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The 17 Best Places to Kayak in California
Health & Fitness

The 17 Best Places to Kayak in California

Whether you’re holding a paddle for the first time or are on a hunt for the absolute best places to go kayaking, California has you covered.

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6 min read

May 15, 2021

From beaches and harbors to rivers and lakes, the best places to kayak in California come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re holding a paddle for the first time or are on a hunt for the ultimate place to go kayaking in the Golden State, chances are you’ll meet your match. 

Kayak through open valleys surrounded by towering mountains, or along the city skyline—it's all possible at the many kayaking places in California. 

Kayaking is always the answer, so who cares what the question is. Adventure is out there—all you have to do is kayak to it.

The Top Kayaking Places in California

Kayaking is a great way to get to know the geography, wildlife, and history of an area, so California is a real dream come true for paddling enthusiasts. Book a tour and get ready to break a sweat—here are the best places to kayak in California.

The Best Places to Kayak in Southern California

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1. Channel Islands

Channel Islands has the highest density of sea caves in the world, and that alone is enough to make it one of the best places to go kayaking. Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands are two of the most popular regions to explore via kayak. You’ll see harbor seals, garibaldi, sea stars, and a wide variety of seabirds. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of a dolphin or two.

2. Kern River

Besides being an incredibly scenic California river, the Kern River is a wild trail of whitewater that’s also perfect for river rafting. One of the best places to kayak in Southern California, the Kern River has whitewater ranging from wild Class V to a more mellow Class II. If you’d like to paddle on calm waters, head toward the nearby Lake Isabella.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Experience the best kayaking in Southern California at the wonderful La Jolla Shores.

3. La Jolla Shores

Located north of San Diego, La Jolla is the perfect getaway spot for water-related adventures. Get to know the forests, sea caves, and marine life at the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve. You’ll be accompanied by leopard sharks, garibaldi, and sea lions on your kayaking trip.

4. Huntington Harbour

Nestled between Huntington Beach and Seal Beach is a great kayaking place called Huntington Harbour. Ideal for beginner paddlers, the SoCal destination does not have much exciting wildlife to offer. But, Huntington Harbor is surrounded by quaint waterfront homes that you can admire while paddling.

A luxury getaway destination and an outdoor lover's paradise, Santa Barbara is the ultimate location for kayaking in the Golden State.

5. Santa Barbara

The beaches of Santa Barbara are rich in their recreational offerings, and kayaking is no exception. Albeit not the most challenging spot, Santa Barbara is one of the best places to kayak in California— the views and calm waters are not to be missed. Paddle along the harbor to observe sunbathing sea lions and other exciting sea creatures. 

6. Newport Harbor

Newport Harbor in Newport Beach is another gorgeous SoCal destination accommodating kayakers of all levels. You’ll likely share the waters with a few other water-sports enthusiasts since it’s also a top-notch windsurfing locale. Enjoy the California sun at Newport Harbor and immerse yourself in the SoCal lifestyle.

Do you and your S.O. love water-related activities? Plan an awesome date and go kayaking on Big Bear Lake. The views will make you both swoon!

7. Big Bear Lake

The beautiful mountain town of Big Bear is popular for skiing, fishing, hiking, biking, and of course, kayaking. The breathtaking scenery, azure waters, and awesome tours and amenities secure the lake’s reputation as one of the best lakes for kayaking. Plan a getaway to Big Bear and enjoy the relatively empty waters now before the tourists take over during summer.

8. Alamitos Bay

Famed for its waterways and canals, Long Beach offers tons of places to discover on a kayak. Head over to Alamitos Bay and take the scenic canals towards Naples. The Italian-inspired neighborhood is a treat to kayak through and see from a unique point of view.

The Best Places to Kayak in Northern California

And then there was Lake Tahoe. With breathtaking views galore, paddling on this alpine lake is the best way to discover Mother Nature at its finest.

9. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe doesn’t disappoint when it comes to outdoor activities, and it comes as no surprise that kayaking is one of the most popular choices. While many places along the lake are paddle-friendly, the best place to kayak in Lake Tahoe is Emerald Bay. There are plenty of boat-in campgrounds along the waters, providing awesome sandy beaches and great views of the lake.

10. Morro Bay

The waters of Morro Bay introduce you to an incredible array of marine life below and hundreds of bird species of above—endangered species included. There are plenty of kayaking tours offered here, and the ones at Morro Bay National Estuary are especially enticing. The various excursions to different destinations make Morro Bay one of the best places to kayak in Northern California.

In case you were wondering, Trinidad Bay is our happy place when it comes to kayaking. Find your flow and row, row, row.

11. Trinidad Bay

Trinidad Bay in Humboldt County is a kayaker’s paradise—the best North Coast vacation involves kayaking here. Paddle along the rugged redwood-lined coast during April and May and you might catch a glimpse of the migrating gray whales. If you don’t have experience with kayaking, it’s best to head out to the waters of Trinidad Bay with a group, especially when it's windy.

12. Russian River 

Not only is the Russian River a must on any spring rivers and lakes itinerary, but it’s also an incredible spot with some of the best kayaking in California. While paddling between parks, you’ll see interesting wildlife like turtles, otters, bald eagles, and other cool birds.

Paradise is anywhere with a kayak. For the ideal kayaking experience, head over to Tomales Bay and go with the flow.

13. Tomales Bay

A weekend in Point Reyes inevitably includes a kayaking expedition, partly thanks to the great Tomales Bay. With its very low light pollution, this NorCal spot boasts plenty of peaceful nighttime tours. See plankton light up the bay as you paddle over the calm waters enclosed by natural beauty. Did we mention that Tomales Bay is also one of the best places to go stargazing in California?

14. Sausalito

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to yet another one of the best places to kayak in California—Sausalito. Spend a weekend at this underrated small town near S.F. and you’ll make incredible memories kayaking here. If you’re an experienced paddler looking for a challenge, head out to Horseshoe Cove and try not to get too distracted by the views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Englebright Lake is an 815-acre reservoir on the Yuba River with nearly 24 miles of shoreline.

15. Englebright Reservoir 

As one of the best places to kayak in Northern California, Yuba City’s Englebright Reservoir is a haven for all paddling enthusiasts, from canoers to kayakers. Visit any time of day or year, and you’ll find kayakers floating away on the crystal clear waters of the reservoir.

16. Lake Almanor

The ultimate Northern California vacation includes a trip to the incredible Lake Almanor, especially if you’re going to kayak. Located in Lassen Volcanic Park, Almanor is one of the best lakes for inexperienced paddlers to kayak. Don’t let the size of this gorgeous lake intimidate you. You’ll float on the waters with views of Mount Lassen and have many amenities nearby including pet sitting and a grocery store.

17. Gold Lake

You’ll love this kayaking place if you paddle recreationally and prefer calm waters. This NorCal kayaking haven is home to over 20 small lakes connected with hiking trails. Somewhat of a hidden gem, Gold Lake features 360-degree views of alpine forests and majestic mountains. It’s literally the ideal location to escape the summer heat. 

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