Oregon’s Whale Watching Town: Depoe Bay

Depoe Bay, Oregon, is proud of its wonderful whale watching location.

Known as the Oregon coast’s whale-watching capital, the tiny seaside village of Depoe Bay sits on Highway 101 on a rocky harbor carved from lava rock. When the waves hit the lava tubes, little seawater geysers, called “spouting horns” occur.

If the rain hadn’t been so blustery, Ken and I would have enjoyed walking the promenade along the seawall of Depoe Bay’s harbor, but that wasn’t to be. Still, we made the best of our trip and found a lot to love about this area despite the foul weather.

I couldn’t believe that the period from Christmas to January 6 is the year’s peak whale migration season, but at this time, gray whales are making their way south to Baja where they calve. As many as 60 whales an hour pass by Depoe Bay during this time. Unfortunately, Ken and I never spotted any from the shore because of the stormy weather and gray skies.

The town of Depoe Bay is pretty little: a quaint collection of shops, galleries and restaurants right on the harbor. The low clouds obscured the ocean views during our visit, but I hear tell that you can eat breakfast in a restaurant and spot whale spouts from your table.

That didn’t happen for us, but we still enjoyed getting out of the rain and warming ourselves with world-famous clam chowder at Gracie’s Sea Hag, a nautical-themed restaurant.

Whale Watching Center

A painting at the Whale Watching Center depicts gray whales.

Even if you don’t spot whales, you can learn a lot about them at the Whale Watch Center, overlooking Depoe Bay’s harbor. Run by the Oregon Parks and Rec Department, the Whale Center has films, museum displays and information for both kids and adults. The park rangers answer your questions and help you find whales.

The Center also provides maps of the prime lookout points for whales, and if you happen to visit during winter or spring Whale Watch Weeks (December and March), you’ll encounter experienced volunteers who are posted at these scenic overlooks and can point you in the right direction.

In summer, a pod of whales hangs out in and around Depoe Bay where these baleen feeders vacuum up ton after ton of mysids (super-tiny shrimplike organisms).

Thar She Blows!

Captain Loren Goddard, with Dockside Charters, took us out on the high seas.

I’d almost given up hope for seeing whales—although the experts at the Whale Watch Center assured us the ocean mammals were there, just too many miles out for us to see in the fog. Fortunately, one day about noon, the sky cleared just enough that we convinced captain Loren Goddard, owner/operator of the charter vessel “Affair” to take us out seven miles. (We arranged this through Dockside Charter.)

Sure enough, the whales were there! We spotted the blows, like puffs of smoke, of about 10 whales—even seeing some ridged backs and tale flukes as the giants moved south. We exclaimed and cheered each time we found a new whale. Although we never got very close, it was a thrill seeing them.

In summer, Dockside runs whale-watch trips from 6-person Zodiac boats, which can give you a much closer look at the whales.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Although this is a closer view of a gray whale than I saw, it gives you an idea of how a spout looks in the water. Photo courtesy Dockside Charters.

A Private Piece of Seaside Paradise

After a difficult journey reaching the Oregon coast (see “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Portland”), my husband, Ken, and I reached the little town of Depoe Bay. At last!

Unfortunately, we arrived during a downpour. Dense clouds hung over the ocean and the wind howled down the coast. Not much chance of spotting any whales or hiking along central Oregon’s beaches today. Travel-weary, we visited a grocery store for fresh ravioli and a bottle of Oregon pinot noir and headed to our vacation rental condo.

Our Depoe Bay condo was Viking heaven.

Walking into the Skyshine Vacations condo (aptly named “Valhalla” after the mythic grand entry hall into the Vikings’ afterlife) we were wet, tired, hungry and disillusioned by our airport nightmare. We were greeted by a luxurious living room, dining room, and kitchen with 24/7 views of the ocean.

Amid the storm, the ocean waves exploded over the rocks just 20 yards from our second-floor balcony. It was exhilarating. Being from a landlocked state, my mood is always lifted by the ocean—even on the rainiest of days. I just can’t get enough of tidal activity and salty air.

After all the hardships in getting to Oregon, staying at this oceanside condo felt like we’d died and gone to, well, Valhalla. Ken and I cozied up by the fireplace, uncorked our wine, and toasted the waves and wild weather. As we cooked dinner that evening we kept one eye on the stove and the other on the horizontal rain lashing the coast.

A Touch of Viking Paradise

Our luxurious Valhalla condo included a fully equipped kitchen (with a waffle iron and a set of knives much nicer than we have at home!), and a massive flat-screen TV (which we never watched because the boiling waters in the bay were far more dramatic than any HBO movie).

With this great ocean view, we even storm watched from bed.

The master bedroom had a king-size bed with another whole wall of windows. We were so mesmerized by the sea’s capers that we slept with the curtains open at night so that when we waked, we could witness the churning water at high tide—without leaving bed.

In the mornings, we sipped coffee in the hot tub on the balcony while watching sea lions, cormorants and pelicans hunting for breakfast. Although the air was brisk in early January, it was divine to sit all warm and toasty with the ocean spray on our faces.

After our first good night’s sleep, the travel ordeal was but a memory, washed away by the waves. That’s the healing power of nature for you.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

  • When has nature enchanted you on your journeys? Share you experience with a comment.

    Some of the mesmerizing waves we watched from our coastal condo in Depoe Bay, Oregon