bioluminescence destinations

5 Best Bioluminescent Viewing Destinations in the US

Written by Boatsetter Team
January 18, 2024

Last Updated on January 18, 2024 by Boatsetter Team

If you crave a rare and unforgettable experience, then bioluminescent boating should be next on your itinerary. Imagine you’re cruising through quiet coves underneath a blanket of stars, you’re surrounded by shimmering waters.

To know where and when you can go bioluminescent boating, keep reading our guide on the five best bioluminescent boating destinations in the US. If you’re ready to book, you can find the best boats here

  1. Indian River Lagoon, Florida
  2. Mission Bay, California
  3. Mosquito Bay & Laguna Grande, Puerto Rico  
  4. San Juan Islands, Washington
  5. St. Croix, Virgin Islands

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But first, what is bioluminescence? 

Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon (like fall foliage) where living organisms go through a chemical reaction activating a light-emitting pigment called luciferin. Bioluminescence is found in various organisms, including certain types of bacteria, fungi, worms, fireflies, jellyfish, plankton, among others. 

Boating in a bioluminescent destination is a majestic and unforgettable experience. On the water, your every ripple or paddle stroke can set off a cascade of sparkles. 


Ideal conditions for bioluminescent boating 

Several factors contribute to the enchantment of bioluminescent viewing. Warm water temperatures and nutrient-rich environments – like mangroves – attract bioluminescent organisms. Minimal light pollution and darkness in general (I.e. avoid clear nights with full moons) make bioluminescence easier to spot. Now that you know what bioluminescence is, let’s dive into the five best bioluminescent boating destinations in the US!


1. Indian River Lagoon (FL) 

Stretching along Florida’s east coast, the Indian River Lagoon is an estuarine system home to bioluminescent comb jellyfish. The summer months offer the best conditions for expansive viewing because warm water temperatures make for the most activity. We recommend exploring the northern stretch of lagoon for the best results. 

Pro tip: Keep an eye out for manatees and dolphins, and tag us in that picture (we may feature you)!

View best boat rentals in Florida 


2. Mission Bay (San Diego, CA) 

If you travel to southern California, you might be able to catch a bioluminescent event. The red tides that typically roll in in the summertime are caused by algae blooms. While the algae appear red during the day, the blooms glisten neon blue at night, transforming Mission Bay into a beautiful bioluminescent viewing destination with an urban backdrop. After reading this post, go over to the Best Waterfront Restaurants in San Diego for places to dock ‘n’ dine. 

View available boat rentals in San Diego, CA


3. Puerto Rico

Take a trip to the tropical haven of Puerto Rico, where Mosquito Bay and Laguna Grande await your exploration. Mosquito Bay, located on Vieques Island, is known around the globe as one of the brightest bioluminescent destinations. As you boat through its calm waters, you can witness the breathtaking glow created by dinoflagellates (the type of phytoplankton found in this region).

To the north, you’ll also find Laguna Grande in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Surrounded by mangrove forests, this bay is teeming with bioluminescent wonders. Explore narrow channels with a clear kayak rental for a more up close and intimate experience!

The dry months offer the best conditions for bioluminescent viewing, so we recommend planning your trip between December and April. 


4. San Juan Islands 

bioluminescence 2

Located off Washington’s coast, the San Juan Islands provide a picturesque backdrop for your nighttime voyage. Cruise through waters surrounded by lush green landscapes and majestic evergreens. Whether you’re admiring the glow beneath your vessel or the scenery around you, this experience is sure to take your breath away. 

Summertime temperatures create the ideal conditions for a luminous journey!

Pro tip: Keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, and orcas passing by.

View available boat rentals in San Juan Islands, WA 


5. St. Croix, Virgin Islands 

The Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Reserve on the northside of St. Croix is a well-known U.S. Caribbean bioluminescent viewing destination. The park is full of mangroves, whose ecosystems provide optimal conditions for bioluminescent organisms to thrive. You’ll find phytoplankton, like dinoflagellates, and non-stinging comb jellyfish in these warm waters. 

Similar to Puerto Rico, the summer months bring a lot of rain. You’ll want to visit between December and April for the best conditions.


Bioluminescent kayaking: Paddle into the glow

While it’s no secret that bioluminescence is best experienced by boat, we encourage you to take your adventure to the next level by kayaking. All of the destinations we’ve included in this guide offer local bioluminescent kayak tours, and some even offer clear kayak rentals. 

A guided tour will guarantee you find the best spots for bioluminescent viewing and increase your safety. Clear kayaks also offer a heightened experience, as you can get up-close to the water’s surface and look below.

Bioluminescent boating,  or kayaking,  is a unique experience that every boater should have on their bucket list. We hope this targeted list of bioluminescent viewing destinations in the US helps you plan an unforgettable adventure. 


About us 

Boatsetter is the go-to app for boat rentals and on-water experiences. Whatever the adventure, we’ve got a boat for that—Set sail, start the party, go yachting, make your trophy catch, and hone your watersports skills! Download the Boatsetter app (App Store | Google Play). Make sure to follow @boatsetter on Instagram, and tag us in all your boat day pictures for the chance to be featured. 

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