The Top 14 Best Places to See Orcas in Washington State

Written by Kellianne Matthews
Published: November 5, 2023
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The Top 14 Best Places to See Orcas in Washington State

Sleek and powerful, orcas — also known as killer whales — are beautiful apex predators that embody the allure of the Pacific Northwest. In Washington, these iconic marine mammals are an integral and interconnected part of the state’s cultural heritage and marine ecosystems. Seeing an orca racing through the waves is an awe-inspiring experience that goes beyond words. But where can you witness the incredible grace and power of these animals? Here are the top 14 best places to see orcas in Washington State!

Three Types of Orcas in Washington State

There are three distinct types of orcas (Orcinus orca) that you can see in the Salish Sea along the Pacific Northwest coast:

  • Offshore orcas
  • Transient orcas
  • Northern and southern resident orcas

We don’t know a lot about offshore orcas, since they tend to spend their days further out at sea. However, scientists believe that these enigmatic marine mammals hunt sharks and travel together in groups of up to 100 to 200 whales. In Washington State, you’re more likely to see transient and resident orcas.

Transient Orcas

Side view of a transient orca breaching during a sea lion hunt

Transient killer whales often have more knicks, scratches, and scars on their bodies than resident whales.


Also known as Bigg’s killer whales, transient orcas, are culturally and genetically distinct. Their name comes from Dr. Michael Bigg, the researcher who first observed the whale’s nomadic or “transient” tendencies. Transient orcas embrace a life of constant movement, seasonally migrating in search of food. Unlike other orcas, they prefer using stealth and passive listening over echolocation, exclusively hunting marine mammals like dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, seals, and even other whales.

Transient orcas have pointed dorsal fins and grayish, closed saddle patches on their bodies. They are social animals and love to hang out with their families, typically traveling in smaller pods of around three to seven whales.

Resident Orcas

An endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale, an icon of the Pacific Northwest, breaches near Henry Island in Washington State.

Southern resident killer whales are critically endangered.

©Monika Wieland Shields/

Northern and southern resident orcas, on the other hand, stay in the same area throughout the year rather than traveling from place to place. These whales are quite unique in that rather than eating marine mammals, their dietary habits instead focus exclusively on fish — primarily, chinook salmon. Resident orcas typically have dorsal fins with a rounded top that has a pointed tip at the back. In addition, they have three white saddle patches that can be open or closed. They travel in larger groups with their cousins and other relatives. 

Southern resident orcas, in particular, are the smallest group of resident whales. They are also, unfortunately, critically endangered. There are only three pods of southern resident orcas today: the J pod, the K pod, and the L pod. Their decreasing numbers are due to the decrease in the salmon population, in addition to increased boat traffic, pollution in the water, and loss of their natural habitats.

Let’s look closer at the top 14 best places to see these orcas in Washington State!

1. San Juan Islands

Aerial image of Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, WA, USA

The San Juan Islands are some of the best places in the world to see orcas.

©Russ Heinl/

One of the best places to see orcas in Washington State is the San Juan islands in the Salish Sea. Nestled between Washington State and Canada’s Vancouver Island, this group of over 170 islands is a popular destination due to its natural beauty and abundant wildlife. 

The San Juan Islands are a sanctuary for resident orcas who thrive amid the bountiful salmon-filled underwater canyon to the west. The whales live in this area all year round, but the best time to see them is when they’re feeding on salmon from April to October. You can book one of the popular whale-watching tours, or even watch the orcas while standing safely on shore! Seals, sea lions, and other marine creatures are common here as well. 

2. Lime Kiln Point

Lighthouse at Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island - WA, USA

The rocky coasts of Lime Kiln Point State Park offer many viewing platforms for whale watching.


One of the largest of the San Juan Islands is home to Lime Kiln Point State Park, which is one of the best places to see orcas from land in Washington State. Nicknamed “Whale Watch Park”, this scenic island offers a front-row seat where you can often see the J, K, and L pods of southern resident orcas swimming along the shore. They can be seen throughout the year but are more common from May to September.

In addition, it is also home to many other beautiful marine mammals like gray whales, porpoises, and humpback whales. You may need binoculars to spot the elusive minke whales, however, as they are small but fast swimmers.

3. Orcas Island

Scenic view over Rosario Strait from the watchtower at the top of Mount Constitution in Moran State Park - Orcas Island, WA, USA

You can reach Orcas Island via the Washington State Ferry.


The largest of the San Juan Islands is Orcas Island, one of the best places to see orcas in Washington State. In fact, Orcas Island is known as one of the best places in the entire world to go whale watching!

There are tons of whale watching tours offered on Orcas Island, from which you can spot orcas, minke whales, harbor and Dall’s porpoises, harbor seals, bald eagles, ospreys, and other sea birds. The best time to see orcas on Orcas Island is from March through October. 

4. Alki Beach Park 

USA, Washington State, Seattle. View of Mount Rainier beyond West Seattle and Alki Beach.

You can see orcas while standing on Alki Beach in Seattle!

©Danita Delimont/

Another great place for land-based whale watching is Alki State Park in West Seattle. This is one of the best places to see orcas in Washington State during the fall and winter months. It is a coastal haven for the southern resident orcas making their annual return at this time. 

Alki Beach Park is also one of the venerated points along the Whale Trail. While standing near the Whale Trail sign at Alki Beach Park, look northward toward Discovery Point and Northwest to the Bainbridge Islands. This is the best spot in the park to see southern resident orcas as they travel through the middle of the channel. In addition, you can occasionally spot transient orcas here throughout the year. 

5. Anacortes

WA state ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island

Anacortes has several ferries that transport visitors throughout the nearby islands.

©Jaime Pharr/

This charming coastal town is just an hour and a half north of Seattle on Fidalgo Island, situated across from the San Juan islands. While the island is conveniently connected to the mainland by a sturdy bridge, Anacortes is renowned for its bustling ferry dock, which serves as a gateway to Shaw Island, Lopez Island, and Orcas Island. It is also one of the best places in Washington State to see orcas, especially from February to October. Transient killer whales feed in this area all throughout the year. You can also see many other incredible marine animals like minke whales, humpback whales, and gray whales. 

6. Whidbey Island

Deception Pass Park, Washington.

Whidbey Island is a popular tourist destination for its charming towns and incredible natural environment.

©Edmund Lowe Photography/

 Known as a prime spot for whale watching, people come to Whidbey Island for a chance to spot gray whales and orcas, and sometimes even a humpback whale. Another spot on the Whale Trail, resident orcas are most often seen at the island’s Bush Point in the winter months, beginning in October or November. California Sea lions, harbor porpoises, harbor seals, and river otters are also common. 

7. Destruction Island Viewpoint

Destruction Island Lighthouse off the Pacific Coast

Destruction Island is part of the Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge.


Situated along Highway 101, Destruction Island Viewpoint is one of the best places to see orcas in Washington State. It is also an iconic spot along the Whale Tail. The orcas here are distinct from their resident counterparts in Puget Sound — these whales are transient orcas who come to Destruction Island to hunt sea lions rather than salmon. You can also spot gray whales along the coastline, and sometimes an occasional humpback whale during the late spring months.

8. Point No Point Lighthouse

Point no Point Lighthouse

Tours of the Point No Point Lighthouse are available all year round.

©Derek Young/

The oldest lighthouse in Puget Sound, the Point No Point Lighthouse was built back in 1867. Located on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, it is just about an hour north of Seattle. Facing the Admiralty Inlet, the lighthouse provides an excellent vantage point to view marine mammals traveling between the lower reaches of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Duca. 

In the fall and winter, Southern resident pods J, K, and L come to this area seeking salmon to feast on. Transient orcas are also common here throughout the year. You might even be lucky enough to see a gray, mink, or humpback whale, in addition to seals, Steller sea lions, and California sea lions. The Point No Point Lighthouse is also a phenomenal place for birdwatching. 

9. Olympic National Park

Hole-in-the-Wall at Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park.

If you visit Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park, be sure to check out the iconic Hole-in-the-Wall.

©Cavan Images/iStock via Getty Images

Nestled on the breathtaking Olympic Peninsula, the Olympic National Park is one of the best places to see orcas in Washington State. Both resident orca pods and transient orca pods are common here. Resident orcas live in the area throughout the year, but transient orcas are more common in April and May and then again in October and November as they travel through the area looking for food. 

The best places to watch for orcas in the Olympic National Park are South Beach, Rialto Beach, Shi Shi Beach, Kalaloch, and La Push. Shi Shi Beach is one of the most stunning areas you’ll find on the coast of Washington State, while La Push is a coastal haven nestled at the mouth of the Quillayute River. Orcas regularly glide through the waters here and hold a sacred place in Quileute traditions. 

10. Deception Pass State Park

Iconic Deception Pass Bridge connecting Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands in Washington State.

Deception Pass State Park has many outdoor activities, including whale and bird watching.

©Denise Lett/

Located on both Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island, Deception Pass State Park is an excellent place to see orcas in Washington State from the shore. It is a beautiful area, with rugged cliffs, swirling eddies, old-growth forests, and stunning panoramic views. Transient orcas commonly travel through the pass from June through September. Sometimes you can spot them swimming through Deception Pass or beneath Deception Pass Bridge. You can also see resident orcas dining on salmon here as well. 

There is a myriad of wildlife in Deception Pass State Park, from harbor seals and harbor porpoises to all kinds of incredible birds. In addition to orcas, you can also see gray whales, humpback whales, and minke whales here from April through September.

11. Port Angeles

Port Angeles City Pier view.

Port Angeles is home to all kinds of amazing marine wildlife, from whales to anemones and crabs.


Another excellent place to see whales on the Whale Trail in Washington State is Port Angeles.  A short drive from Seattle, Port Angeles is a treasure trove of marine marvels. You can observe humpback whales, gray whales, minke whales, and resident and transient orcas. Prime whale-watching season in Port Angeles is from May through October, and whale-watching tours depart from the harbor each day. Whether you choose to embark on a boat excursion or wander along the shores on foot, there are plenty of chances to spot whales within the surrounding waters. 

12. Neah Bay

Neah Bay in Washington State, USA

Neah Bay is home to the Makah Reservation.

©Elizabeth Curland/

Located on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula, Neah Bay is a wonderful spot to see orcas in Washington State. It is a somewhat remote location, but it is definitely worth the trek due to its pristine scenery and lack of heavy maritime traffic. This definitely makes for a more intimate and unique whale-watching experience.

There are many excellent whale-watching tours offered in Neah Bay, but you can also spot orcas from the shore at Cape Flattery. Both resident and transient orcas often pass through the area throughout the year, but transient orcas are more common. Resident whales are more plentiful during the summer months due to the salmon run. 

13. Bellingham

A photo of Mount Baker with a sailboat and houses in the Bellingham town area.

Bellingham is the largest city in Whatcom County.

©Chris Allan/

Located in Whatcom County, Bellingham is not too far from the San Juan Islands, and its waters are bursting with amazing marine animals. Bellingham is known for its orcas and whale-watching tours, from which you can enjoy watching resident killer whales. On occasion, transient killer whales also pass by, as well as elusive minke whales. Closer to shore, you’ll see harbor seals and bald eagles, with harbor and Dall’s porpoises playing on the waves. During the summer, Steller sea lions come here for the salmon, and sometimes you can even spot cute, tufted puffins along the rocks.

14. Port Townsend

Seascape of shoreline and distant lighthouse on a cloudy day in Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend Washington

Port Townsend is also a great place to hear southern resident orcas passing through the Admiralty Inlet.

©Angela Dukich/

The charming city of Port Townsend sits on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. You’ll find so many treasures here, from the historic Victorian buildings to incredible cider. And of course, one of the major highlights of Port Townsend is whale watching! Directly south of the San Juan Islands, you can spot orcas from the Point Wilson Lighthouse, or book a whale-watching tour into the Salish Sea. You can also learn more about these amazing marine mammals by visiting the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Summary of the Top 14 Best Places to See Orcas in Washington State

PlaceLocationBest Time to See Orcas
San Juan IslandsNorthwest WashingtonApril through October
Lime Kiln Point State ParkNorthwest WashingtonMay through September
Orcas IslandNorthwest WashingtonMarch through October
Alki Beach ParkWest SeattleFall and winter months
AnacortesNorth of Seattle on Fidalgo IslandFebruary through October
Whidbey IslandPuget Sound, north of SeattleWinter months, beginning in October or November
Destruction Island ViewpointWestern WashingtonMay to September
Point No Point LighthouseNorth of SeattleFall and winter (southern resident orcas); year-round (transient orcas)
Olympic National ParkWestern WashingtonApril through May, and October through November
Deception Pass State ParkNorthwestern WashingtonJune through September
Port AngelesNorthwestern WashingtonMay through October
Neah BayNorthwestern WashingtonSummer months
BellinghamNorthwest corner of WashingtonMid-June through early September
Port TownsendNortheast tip of the Olympic Peninsula in western WashingtonMid-May through mid-October

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Monika Wieland Shields/

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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on anthrozoology, conservation, human-animal relationships, and animal behavior. Kellianne has been writing and researching animals for over ten years and has decades of hands-on experience working with a variety of different animals. She holds a Master’s Degree from Brigham Young University, which she earned in 2017. A resident of Utah, Kellianne enjoys creating, exploring and learning new things, analyzing movies, caring for animals, and playing with her cats.

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