified by their unique dorsal fins and saddle patches. Then there are three other whales, which are the more migratory species:  grays, humpbacks and minkes.

Keep your eyes open for other marine animals too, like dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions and otters. You can see a complete list of whales and marine animals on The Whale Trail’s website.

Where to go: Best on-shore places for spotting whales in the Salish Sea

San Juan Islands: Lime Kiln State Park

Lime Kiln State Park is known as one of the best places in the world to watch whales. From May to September three pods of southern resident orcas (J, K and L pods) can be seen, often close to shore. Keep your eyes open for minke whales and other marine animals too. Families enjoy visiting the lighthouse, interpretive center and snack shop, open during the summer. While on the island there are three additional Whale Trail sites you can explore as well.

Visit The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor too and learn more about whale bones, conservation, sightings and more. Open daily 10 am-4 pm. Tickets are free for 5 and under, Students $5, Seniors (65 and up) $6 and General $10.

Good to know: Getting to San Juan Island requires a ferry ride. The park is about nine miles from the Friday Harbor ferry dock. During the summer it’s best to have a reservation if you’re driving onto the ferry. A Discover Pass is required at Lime Kiln State Park.

Whidbey Island

During the spring (March-May) catch a special group of gray whales known as “The Sounders.” They may be feeding on ghost shrimp just off shore in Langley. Then in the fall, Southern Resident orcas visit Admiralty Inlet. Plus Bigg’s (transient) orcas and humpbacks come throughout the year. The Whale Trail has six sites throughout the island that you can visit for on-shore viewing.

The island is also home to the Orca Network, a non-profit organization connecting people and whales since 1996. Make sure to visit their free museum in Langley and print out these fun kid activities. They also have a public Facebook page where a network of volunteers posts whale sightings all over the PNW, The organization has also created a map of on-shore locations with links to hydrophones so you can listen for whales underwater.

Ring the bell if you see a whale

If you’re looking for more whale fun visit Langley Whale Center (105 Anthes Ave, Langley) and nearby Whale Bell Park (100 Anthes Ave, Langley). At the park, if you see a whale, ring the bell to let others know.

Good to know: From the south, you can hop a ferry in Mukilteo. If coming from the north, you can drive across Deception Pass Bridge.

Vashon Island/West Seattle

Here are two options for whale watching. For both, fall and winter are the best times for spotting Southern Resident orcas as they follow the salmon. Bigg’s (Transient) orca, seals and otters are usually seen year-round and humpback and gray whales, occasionally. On Vashon Island, Point Robinson is the official Whale Trail site where families can enjoy beach play and a lighthouse (not currently open for tours). If you’d like to stay for the night, two lighthouse keeper’s quarters are available to rent.

West Seattle has four fantastic sites—Alki Beach, Charles Richey Viewpoint, Emma Schmitz Overlook and Lincoln Park.

Whale watching takes a lot of patience, so if you’re looking for a way to get the wiggles out, stop at the  Whale Tail playground near Alki Beach.

Good to know: To get to Vashon, catch a ferry at the Fauntleroy ferry dock in West Seattle.

Other suggestions on where to go whale watching around the Seattle area:

• Head over to Port Townsend and then visit Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC).
• Take a trip to Salt Creek (near Port Angeles) and then go see Feiro Marine Life Center.
• Visit Redondo Beach and then head off to MaST (Marine Science and Technology Center).
See a map of all The Whale Trail sites from California to Canada.

Good to know before you go:

  • Set expectations with your kids. You may not spot a whale on the day that you choose to go, but the fun is in the search.
  • See where the whales are on the Orca Network’s Facebook page.
  • Check out the Viewing Guide on The Whale Trail website for helpful tips about where and how to spot marine life, plus watching responsibly.
  • Bring a pair of binoculars that are lightweight, smaller (easy for kids to hold) and sturdy.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen or rain gear, water and snacks.
  • Read Orca Rescue! The true story of an Orphaned Orca, named Springer, by Donna Sandstrom. Donna founded The Whale Trail organization and lives in West Seattle. The book is based on her personal experience of rescuing a baby orca.


There’s more:

Heading to Whidbey Island for some whale watching? Then take the Ebey’s Landing hike right to the beach.

Don’t stop at just whale watching on Vashon Island, check out these amazing places too.

About the Author

Laura Murray

Laura Murray is a local adventure mama with a passion for getting kids outside all year long. She launched into writing with a pandemic passion project——a collection of her family’s activities and experiences of exploring the world right outside their front door. Her latest adventure is parenting teenagers.