From the pier at Belmont Shores off Ocean Boulevard at Termino Avenue, the 140-passenger Billy V of Belmont Pier Sportfishing makes a daily three-hour whale-watch outing. It departs at 11 a.m. Friday and weekends and 10 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Saturday and Sunday trips cost $8, kids 12 and under $6; weekday fares are $6 and $4.50. Call 434-6781.
Redondo Beach: The 145-passenger Voyager embarks daily on whale excursions from the Redondo Sportfishing pier at King Harbor. You can sail at 9:30 a.m. weekends, 10 a.m. weekdays and 1:30 p.m. every day. Weekend fares are $8 for adults, $6 for ages 11 and younger. On weekdays all tickets cost $6. A pass for a free trip is issued if you fail to see a whale. Phone 372-2111.
Oxnard: Cisco Sportfishing vessels head from Channel Islands Harbor across the Santa Barbara Channel to Anacapa Island for whale watching. Boats leave the pier at 4151 S. Victoria Ave. weekends at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday there's a departure at 10 a.m. Tickets cost $15, children 11 and under $7.50. Whale rain checks are offered. Phone toll-free (800) 322-3474 or (805) 985-8511.
Ventura: Also venturing into Santa Barbara Channel to look for the leviathans are Island Packers' boats that sail from Ventura Harbor Friday and weekends at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Adult fares for the four-hour trips are $15, kids 12 and under $7.50.
Or join an all-day excursion from Ventura Harbor to visit Anacapa Island with whale watching along the way. The motor vessel gets underway daily at 9 a.m. from the Island Packers piers near the end of Spinnaker Drive. Adults pay $28, kids $14.
An exciting alternative is to board Island Packers' 80-foot schooner, the Shearwater, for a daylong sailing trip to Anacapa. Departures are 8:30 a.m. Fridays and weekends. A naturalist accompanies the 18 passengers and lunch is included in the $60 per-person fee. Also, a 92-foot schooner will make a monthly all-day outing to Santa Cruz Island for $48. Call (805) 642-1393 or (805) 642-3370.
Santa Barbara: From the second week in February into April, when the gray whales are on their return journey to Alaska, Sea Landing's Condor, Gene or Slingshot sets sail from Santa Barbara's boat harbor. Board the boat at 9 a.m., noon or 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and weekends (also other weekdays by demand). Adult fare is $15, kids 12 and under $8. Phone (805) 963-3564.
Newport Beach: Whale watchers can put to sea from Newport Harbor. At Newport Landing on the Balboa peninsula next to the ferry pier, the 77-passenger Southern Cal departs daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Adults pay $8 ($7 weekdays), children under 12, $5. Call (714) 675-0550.
Nearby at the Balboa Pavilion the 100-passenger Western Pride operated by Davey's Locker sails at 1 p.m. daily. On weekends the 149-passenger Freelance also goes whale watching at 9 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m. Whale checks are issued. Adults pay $10, kids 12 and under $6. Everyone 15 and under receives a free ticket for sportfishing. Call (714) 673-1434.
You also can look for gray whales aboard the 300-passenger Catalina Holiday on its Friday and weekend runs from Newport Harbor to Catalina Island. The vessel departs at 9 a.m. and begins its return from Avalon at 4:30 p.m. The round trip is $19.50, children $10. Monday through Thursday the same boat makes local whale-watch cruises at 10 a.m. Adults pay $8; children 12 and under, $5. Call (714) 673-5245.
Dana Point: Dana Wharf Sportfishing boats depart every day from Dana Point Harbor at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. with whale watchers. During Dana Point's annual Festival of Whales Feb. 14-16, Feb. 21-22, Feb. 28-March 1 and March 7-8, viewing vessels will extend weekend departures to hourly from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fares are $8 for adults, $5 for senior citizens (weekdays only) and $5 for kids. Phone (714) 496-5794.
On Saturdays through March 7, early morning whale trips from Dana Point are sponsored by the Orange County Marine Institute. The group meets at 7:15 a.m for a talk about gray whales by a marine biologist before the boat departs. Adults pay $9.50, children $6.50. Call (714) 496-2274 or (714) 831-3850.
Oceanside: The 25- to 125-passenger boats of Helgren's Sportfishing leave Oceanside Harbor daily for whale excursions. Departures are 9 and 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends and 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays. Adults pay $8; senior citizens and youths 13-16, $7; children 12 and under, $5. Call (619) 722-2133. Smaller whale-watch boats also can be chartered.
San Diego: You'll find several embarkation points in San Diego's harbor and Mission Bay for gray whale outings.
From Municipal Pier at Emerson and Scott streets, between Harbor and Shelter islands, H&M Landing's sportfishing boats depart at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. every day. Fares are $10 for adults, $8 for juniors 13-17, and $6 for children. Call (619) 222-1144.