Whale Watching in Oahu (8 Best Tours & Insider Tips)

Hawaii is one of the most important whale sanctuaries in the world, and it’s also one of the best places to go whale watching.

It’s an incredible experience and also an opportunity to learn more about some of the most endangered marine mammals on Earth.

These gentle giants can be seen swimming around the shores of Oahu and if you want to know where to go whale watching in Oahu, read on for our insider tips!

1. Whale Watching Tour (Best Value)

This whale watching tour departs off the coast of Waikiki or Ko Olina, and it’s a great way to see these majestic creatures up close.

Large pods of humpback whales swim through the area during the winter months and have been known to approach the boats during their migration season.

The captain and crew members of this tour are very experienced and knowledgeable about the surroundings – they will help guide guests through any sightings that occur during the trip.

Whale sightings are guaranteed! If you luck out for the day (very unlikely), you get another tour for free.

About This Tour:

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Departure Time: 8am / 3pm
  • Price Per Person: $75
  • Maximum Group Size: 49 people
  • Departure Point: Waikiki or Ko Olina
  • Operator: Hawaii Nautical
  • Guaranteed Sightings: Yes
  • Includes: free snacks and unlimited beverages (non-alcoholic)
Humpback whale jumping out of the water
Humpback Whale Jumping out of the water

2. Morning Whale Watching Tour With Breakfast

One of the only tours that offer a full breakfast on board, this whale watching cruise gives you the chance to spot them as you eat your morning meal.

Departing bright and early at 9am, start by making your way to the harbor on Ala Moana Boulevard for departure.

You’ll be greeted by your guide, who will provide a brief overview of what to expect and what is allowed on the boat.

The captain will then take you out into open waters where you can enjoy amazing views of Oahu’s coastline, including the iconic Diamond Head Crater.

As you cruise, listen to your guide and keep a lookout for the whales.

The whales are not the only attraction on these tours; keep an eye out for spinner dolphins and Hawaiian sea turtles!

About This Tour:

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Departure Time: 9am
  • Price Per Person: $85
  • Maximum Group Size: 100 people
  • Departure Point: Honolulu
  • Guaranteed Sightings: No
  • Operator: Prince Kuhio Tours
  • Includes: freshly prepared breakfast with 100% Kona coffee, soda and bottled water

3. Whale Watching Aboard a Cruise Ship

Great for all ages, this whale watching cruise is a fun experience for the whole family.

Cruise around Oahu’s shoreline with unobstructed views of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head while snuggling up by the spacious viewing window in the air-conditioned cabin.

Or wander around the outdoor observation area; take in the scenery with a cocktail or snack in hand.

The outdoor deck is also an excellent vantage point for the whales as they breach and spout water.

Be sure to bring your camera to capture the stunning scenery and smiles during this memorable whale watching cruise!

About This Tour:

  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Departure Time: 11am
  • Price Per Person: $79.74
  • Maximum Group Size: 395 people
  • Departure Point: Honolulu
  • Guaranteed Sightings: Yes
  • Operator: Atlantis Adventures
  • Includes: whale watching aboard a cruise ship with live commentary from an expert guide
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4. Private Whale Watching Tour

Forget the crowds and book a private tour instead; enjoy the thrill of seeing whales from the comfort of your own boat.

Let the knowledgeable crew show you the best spots for seeing these iconic creatures as you cruise all along the entire southern coast of Oahu.

Watch these gentle giants play in their natural habitat right before your eyes – it’s an experience you’ll never forget!

This private charter can take up to 6 people per boat and includes soft drinks and water.

About This Tour:

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Departure Time: 8am / 11am / 2pm
  • Price Per Group: $795 ($132.50 per person, up to 6 people)
  • Maximum Group Size: 6 people
  • Departure Point: Waikiki
  • Guaranteed Sightings: No
  • Operator: The Adventure Boat
  • Includes: private boat charter and water/soft drinks

5. Whale Watching Tour in West Oahu

Take in the breathtaking views of Hawaii’s coastline and experience the best of nature with this whale watching tour that departs from Waianae.

This tour is not only fun but educational as well, giving you insight into the life of these magnificent creatures.

The boat can fit up to 40 people but this small-group tour has a maximum capacity of 24 people, so there’s more than enough room to stretch out and see plenty of the action!

Note: this tour goes out on a catamaran on Thu-Fri/Sun and on a powerboat on Mon-Wed/Sat. Book accordingly if you have a preference.

About This Tour:

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Departure Time: 1:30pm
  • Price Per Person: $96.75
  • Maximum Group Size: 24 people
  • Departure Point: Waianae
  • Guaranteed Sightings: Yes
  • Operator: Hawaii Nautical
  • Includes: light snacks, bottled water and soda
Sunset Whale Watching Humpback Whale
humpback whale breaching at sunset

6. Sunset Whale Watching Tour

Combining the best of both worlds, this sunset cruise is for those who want to enjoy whale watching with some sightseeing from a catamaran.

Leave the dock at 3:30 pm, you’ll cruise through the open waters of western Oahu while you watch for humpback whales and other marine life.

Light snacks and water is included but you can elevate the experience and bring your own booze and food!

About This Tour:

  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Departure Time: 3:30pm
  • Price Per Person: $125.65
  • Maximum Group Size: 30 people
  • Departure Point: Waianae (free shuttle from Waikiki)
  • Guaranteed Sightings: No
  • Operator: Indigo Ocean Hawaii
  • Includes: shuttle from Waikiki, light snacks with water and soda
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7. Whale Watching Catamaran Tour

Want a longer whale watching experience? This 3-hour tour offered by Moana Sailing Company will take you aboard a catamaran and leaves no stone unturned.

The tour begins with a short briefing from your guide, who will provide information on what you can expect and answer any questions you may have.

Once you are all set, the boat sets sail for a cruise into open waters.

As you cruise, listen to your guide and keep an eye out for whales, sea turtles, and dolphins!

Once you have had your fill of whale watching, head back to shore and enjoy the rest of your day in Waikiki.

About This Tour:

  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Departure Time: 11am
  • Price Per Person: $106.71
  • Maximum Group Size: 48 people
  • Departure Point: Honolulu
  • Guaranteed Sightings: Yes
  • Operator: Moana Sailing Company
  • Includes: guided tour and complimentary bottled water

8. Star of Honolulu Whale Watching Cruise

Cruise in style aboard the 1,500 capacity Star of Honolulu for the chance to see whales as they gracefully glide by your ship.

This tour departs from Waikiki and is a 2-hour adventure that will take you along the coast of Oahu, where you’ll have gorgeous views of Honolulu and Diamond Head.

The four walk-around decks offer plenty to see, and the best part?

A naturalist guide will share their knowledge about marine animals, making your whale watching experience more memorable.

Note: If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, there are other tours in this guide that are more suitable.

About This Tour:

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Departure Time: 8:45am
  • Price Per Person: $42
  • Maximum Group Size: 999 people
  • Departure Point: Waikiki
  • Operator: Star of Honolulu
  • Guaranteed Sightings: No
  • Includes: cruise and access to onboard exhibits

Oahu Whale Watching Tips

There are tours for all budgets and all ages, but if you want to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, here are a few questions you might have in mind:

When Can You See Whales in Oahu?

While it’s possible to spot whales year-round, the best time to go whale watching is from late December to early May.

This is considered whale watching season and migration is at its peak during this time.

Book your tour early so you can secure your spot; you’ll also find better prices!

Whale Tail in Oahu
the tail of a humpback whale

How Much Is It for Whale Watching in Oahu?

Whale watching tours in Oahu generally range from $70-$120 for a 2-hour trip.

However, there are some tours where can save a few bucks if you’re willing to skip out on extras such as onboard snacks and drinks.

Expect to share a boat with a larger group of people.

As a general rule of thumb, the more personalized the experience, the more expensive it is.

How Long Does a Whale Watching Tour Take?

Whale watching tours generally last from 2 to 3 hours depending on the package you book.

Some tours include a meal on board but the length of the excursion doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see more whales though.

This highly depends on the season you’re going so check with the tour operator to get a better idea.

Are Whales More Active in the Morning or Afternoon?

Whales are the most active in the early morning around 8am and around sunset.

Although many tour companies offer guaranteed sightings, you can try to book a morning or evening cruise to increase your chances of seeing whales.

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Whale Watching in Oahu From the Shore

If you have a car, there are some great spots to see these majestic creatures from the shore.

The best thing about this is that you don’t need to get on a boat so it’s an easy way to go according to your own schedule.

Some great spots to see whales from the shore include:

Oahu’s beaches
Hanauma Bay
Seaside lookout points from Diamond Head
Makapu’u Lighthouse

Note: If you see a whale, don’t get too close.

It is important to remember that whales are wild animals and it’s always best to respect their space. It’s illegal to approach within 100 yards as well as touch them.

If you want to have a closer encounter with these gentle giants without breaking any rules, opt for one of the organized whale watching tours mentioned above.

These companies have years of experience under their belt and will ensure you have an amazing time.

What Kind of Whales Can You See?

The waters around Oahu are home to a number of different kinds of whales, including Humpbacks, Sperm Whales, False Killer Whales, Melon Headed Whales, and Pygmy Whales.

The most common whales you’ll see during a typical boating tour along the shores of Oahu would be Humpback Whales; they migrate to the warm waters of Hawaii from Alaska and spend the winter breeding and birthing their calves.

An interesting thing about these tours is that it’s not just about watching whales; you’re also able to spot other marine species like dolphins and sea turtles.

Things to Bring on a Whale Watching Tour

A camera is a must! You’ll be seeing amazing sights that are hard to put into words, so having a good camera can make all the difference when trying to capture those elusive moments.

Binoculars are also a great idea if you want to get a closer look at these amazing creatures.

If you’re planning on doing a longer tour, you might want to bring some light snacks, water and wear something comfortable with non-slip shoes.

It can also get pretty windy, so you might want to bring a hat and a windbreaker.