If you believe local weather reports in the Bay Area, we could be headed for a wet winter thanks to El Nino. And while winter is still a ways off, the recent warming up following a chilly, foggy 4th of July is great incentive to get into a kayak or on an SUP for some water-based adventure.
And whether you’re a longtime enthusiast or just new to the sport, you can pick from a surprising array of places to get paddling. “You hear all the time about the diversity of the terrain in the Bay Area for biking and hiking, but people sometimes forget there is so much water around us that’s just as diverse and ideal for water sports,” says Jill Robinson, who, along with her husband, Doug, owns Half Moon Bay Kayak. “We have estuaries and lakes and the ocean and the bay, different wind conditions and tidal conditions, and wildlife that make paddling in the Bay Area unique in such a great way.”
We definitely agree. Here, six great spots for some summer paddling in the Bay Area.
Half Moon Bay
Best For: Newbie Paddlers
The coastal spot known for some of the biggest swells in on the planet during the world-famous Mavericks surf contest also offers a surprisingly serene setting for paddling. A protected harbor, the chance to spot seals and other wildlife, and an enticing array of nearby restaurants and watering holes to wind down at after your paddle all make HMB an ideal spot for beginning kayakers and new those new to SUP.
Rent a kayak or SUP from Half Moon Bay Kayak and head out early to take advantage of glassy waters during high tide;if conditions are “really incredible,” HMB Kayak staff just might let you venture out a bit into the Pacific, Robinson says. If not, though, you’ll have plenty of fun with a breezy harbor excursion, which you can celebrate afterward at perennial favorite Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.
Best For: Seeing Iconic SF Landmarks
Be sure to bring a waterproof camera casing for this one, as even longtime locals won’t be able to resist oohing and aahing at unbeatable views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the city’s beautiful skyline. Sea Trek Kayak and SUP is the go-to outfitter in these parts, with more than 30 years in the business and plenty of enticing guided trips on the upcoming calendar, including a full moon paddle, a bay crossing to Angel Island, and a paddle under the Golden Gate Bridge.
If you’re renting a kayak or SUP for a self-guided excursion, keep in mind that afternoon winds in the Marin Headlands can make the return trip to Richardson Bay, the put-in for Sea Trek, extra challenging.
Best For: Wildlife Viewing
Point Reyes is one of the most popular spots for paddling in the Bay Area, so you’re not likely to have the place to yourself. And that counts for the wildlife, too—Tomales Bay, a tranquil protected waterway that eventually opens up to the Pacific Ocean, teems with sea osprey, harbor seals, pelicans, bat rays, and other species. Choose from two excellent outfitters in the area, Point Reyes Outdoors and Blue Waters Kayaking , who offer a variety of day trips as well as nighttime bioluminescence excursions. This magical phenomenon occurs when there’s no moon (and summer reservations tend to fill up early, so plan accordingly).
Best For: An Urban Paddle
Rent a kayak from California Canoe and Kayak , conveniently located in Jack London Square, for an invigorating urban paddle around the Oakland harbor and Oakland Estuary, a water channel bordered by the cities of Alameda and Oakland. After heading out of the harbor, you can explore the industrial side of Oakland, passing by cranes, manmade parks, warehouses, and other buildings—just be aware of heavy boat traffic, including large ships. For a more tranquil paddle, head south through the Oakland Estuary toward San Leandro and navigate your way around Coast Guard Island. Take a break for a picnic at Union Point Park before heading back to Jack London Square, where you can take your pick of watering holes for a post-paddle pint.
McCovey Cove, SF
Best For: Sports Fans
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: Experiencing Giants baseball via the floating party that happens at all home games at AT&T Park is a must-do in the City by the Bay. The action goes down at McCovey Cove, named after Giants’ legendary first baseman Willie McCovey, where a flotilla of kayaks and sometimes even SUPers patiently bob in the hopes of snagging a home run, aka a “Splash Hit”, slammed over the right field wall.
The modern-day action is reminiscent of what used to happen back in McCovey’s playing days, before the now-demolished Candlestick Park had its upper deck extended. Some small bleachers were situated in the area behind right field, and kids in those bleacher sections would scramble behind the right field fence to try to snag one of McCovey’s home run hits.
And though the chances of snagging a Splash Hit are slim—according to online reports, there had only been 68 as of September 2014—you should be prepared with a fishing net and/or glove, as well as a windbreaker in case it turns chilly quickly and a radio to catch the game’s play-by-play. City Kayak is a popular spot to rent your kayak from.
Best For: The Quintessential California Experience
It’s hard to imagine a paddling experience that’s more deliciously Californian than that in Monterey Bay: sea lions, seals, and otters frolicking in the water, cyclists and runners cruising along the coastal trail, and views of Cannery Row, the historic area made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel by the same name about the sardine canneries that once dominated this small coastal town.
Robinson recommends renting your kayak or SUP from Monterey Bay Kayaks, a longtime operator in the area that also offers guided trips. Another option is a trip to Elkhorn Slough Reserve, a peaceful tidal estuary that’s California's second-largest marine wetland. A variety of guided trips are available, including bird-watching and nighttime paddles to experience the area’s magical bioluminescence. And whether you go solo or with a guide, keep in mind that the next few months are an ideal time to go, with calmer waters in the summer, followed by sunnier weather and fewer crowds in fall.