Delighting visitors and locals alike, Southern California’s diverse wildlife provides some of the most memorable encounters around. Celebrating the natural marine life in the Pacific Ocean, visitors can discover anything from the harmless leopard shark to the giant gray whale along the coast. Start venturing inland and you’ll find an entire world of biodiversity hosting creatures from around the world. The phrase “lions, tigers, and bears” doesn’t do it justice.
Most importantly, we offer multiple ethical ways for you and your family to see these stunning creatures, many times in their natural habitat. For the family looking to enjoy our diverse wildlife all while practicing responsible tourism, consider these wildlife experiences.
WHALE & DOLPHIN WATCHING ADVENTURES
Perhaps the most renowned experience around, whale watching gives you the opportunity to experience the glorious gray whale as they make their annual 10,000-mile migration from Alaska to the tip of the Baja strait. These majestic creatures can often be seen swimming in pods giving viewers even more sightings to enjoy. Even though the trips are marketed primarily as whale watching tours, it’s hard not to discover countless dolphins, sea lions, or other marine life while out navigating the seas.
Mid December to late March marks the height of whale watching season. Thanks to strong anti-whaling protection from the International Whaling Commission, these majestic mammal populations are believed to have made a strong recovery in recent years.
Plan your trip with Hornblower Cruises or the new ecotourism company Ocean Connectors to ensure the safety of the whales in open water during your trip. Laws require that ships maintain a distance of at least 900 feet from the whale. While the majority of operators in the county implement safe practices, there are operators who chase the creatures, which induces stress on the whales and can put them in harm’s way.
SEA TURTLE EXPLORATION
While the graceful whales and playful dolphins get all the attention for marine life, the Eastern Pacific green sea turtles hide just below the surface in the San Diego Bay and the Chula Vista Wildlife Refuge. Glide across the water by kayak to discover the turtles while they complete their migration to lay eggs in Mexico.
The kayaking tours take place in the Chula Vista Wildlife Refuge just 10 miles from Coronado or downtown San Diego. You can book an experience with Ocean Connectors and the Living Coast Discovery Center.
SAN DIEGO ZOO AND SAFARI PARK
Capturing esteemed world recognition for their conservation research and facility, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park seamlessly blend education, conservation, and mesmerizing experiences. In fact, our incredible zoo has a sizable list of honors and awards, ranging from enchanting experiences to sustainable environmental enhancement.
To start, we have the zoo located in Balboa Park in San Diego. More than 650 species claim the 100-acre facility as their home. That’s just animals. They also cater to the 700,000 exotic plants adorning the grounds. While touring the park, families can encounter pretty much any animal they wish, from the famous panda cubs to the towering giraffes to an entire house of reptiles.
If you’re looking to take your adventure to the next level, consider the Safari Park. Originally a breeding facility, this park is home to many cubs and babies. Additionally, you can book a cart tour and instantly be transported to the plains of Africa as you see rhinos, wildebeests, and more living in the giant wildlife sanctuary. The park also offers excursions for the thrill seekers, such as a zip line and jungle ropes. The Safari Park is located in Escondido, 40 miles north of San Diego.
LA JOLLA BIRCH SCRIPPS AQUARIUM
To enjoy a close-up look at the mysteries of the sea, explore La Jolla Birch Scripps Aquarium. Here you’ll be transported to seas near and far as you encounter jellyfish, sea horses, and many of the creatures that inspired the stars of Finding Nemo. Yes, we’re talking about Dory and Nemo.
The aquarium even goes as far as creating a living tide pool equipped with a simulation of the rising and lowering tide. Watch as the crabs battle over territory or the starfish dance in the waves. When wandering out to visit the tide pool, make sure to take a few moments to enjoy the breathtaking view overlooking the La Jolla beach.
Celebrating a myriad of creatures from the sea, this aquarium is the public arm of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography renowned research facility at UC San Diego.
REFUGE FROM THE WILDLIFE
Dolphins, turtles, and whales – oh my! There’s so much to see in our neck of the woods. Well, perhaps ocean is a better term.
When you need to retreat from the spectacular display of wildlife San Diego offers, choose the quiet charm of Coronado. Only a short ferry ride away from downtown and enjoying the acclaimed “Best Beach in the USA,” our little slice of paradise will quickly become the favorite part of your vacation. Nestled in the heart of the island, Coronado Inn offers all the amenities of home at a family friendly price point.