I recently received an email from a researcher, who studies climate impacts on birds in Sweden, asking for trip recommendations for an upcoming 10-day visit to California. As a biologist and kayaker, he said he was looking for “places where I could go for a paddle and see interesting wildlife.” He’s starting in Sacramento, and this is what I suggested (edited for this blog post).
Welcome. Since I prefer the coast and inland gets hot this time of year, I’d leave Sacramento as soon as possible and head west (however, I’m sure there’s great kayaking in the area on the rivers that flow into San Francisco Bay — I’ve just never tried it).
Driving down the coast, my first stop would be the Tomales Bay/Point Reyes National Seashore area. There’s great hiking all around the Point Reyes peninsula and it’s beautiful. You could kayak Tomales Bay or Drakes Estero. I’ve rented and taken tours through Blue Water Kayaking (two locations on the bay). The bioluminescent night tour was amazing and the guides were all great. You could stay in Inverness (a lovely small town with very friendly people), or for easy access to kayaks, at the Tomales Bay Resort (where Blue Water rents kayaks).
Next on the trip would be San Francisco Bay. On the bay’s north end, Sea Trek offers a fun kayak trip viewing Sausalito houseboats and great wildlife. Sausalito is quaint and cozy (and expensive, but so is all of the California coast).
In San Francisco, if you’re a baseball fan and the Giants are playing, San Francisco Kayak & Adventure offers trips to McCovey Cove to watch the game and catch home runs (it’s a scene that I’ve not experienced personally).
Continue your trip south along Highway 1 — it’s gorgeous (if not foggy) this time of year. On the north end of Monterey Bay is Santa Cruz, and Kayak Connection offers a variety of short or long interesting trips (including humpback whale watching).
At the midway point of Monterey Bay is Elkhorn Slough and some of the best kayaking in our area. You can get close to sea otters, seals & sea lions, and a multitude of bird species. Kayak Connection and Monterey Bay Kayaks are good outfits for tours and rentals.
On the south end of the bay is Monterey. My favorite outfit here is Monterey Bay Kayaks. You can rent a kayak, paddleboard or take tours. The harbor is interesting and kelp beds off Cannery Row are relaxing and lively (sea otters, rafts of sea lions, seals and birds).
South of Monterey in Pebble Beach (just off the golf course) is Stillwater Cove. Monterey Bay Kayaks and Adventures by the Sea offer Stillwater Cove paddles. Awesome scenery. Most of the Monterey Bay outfitters also offer paddles around Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, but I recommend that for calm days only (I got very seasick on a trip last year). Any day, though, the bird watching is good and the docents are knowledgeable and very helpful.
Along this stretch of the coast and south, the scenery is spectacular and kayaking is very treacherous. In lieu of kayaking, I suggest stopping in Big Sur for the food and views. My favorite spots along the way are Highlands Inn’s California Market, Rocky Point, Post Ranch’s Sierra Mar (amazing resort with restaurant and very pricey) and Nepenthe.
If you keep going and pass Point Conception, you’ll enter Southern California territory. (I’ve skipped over Morro Bay, which I hear has great birding kayak trips, but I haven’t yet enjoyed any.) The next best kayaking is out of the Santa Barbara/Ventura area, in particular trips to the Channel Islands National Park. The boat ride out to the islands and any kayaking there is worthwhile. I kayaked the caves of Santa Cruz Island and went with Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara (now called Channel Island Outfitters).
Finally, if you still have time and energy, a trip to Catalina Island off Los Angeles is a treat. You take a ferry to the island, and then can rent a kayak on Avalon Bay. While there, I think I used (it’s been a while) Descanso Beach Ocean Sports. My guide was great.
This list will easily eat up your 10 days and probably all of your pocket change.
Hope this helps. Have fun.
(Note: This is not an all-inclusive list, but one based on my California kayaking experiences with outfitters from the Point Reyes Peninsula to Catalina Island.
If you have other suggestions, let us know.)