Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links related to California-based great white shark tours at Guadalupe (off Baja California). If you book a tour, we will receive a commission, at no additional cost to you. As always, we love shark diving, and only recommend products and services that really float our boat!
You’re spoiled for great white shark tours if you live in California as of May 2017.
You may have heard the news that the Golden State is swarming with the little fellers at present. We’ve seen sharks breaching behind surfers, sharks checking out paddle boarders off Huntington and Manhattan Beach. And just last week, a rather, er, intimidating announcement from a helicopter pilot that one paddle boarder was surrounded by 15 great white sharks, and he likely didn’t know it.
Scared? Don’t be – they’re juveniles. Great white sharks off California are a good thing because it means the marine ecosystem is coming back. The sharks we’re seeing off LA and San Diego’s beaches are typically 10 feet or less. And while they may be up for a little breach smackdown with rival sharks in the area, they’ve shown no aggression to anyone.
In fact, they’re such a hit these days that a whale watching operator based at Dana Point is now offering ‘coastal viewing’ 2 hour great white shark tours just off the beach. Add that to the other white shark viewing hot spots and you’ve now got 3 options to see Mr. Whitey off California – to suit any time or budget.
Wanna see great white sharks? You can do it from California’s three biggest cities: Los Angeles, San Diego and/or San Francisco. Speaking as a shark lover who lives in beautiful but decidedly shark-less Victoria BC, (Canada), I envy you!
#1 – Great White Shark Tours Off Dana Point (for Los Angeles)
The Experience: This is a first. There are so many white sharks off Los Angeles right now that a whale watching company now offers shark-spotting tours off Dana Point. For 45 bucks, just hop over to the wharf on a Saturday and take part in their new Shark Search – a 90 minute to 2 hour trip around the Dana Point area, in which, yup, you’ll spot the little guys, often just 100 yards off shore.
What You’ll See: Juvenile great white sharks. You’ll see them from a boat – this is not a cage diving experience. Still, they’re great whites, within Orange County. Great white shark spotting does not get more convenient than that.
Length: About 2 Hours
What You’ll Pay: $45
When: Saturdays right now, shark-permitting. They’ll offer this tour while the demand is there, and sharks to scope.
Next Step: Head to www.danawharf.com/shark-search.
#2 – Great White Shark Tours Off the Farrallon Islands (For San Francisco)
The Experience: Long before Guadalupe was in the picture, the Farrallon Islands were the spot to see great white sharks off California. The site is a wildlife reserve about 30 miles outside San Francisco where the toothy creatures tend to hang each autumn, with several shark tour boats you can take for the day.
What You’ll See: Very large great white sharks – if you’re lucky. I have to be honest, the visibility here is quite limited, and there are many days when the sharks don’t show up. With that being said, the area is noted for very large great whites, and has seen some incredible things over the past 20 years, including the first documented encounter between an orca and great white back in 1997.
You can do a great white shark tour at the Farrallon Islands from a boat, a cage, or private charter. It’s a full day, leaving Fisherman’s Wharf at 6:30AM and returning 12 hours later.
It may be worth a look if you’re in San Francisco.
Length: About 12 hours.
What You’ll Pay: Roughly $375 for top-viewing, and $775 from the cage. Private charters will cost more – and note that you’ll have to pack your own lunch unless you do the latter.
Next Step: There are several great white shark tours at the Farrallons. Google ‘great white shark tours farrallons’ and see what pops up.
#3 – Great White Shark Tours At Guadalupe (For San Diego)
The Experience: This is the most expensive and time consuming of the three great white shark tours we’ll cover here, and I think the most rewarding. Back in 2007, I went shark cage diving at Guadalupe and it inspired me to create this blog three years later.
Guadalupe is a volcanic island about 250 miles southwest of Ensenada, at Baja California. You’ll either leave on a boat from San Diego, or catch a bus to Ensenada, from where you’ll ply the sometime-choppy Pacific for roughly 24 hours on a 5 day live-aboard experience.
This is a five day live-aboard experience. You’ll spend Day 1 sailing to Guadalupe and Days 2-4 diving (so you’ll likely get three days total diving for up to 8 dives each day. Each dive typically lasts an hour).
The typical Guadalupe Shark Diving Itinerary looks like this:
Day 1 – Boat leaves San Diego or Ensenada (Mexico) around noon.
Day 2 – Boat arrives at Guadalupe, about 220 miles south of San Diego, about 6AM. First day of diving.
Day 3 – Diving.
Day 4 – Diving until about 5PM. Cages come up and you leave Guadalupe.
Day 5 – Arrive San Diego around 10AM-ish. Lots of hugs and pictures, and Facebook contacts – don’t forget those!
What You’ll See: You’ll see more great whites here than arguably anywhere on the planet. The visibility at Guadalupe is excellent – you can see 100 feet on a good day. You’ll see a range of sharks here, from juveniles, to some pushing 20 feet. And if you’re very lucky, you may see Shredder (also called Cal Ripfin), who you’ll easily recognize by his ‘shredded’ dorsal fin. Sadly, though, he’s been AWOL at Guadalupe since 2011, and there’s some speculation he may have moved on.
I hope not. Shredder’s a keeper 🙂
We saw two highly unusual behaviours at Guadalupe on our dive. On the third day, a great white actually breached by our boat (and almost hit it!) – and we got a picture! On day four, a shark killed a seal. We got that on film too, attached at the end of this post for your gratuitous viewing pleasure.
The Australian guy, Luke Tipple, was our dive master. Cool guy.
Length: Five days.
What You’ll Pay: Guadalupe cage diving is not cheap. It’s worth it though – expect to pay about $3,400 USD for single occupancy or $3,200 if you’re matched up. All your meals are covered, and they’re usually very good. You may put on weight if you’re not careful!
When: September to early December. The seas can get a little rough around November. Aim for October if possible.
Next Step: Book a tour, preferably earlier in the year – Guadalupe shark diving tours tend to fill up early. I went with Shark Diver, who chartered MV Islander. If I were to do it again, my first choice would be MV Horizon because they’re one of the original operators at Guadalupe and have a good reputation in the shark diving community.
Search Guadalupe Cage Diving Tours here. To do that, follow the link, which takes you to Mexico live aboard diving tours. Underneath it, search any date between August and November (Guadalupe’s white shark diving season) and click ‘Search’.
Then scroll down to see spots that are still available for ‘Great White Shark Diving’ and/or ‘Great White Shark Diving’ in the boat description.
Are they cheap? Nope – but live aboard shark diving at Guadalupe is the single best cage diving experience on the planet in my not-so-humble experience, and a ‘Must-Do’ for anyone who’s keen to go eye-to-eye with a great white shark.