The City By The Bay is hands down one of the most gorgeous places to kayak. Bold statement, we know. But it’s true!
The San Francisco Bay Area is a hub for kayak-lovers on the hunt for beautiful views, all while staying fit with their healthy hobby. Want in? We’ve compiled all the top spots to get out on the water. And the best part? You don’t even need to own a kayak.
Head north of SF to the seaside village of Sausalito, where you’ll be completely blown away by the unbeatable views. Even longtime locals can’t resist oohing and aahing at the panoramic sights of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the city’s beautiful skyline. Each attraction is best viewed from your very own kayak (Sea Trek Kayak will hook you up), making this an incredible way to spend a summer day when it’s too foggy in the city.
Wedged into the Point Reyes seashore lies Tomales Bay, a tranquil protected waterway that eventually opens up to the Pacific Ocean while bordering Point Reyes National Park. It really is one of the most stunning places to get out on the water in the Bay Area. This spot is most popular for its nighttime bioluminescent kayaking adventure — a magical phenomenon that occurs when there’s no moon, allowing kayakers to view a sea of neon “ocean critters” from below. You can book your excursion and your kayak at Blue Waters Kayaking.
Just 15 minutes north of the city lies the small historical town of Tiburon. It’s Sausalito’s sister village, so you’ll rent kayaks from the same spot, Sea Trek Kayak. Brave paddlers can take a circle around Angel Island and get in a good five-plus-mile workout with the famous panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay. Heads up: Kayakers will definitely want to check the tides before heading out for this one, as the strong current can be tricky. It’s highly recommended to attempt this on a flood tide (when the water flows towards the shore).
Your urban paddle experience awaits right across the Bay Bridge in Oakland’s Jack London Square. California Canoe and Kayak will be your go-to spot before exploring the Oakland Harbor. Need a tour? To the east, you’ll see green rolling hills, and to the West, SF’s skyline. You’ll then want to make your way to the industrial side of Oakland, passing by cranes, man-made parks, and warehouses—just be aware of large cargo ships; they’re everywhere. Once you’ve seen it all, pop into one of the numerous bars after returning your kayak for a post-paddle pint.
For newbie kayakers, you’ll head south of the city to Half Moon Bay. The protected harbor offers a surprisingly serene setting, making this an ideal spot for beginning kayakers. Get on over to HMB Kayak as early as possible to take advantage of the glassy waters during high tide. Wrap your day up with a craft brew from the iconic Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, popular with locals and visitors alike.
For all you Giants fans out there—you can’t miss this. A floating party from your very own kayak takes place at every single home game in McCovey Cove (named after Giants’ legendary first baseman Willie McCovey). You’ll snag a kayak from City Kayak and join your fellow baseball fans while you wait in hopes of catching a home run being slugged over the right field wall. Bring a fishing net and/or glove in case you’re lucky enough to catch one of these rare “Splash Hits” (as the locals call ’em).
Kayaking in Monterey Bay (two hours south of the city) is definitely the most authentic California experience one can have. You’ll get views of iconic Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s many novels of the area. Plus, sea lions, seals, and otters will all make their debut as you paddle by, giving you endless photo ops. Once you’re there, Monterey Bay Kayaks will set you up with all your kayaking needs.
Also north of San Francisco lies an incredible rugged coastline in the heart of Point Reyes. It’s one of the most popular spots for both kayaking and paddling, so you’re not likely to have the place to yourself. And that includes wildlife. Harbor seals and pelicans frequent these waters and are quite domesticated (just guard your snacks). For certain, you’ll want a waterproof camera case for this one. Point Reyes Outdoors will get you all geared up, so no need to BYOK.
Across the Bay Bridge and right next door to Oakland is the quaint island of Alameda. It used to be a predominantly military town occupied by the US Navy, and you can still tell. You’ll rent your kayak from Stacked Adventures and paddle past the USS Hornet and other Navy reserve vessels. Just past these historic landmarks is an area where thousands of pelicans migrate each year. This is a birder’s delight, or for anyone who wants to see native animals (including sea lions) up close. An added bonus is the gorgeous view of SF’s skyline only eight miles away.
Fitt Safety Tip: Bay Area conditions on the ocean and in the bay vary widely and can change suddenly, so before renting, be sure to check wind updates. Hey, it is San Francisco after all.