Here in Southern California, the whale-watching season never really ends. These majestic creatures – including enormous blue whales, playful humpbacks and even orcas – parade along the coast throughout the year. However, perhaps the best time to go out on the water is between December and March, when an estimated 20,000 gray whales travel through the area on a 6,000-mile journey from Mexico to Alaska. It’s one of the most amazing wildlife migrations in the world.

With service to some of the best beach destinations in SoCal, you can take a coastal trip of your own onboard the Pacific Surfliner. Step off the train and onto a boat for a chance to see whales, sea lions, and dolphins up close.

Check out these unique sightseeing experiences that nature lovers, families and travelers are sure to enjoy.

Santa Barbara

Known as the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara has Mediterranean architecture, beautiful landscapes, great restaurants and a historic pier.

Where To Go:

From the Santa Barbara train station, walk two blocks to the base of Stearns Wharf to catch the Waterfront Shuttle (free with your train ticket) for a quick ride to the harbor. From there, hop onboard the Condor Express for a breathtaking trip through the Santa Barbara Channel. With one of the most advanced whale watching boats on the West Coast, the Condor Express offers a smooth and comfortable ride, with a scenic observation deck and experienced naturalists onboard.

Insider Tip:

We offer a 20% discount on Pacific Surfliner trips to Santa Barbara when you register with Santa Barbara Car Free.


Ventura, where the hills meet the ocean, is a prime destination for outdoor recreation, with hiking trails and a variety of water activities.

Where To Go:

From the train station, make your way to Ventura Harbor (3.5 miles away) and go on an ocean excursion with Island Packers. The captains have years of experience, making the trip both fun and educational. We recommend the full-day trip to the Channel Islands, known as “the Galapagos Islands of North America” for its tremendous biodiversity.

Insider Tip:

On Santa Cruz Island, hike high above the ocean and scan the horizon for whales. Orcas have even spotted in the area! Experienced kayakers can also paddle through beautiful sea caves and listen to the bellows of sea lions. Consider arranging a campsite and staying overnight to truly appreciate the natural beauty of the island.


The beach community of Oceanside has wide sandy beaches, one of the longest wooden piers in California, and a Cape Cod-style harbor village.

Where To Go:

From the Oceanside train station, hop on Breeze Route 392 (free with your train ticket) and ride to the harbor. There you will find Oceanside Adventures, which offers 2-hour tours that are perfect for families. Their 50-foot catamaran has plenty of seating and an onboard snack bar, making for a comfortable trip.

Insider Tip:

Consider renting a bike and riding along the oceanfront promenade from the pier (near the train station) to the harbor. Or, bring your own bike on the train! Learn how.

San Diego

At the southern end of the Pacific Surfliner route is San Diego, where you can experience the bustle of a big city and the tranquility of a beach town at the same time.

Where To Go:

From the train station, walk 15-minutes along the water to Hornblower Cruises or Flagship Cruises, each of which offers dining and harbor cruises in addition to longer whale-watching trips. Both companies offer a whale sighting guarantee – if no whales are spotted during the trip, passengers are invited to join a future whale watching excursion for free!

Insider Tip:

Visit our Facebook page for ideas of other fun things to do in San Diego, from the world-class zoo to the unique bars of the Gaslamp District. Plan on spending a few days here to experience the best of the city – there is a lot to do and see!

A whale watching trip is the perfect addition to your Pacific Surfliner adventure. After enjoying the beautiful ocean views from the train, you’ll hop onto a boat and go out on that very same water in search of amazing wildlife. Feel the wind in your hair, smell the saltwater as it splashes onto the boat, and look out at a seemingly endless horizon. These are the makings of long-lasting memories that make us truly appreciate Southern California.


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