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All Aboard the Best Boat Tours in Southern California

All Aboard the Best Boat Tours in Southern California

Boat tours are an exciting way to explore the ocean along the iconic coast and offer a unique look at the gorgeous California landscape.


6 min read

November 15, 2022

Disclaimer: is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

From the wind-swept bluffs of San Diego to the craggy mountains of Malibu, the Southern California coastline and its year-round sunny weather offer innumerable opportunities for adventure and recreation. Fun boat tours are an exciting way to explore the ocean along the iconic coast and gain a unique perspective of the gorgeous landscape. With the variety of charters available at the southern end of the Golden State, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the options before even stepping aboard a vessel, leaving you landlocked. But these unique boat tours boast plenty of intrigue and charm, so no matter where you are in SoCal, you’ll find plenty of aquatic thrills.

Explore the edge of California along the borders of San Pedro through a boat ride so accessible it’s only a 27 minute drive from Downtown Los Angeles.


LA Waterfront San Pedro 

Among the best San Pedro boat rides are the LA Waterfront, where you can go explore the wonderful Port of Los Angeles. Featuring a plethora of events, your time out at sea will be one you won’t be forgetting anytime soon. One of the most popular activities is whale watching, where visitors will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these magnificent beasts up close. 

The magic of California does not end at the coast; with so many places to discover, a Channel Islands boat ride is non-negotiable.

Channel Islands Charter

If you are ever in the area, boat rides in Los Angeles are without a doubt a must-add to your bucket list. The Channel Islands boast 150 miles of coastline and more than 2,000 species of plants and wildlife. Nature lovers and outdoor aficionados flock to the five remarkable islands – Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and San Miguel – where they can scuba dive, snorkel, hike, kayak, fish, and surf. The Channel Islands are only accessible by ferry, plane, or private boat, but the best way to get there is on the Channel Islands Charter, conveniently found in Marina Del Rey. The company offers an array of services and activities, including day trips and week-long adventures, so it’s particularly ideal for families and larger groups looking for adventure.

Long Beach Boat Tours 

Long beach harbor has attracted a great number of visitors over the years and is a hotspot for every and all types of water-related activities.


Harbor Breeze Cruises

Grab your camera, jacket, and sunscreen, and get ready to embark on a thrilling aquatic journey with Harbor Breeze Cruises. Sailing out of the Long Beach Marina, the company has charted seasonal whale-watching tours for nearly two decades throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Step aboard the two-hulled vessel to experience close encounters with whales, dolphins, and another marine life as the captain provides comprehensive narration detailing the habits and characteristics of these astounding creatures. Long Beach boat rides are always worth the trip

The Catalina Express is your ticket to paradise; a one hour ride will transport you to a mystical island off the California coast.

Catalina Express

Situated 22 miles off the coast of Long Beach, Catalina Island is an iconic SoCal destination – and for good reason. The island is rife with unique wildlife, dining hot spots, cultural attractions, and outdoor recreation, making it a must-visit spot for those in L.A. County. A quick, simple (and fun) way to get to Catalina is by boat aboard the Catalina Express. Each year, more than 1 million passengers board the ferry, which offers 30 daily departures and year-round service. The journey takes about an hour and offers beautiful vistas of the dramatic coastline.

Santa Barbara Boat Tours

The Landshark 

Rendezvous at 99 West Cabrillo Blvd for an unforgettable trip into the city of Santa Barbara. Voted one of the best Santa Barbara boat tours, visitors will get a unique view of the city, as this particular boat tour starts off with a tour on land. Venturing into the historical landmarks and attractions of Santa Barbara first, all the way to the harbor, where you will set sail for a boat tour of a lifetime, without ever disembarking. This hybrid boat – aptly called The Landshark – are both bus and boat, allowing you to explore land and sea alike. Discover the abundant marine life such as sea lions, dolphins, and whales; hear legends of Stearns Wharf, and experience the joys of hybrid boats!

Aboard the Condor Express and sail out onto a whale-watching adventure of a lifetime in Santa Barbara!

Condor Express Whale Watching

Among the best whale watching experiences you can have in SoCal, Condor Express Whale Watching is an all-around incredible company to tour with. The founder, Fred Benko is a fisherman by craft and has spent the better part of his life observing whale migrations taking place in the 1970s and 1980s. As whale populations grew, he decided to bring people along with him to share with them the wonders of these gigantic creatures. 

There are also private charters available for those wishing to book their own little adventure out at sea! 

San Diego Boat Tours

Witness this unique vantage point of the San Diego coast from Coronado Island during your boat tour.

Flagship Cruises and Events

Experience one of California’s most fun activities – San Diego boat tours. Get a unique perspective of the iconic city’s famed sights as you embark on a harbor tour with Flagship Cruises and Events. Learn about San Diego’s history from an informative guide as you glide under the Coronado Bridge, past military ships and historic landmarks, and by the scenic cityscape. The three-story luxury vessel is equipped with snacks, drinks, and plenty of seating, so passengers can simply sit back, relax, and savor the scenery. For a more thrilling, turbo-charged tour, hop aboard Flagship’s Patriot Jet Boat and see local landmarks as the experienced captain carves 360-degree turns and reaches speeds of 50 miles per hour.

On the Water Adventures at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Maritime Museum of San Diego is renowned for its impressive collection of historic sea vessels—including two submarines and the world’s oldest active sailing ship, but there’s another compelling reason to visit this destination. Aside from its static displays, the museum also offers sailing adventures aboard replicas of famed historic ships. Whether you want to learn about San Diego’s military history on the legendary “swift boat” from the Vietnam era, explore the high seas on the Official Tall Ship of California (aptly named the Californian), or take a journey on the 16th-century Spanish galleon San Salvador, these watery excursions are as adventurous as they are historic.

Sail San Diego

For an awe-inspiring sunset sail, look no further than Sail San Diego. Thanks to its location at the closest marina to the Pacific, the company can give passengers the option of staying in the harbor or heading out to the wide open ocean to watch the sun sink behind the brilliant blue waters. Sail San Diego also specializes in small group charters, providing passengers with everything they may need – blankets, binoculars, sunglasses, hats, and more. Bites and beverages are included, too, so all you have to do is bring yourself and prepare to have a memorable experience.

The Hornblower is a popular choice for tourists and adventurous locals alike due to its extensive history and experience sailing the coast of San Dieg

Hornblower Cruises and Events

San Diego is one of the best spots in California to watch for whales year-round. From winter through spring, gray whales migrate from the feeding grounds of Alaska down to the breeding grounds of Baja California; meanwhile, in the summer, blue whales feed offshore in the San Diego waters. Get a close-up look at these mighty behemoths by going on a whale-watching adventure with Hornblower Cruises and Events, which offers 3.5-hour informational tours each week.

Settle into an indoor or outdoor seat, and keep an eye out for sea lions and leaping dolphins as you head out of the harbor and into the open water. As you search for whales on the horizon, the captain and naturalists from the San Diego Natural History Museum will provide narration and fun facts about the massive mammals. And if you don’t spot any whales on your trip, you’ll receive a voucher for a free Hornblower whale-watching cruise, and hopefully, you’ll have better luck next time! Regardless, a fun time on the water is guaranteed. 

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