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The 16 Best Places For Water Sports in California
Health & Fitness

The 16 Best Places For Water Sports in California

Looking for water activities in the Golden State? Check out our list of the best places for water sports in California.

Roubina Al Abashian

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6 min read

November 04, 2022

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

Thanks to its incomparable beaches, lakes, and rivers, California is a natural nesting place for all water lovers. If you need to be in close proximity to the sea, then it’s a no-brainer that California, with its perfect weather and beaches, is where you’ve got to go. People flock to these beaches, lakes, and rivers for their beauty, but also to enjoy an array of California watersports. As you go hunting down these bodies of water, remember that you’ll probably be doing much more than what you’ve initially planned, above and below their surfaces. 

Rather than just sunbathe, soak in the views, and enjoy California sunsets, it’s time to enjoy the best watersports the state has to offer. From swimming and surfing, to kayaking and wakeboarding, here’s a list of all the water fun you can have and where to have them. 

California promises its visitors some of the best waves out there. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’ll find a spot suitable for your needs.

Best Places for Surfing in California

1. Steamer Lane

The history of surfing in Santa Cruz is as important to professional surfers as is the unmatched waves at Steamer Lane. The 10-foot offshore peaks that come crashing at its shores make this unique beach a dream destination for surfers worldwide. If you’re a beginner though, you might want to look into some of the other beaches in Santa Cruz, as the waves here can be a bit overwhelming.   

2. The Wedge

At The Wedge in Newport Beach, even pro surfers can expect a great challenge. Here, the waves are a reflection of the oncoming south swells on the Newport Harbor groin. If you don’t know what you’re doing, the waves will easily eat you up and spit you out, but if you do, you’re in for the treat of a lifetime - making The Wedge one of the hottest surfing spots in SoCal!

With picturesque views at every corner, kayaking in California is more than just a water sport. It’s a sightseeing experience to say the least.

Where to Kayak in California

3. Russian River

Sonoma County’s Russian River has long been considered one of the best places to kayak in California. Running through many regional parks between Cloverdale and the Pacific Ocean in Jenner, California, the 110-mile river has at least a dozen spots to launch a kayak. Make sure you enjoy the nature and wildlife around you as you make it from one park to the other.

4. Channel Islands

If there’s one thing the Channel Islands is famous for, it would be the fact that it has the highest density of sea caves in the world. And if there’s one awesome way to explore these caves, it’s kayaking. As you go from one sea cave to the next, you’ll meet the sea stars, harbor seals, and seabirds which call the area home. 

Whether you’re on the Pacific or inland, you’re bound to find a swimming hole (such as Potem Falls) that will surely make the list for future swimming

Best Places to Swim in the Golden State

5. Potem Falls

Shasta-Trinity National Forest is home to one of the most epic waterfalls in California, and one of NorCal’s most stunning swimming holes, Potem Falls. If you enjoy swimming, rope swings, gorgeous views, and exclusivity, this is the destination for you. Walk down the short Potem Falls Trail (which will take you around 20 minutes) and enjoy the most affordable water sport out there.

6. Zuma Beach 

When in Malibu, you spend the day at Zuma Beach. The two-mile stretch of sand is considered one of the best beaches in L.A., and its glimmering waters cater to all types of people. Whether you just want to sit back, relax, and maybe build sandcastles, or you want to enjoy all sorts of water sports in Los Angeles, you’ve found the beach that will suit all your needs. Put on your swimsuit right now and head for a chill swim in Malibu.

The Best Spots for Scuba Diving in the Golden State

With scuba diving spots across the state, you’ll be able to transport yourself into the colorful underwater world of the Pacific.

7. Two Harbors

Voted as the “World’s Healthiest Marine Environment” by Scuba Diving Magazine, Two Harbors in Catalina Island is the perfect destination for exploring life under the sea. Dive in the clear waters of Catalina Island and meet the harbor seals, giant sea bass, and breathtaking kelp forests hiding under the level of the sea. If you’re into underwater photography, we can’t think of a better place where you can enlarge your portfolio and add to its charm.

8. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

California scuba divers know that Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is the destination to head to for an unmatched scuba diving experience. Both Whaler’s Cove and Bluefish Cove are suitable for diving, and both offer awesome sea life and vivid colors for your enjoyment. Grab your favorite scuba diver now, put on your gear, and enjoy a deep dive in the waters of Monterey.

Parasailing is known as the most effortless California watersport out there. Are you ready to give it a go?

Best Parasailing Spots in California

9. Lake Tahoe

Considered one of the top things to do in Lake Tahoe, parasailing on the glimmering waters of the breathtaking lake is a can’t-miss California watersport to experience. Enjoy the calamity of the lake’s waters and the enormity of its surrounding, rugged, mountainous terrain all while being strapped into a harness behind a boat. We promise you’ll be returning for more sooner than you’ll ever expect.  

10. Marina Del Rey

When you think of water activities in Santa Monica, parasailing at Marina Del Rey should be the first thing that comes to mind. The small seaside paradise is the perfect place to enjoy one of the most relaxing water sports in the world. As you fly high above the Pacific, you’ll have unparalleled views of Santa Monica Pier and the Venice Beach Boardwalk — so, enjoy the flight. 

Wakeboarding takes quite a bit of trial and error to perfect, and California gives you an endless amount of places to develop your skills.

Best Places for Wakeboarding in California

11. Carlsbad Lagoon

Carlsbad lagoon is a famous destination for anyone looking for water fun. Both human-powered and motorized sports are welcome in the lagoon, and visitors just can’t get enough. Among the many sports to choose from is wakeboarding, what some call a combination of suring, skiing, and snowboarding. If you’re a first-timer, Carlsbad Lagoon is the right place to learn the skills, and if you’re advanced in the sport, Carlsbad Lagoon is again the right place to show off your skills. 

12. Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake is where locals and visitors head to enjoy some of the best California watersports. Between paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, and windsurfing, among many others, the lake is a playground for those of us crazy about water sports. Most importantly, the lake’s glassy waters make for the perfect surface for wakeboarding. So find yourself a skilled captain and show off your talent on the board.  

Jet skiing is one of the quickest and fun ways to explore a new city and enjoy water sports at the same time.

Where to Go Jet Skiing in California

13. San Diego Bay

Ask anyone who's tried it before, jet skiing in the San Diego Bay is the best way to explore the area and see unparalleled views of San Diego. Your jet ski tour will take you towards attractions you’ve long had on your bucket list. Rent your jet ski, follow all the safety measures, and go hunting for all the San Diego gems — you can see the Point Loma Lighthouse, Hotel Del Coronado, and the Kissing Sailor Statue all in one trip. 

14. Shaver Lake

55 miles east of Fresno, in the Sierra National Forest, you can find Shaver Lake, also known as a watersport lover's haven. Of all the Shaver Lake watersports, jet skiing stands out as one of the easiest and fastest ways to see the area. Rent your boat of choice from one of the many shops around and go on the journey of a lifetime. 

Enjoy your favorite California watersports under the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge for an unforgettable experience.

The Top Places for Windsurfing in the Golden State

15. Crissy Field

Water sports in San Francisco are a given, considering the city’s abundance of beaches. The city also has something special to offer all experienced windsurfers, and it is Crissy Field. With its picturesque views and the temptation to go under the Golden Gate Bridge, this is a destination no windsurfer can pass up on. Throw on your wetsuit and enjoy this breathtaking San Francisco water sport, always being wary of the strong winds and currents — but you don’t need us to tell you that, do you?

16. Davenport Beach

Known for its incredibly strong winds, Davenport Beach is considered one of the top spots for windsurfing in Santa Cruz County and beyond. The beach’s awesome swells make it a great place for top-notch windsurfers to gather and have fun. Bring your talent along to one of the best destinations for windsurfing in California, and see where the wind takes you.

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