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San Diego offers no shortage of outdoor activities — we know this. From hiking to sky-diving, you’ll be hard pressed to find an excuse to stay inside. But the best way to enjoy the region’s perfect weather and gorgeous landscape is from the water. Not much of a surfer? Rent a kayak and hit the waves for a new way to appreciate San Diego’s beauty and get a killer workout.
Hoping to catch a glimpse of Olympic athletes honing their craft? Head to Lower Otay Lake, home of the US Olympic training center for rowing sports, to paddle with the pros and get some serious workout motivation. If you’re looking for a more relaxed day of ’yaking, bring a pole and reel in a largemouth bass or two — the lake is famous for its trophy-sized catches.
San Onofre State Beach is a long stretch of pristine shoreline at the northernmost tip of San Diego County — just look for the infamous “atomic boobs” and you’ll know you’ve made it. Preferred by kayak surfers, San Onofre offers a quiet, locals-only kind of vibe and some of the best beach camping sites in Southern California.
A working marina and home to the U.S. Navy ship fleet, the “Big Bay” is a little trickier to navigate than the calmer waters of Mission Bay Park. But the views of downtown and Cabrillo National Park make the paddle totally worth it. Plus, launching from the sandy shores of Harbor Island is a breeze. Heading out around 4pm is your best bet for avoiding traffic, and your shoulders will likely start to give out just in time to catch one of San Diego’s spectacular sunsets from the beach.
If kayaking for you is less of a sport and more of a means of transportation, La Jolla Cove is the perfect spot to launch your ’yak and do some exploring. From the shores, you can paddle to the caves, anchor your kayak, and swim through hidden tunnels. At low tide, you might even be able to maneuver your entire kayak through some of the larger ones. There are also ample opportunities to snorkel (the sharks don’t bite, we swear), but the locals know the best place to spot marine life is at Rock Pile, a happenin’ fish habitat near the swim lane.
For some more ambitious kayakers, a casual paddle around the bay just isn’t enough — they need to add a bit of a challenge to make the trip worth it. If that sounds like you, throw a fishing rod in with your paddles and head a little further north to San Elijo beach. This spot offers great kayaking in the surf with plenty of opportunities to snag a fish. Bonus points if you opt for a spear instead of a line.
Technically the world’s largest water park, Mission Bay is heaven for water-loving outdoor recreationists. We should also note that it’s one of the busiest spots in San Diego to spend a day on the water. So, to avoid the crowds and make the most of the Bay’s endless network of waterways and inlets, launch from Vacation Island on a weekday. Plan to stay a while with a packed lunch, and keep an eye out for jet skis, motorists, and curious sea lions.
Whether you’re looking to fish, explore, or take it easy and ogle the massive houses along the harbor, Mother’s Beach in Dana Point has it all. But the area’s main attraction is the migration of gray whales, which can be spotted two-to-six miles offshore nearly any day of the year. They move north from November to mid-spring and south during the summer and early fall, so be prepared for some big, friendly visitors if you venture out of the cove.
Just about a half hour northeast of Downtown San Diego, a day trip to the Lake Hodges Reservoir is the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle (if that even really exists in San Diego) and go for a paddle. With 13 miles of accessible shoreline, you could easily spend an entire day exploring this popular oasis… and you probably will.