14 Stunning Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in San Francisco
By Natalie Ringel
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Updated November 17, 2022
It’s no secret that San Francisco is one of the most desirable places to live in the U.S. With ocean views and trendy shops, San Francisco is quickly becoming one of the top places to live in California. While many activities in the Bay Area can be expensive, kayaking in San Francisco is one activity that you can try for little to no cost, and it is a great way to explore the city!
Whether you are looking to kayak under the Golden Gate Bridge or paddle beside sea lions in the ocean, kayaking in San Francisco is an awesome water sport for beginners and experts alike. Below is a complete guide to the most beautiful places to canoe and kayak in San Francisco- between urban settings and scenic coves, San Francisco has something for everybody!
Best Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in San Francisco
From views of the Golden Gate Bridge to the rocky coasts of the Pacific Ocean, kayaking in Sausalito has dozens of places to explore! Kayaking under the Golden Gate Bridge offers a unique look at one of San Francisco’s well-known landmarks, and the channel’s calm waters make it a great spot for beginners.
Other spots in Sausalito, like the Sausalito Houseboats Area and Angel Island, are better suited for more advanced kayakers. As you paddlele further from the Sausalito shoreline, the water becomes much more rough and challenging to paddle.
Sausalito’s shoreline brings California’s natural beauty to an urban setting like San Francisco. Because it is so close to downtown, heading out to go kayaking can be the best last-minute decision you ever make!
Horseshoe Cove in Fort Baker is a hidden gem of Sausalito that doubles as a great launch spot for kayakers bringing their own boats. Otherwise, you can rent gear from Sea Trek for $30/hour.
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 and take exit 444 for Rodeo Ave. to Bridgeway. If not driving, there are multiple trains a day leaving from Mission St. & 5th that will take you to Bridgeway (Golden Gate Bridge Transit).
Kayaking in San Francisco is known for its natural beauty and diverse wildlife. Monterey Bay is the epitome of this description; visitors can paddle beside adorable sea lions, otters, loons, and even leopard sharks!
Recognized for its diverse wildlife, Monterey Bay is a sanctuary for tons of animals. Kayaking Monterey Bay and its neighbor wetland Elkhorn Slough (more info below) are the best places to view these animals safely.
Monetary Bay’s sheltered and calm waters make it an ideal spot for beginners. Because of all the amazing activities visitors can do at Monterey Bay (inlcuding scuba diving, sailing, surfing, and more) it is a very popular destination for water activities. That being said, if you want to kayak the Bay it is recommended to get an early start!
Launching your own boat from any of Monetery Bay’s beaches is free and easy. However, if you need to rent gear, Monterey Bay Kayaks ($45/use) has kayaks for rent and offers tours of the area so you won’t miss one thing.
How to Get There: If driving, take US-101 S towards San Jose and take exit 336 onto CA-156 W toward Monterey Peninsula to Del Monte Blvd. If not driving, there is a bus to Monterey Bay that leaves from San Francisco Salesforce Plaza.
Only an hour from downtown San Francisco, Tomales Bay is a wonderful place for kayaking and camping year-round. With over 1,000 species of wildlife that call the Bay home, you are sure to see some awesome creatures while paddling around!
Grassy hills surround this natural bay, sheltering it from the elements and making it an excellent spot for beginner paddlers. Besides these scenic views, Tomales Bay provides 40% of the oyster population collected in California- if there is ever a place to eat oysters, it is here!
Tomales Bay is a part of the larger Point Reyes National Seashore (more info below) and also has an elk reserve on shore! As a quieter spot of Point Reyes, Tomales Bay is ideal for a relaxing afternoon paddle, novices, and families.
Visitors love kayaking Tomales Bay because of its accessibility. Kayakers bringing their own boats can launch from four spots: Marin County Parks Miller Boat Launch, Tomales Bay State Park, Tomales Bay Resort, and Lawson’s Landing. Otherwise, you can rent your gear from Blue Waters Kayaking
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 and take exit 456 toward Lucas Valley Rd. to CA-1 N. Driving is the best way to get to Tomales Bay. If you need to rent a car, Avis has got you covered.
Fishing and canoe/kayaking is an epic duo, but how about crabbing and kayaking? Alameda is known to be the premier spot for catching crabs while kayaking- an outdoor activity I didn’t even know was possible!
Besides Alameda’s renowned crabbing, visitors can also explore tiny islands with rich wildlife and history out in the ocean, or enjoy an easier paddle along waterfront restaurants. Families looking to kayak together should try out the Oakland Estuary; its calm waters are perfect for easy navigation and exploration. Whatever water adventure you are looking for, kayaking in San Francisco’s Alameda County has it all!
Stacked Adventures’ Tours has kayak rentals and also offers epic tours covering the different areas of Alameda (including a crabbing/kayaking tour)! If looking to forge your own path, launching your own boat off of the shores of Alameda is no problem.
How to Get There: If driving, start on I-880 S and take exit 42 toward Alameda then CA-61 S to Webster St. If not driving, the San Francisco Bay Ferry will take you to Alameda.
No matter the time of year, McCovey Cove in San Francisco Bay is flooded with kayakers trying to catch a Giants game or listening to concerts performing at AT&T Park.
Kayaking into this inlet may not provide San Francisco’s most scenic views, but is definitely an experience anyone traveling through the Bay Area should try. All you need is your radio to hear concerts and games, and some may even return home with “splash hits”- home run balls that reach McCovey Cove!
This area is easy to paddle for all, and is such a unique way for sports fans to experience San Francisco’s games. Kayaking around San Francisco’s McCovey Cove (officially named China Basin) is a high-energy adventure that will not disappoint!
City Kayak has walk-up kayak rentals if you want to explore McCovey Cove and the San Francisco Bay as a whole, or they offer an exclusive McCovey Cove package that leaves right before game time to get prime-time water seats.
How to Get There: If driving, take 10th St. to Townsend St. to Channel St. If not driving, there is a SFMTA bus that departs from Montgomery St. many times per day that will drop you near McCovey Cove.
Praised as one of the top ten wildlife viewing destinations in the U.S., the Elkhorn Slough‘s six miles of navigable waterways allows for an up close look at San Francisco’s diverse ecosystems.
Besides the San Francisco Bay, Elkhorn Slough is the largest tidal saltwater marsh in California, making it a premier spot for kayakers looking to spot sea otters, migratory birds, and more. This marsh is easy water for paddling and navigating, making it an ideal spot for novices, kids, and families.
Early Spring and Summer is the best time to paddle the Elkhorn Slough for people who want to spot baby sea otters! For those who enjoy birdwatching, Fall is a better time to kayak here.
Monterey Bay Kayaks offers rentals for the Elkhorn Slough area, and also has guided tours to help you properly navigate the channels and see the wildlife ($30/use).
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 S toward San Jose, then take CA-1 S toward Watsonville. If not driving, there is an Amtrak train that leaves from Caltrain Station that will take you to Elkhorn Slough.
This vibrant and active coastal city is just 15 minutes north of San Francisco, but seems like a world away. Kayaking around Tiburon offers spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz and Angel Island.
Adventuring to Tiburon is best suited for intermediate kayakers and those looking for adventure. The left side of the coast boasts tons of wildlife and more rugged terrain, like the Raccoon Straits, and eventually leads to Angel Island, a California State Park. Full circumnavigation of Tiburon (5+ miles) offers beautiful panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline, and is great goal for more seasoned paddlers.
The town of Tiburon itself is full of Civil War-era history and quaint shops and restaurants. Most visitors can fill a full day or two exploring Tiburon’s shores, and note that Tiburon’s Peninsula is especially scenic.
Sea Trek Kayak and Stand Up Paddling Center rents kayaks and offers guided tours of the area for $30/hour. Otherwise, Tiburon has miles of coastline where you are free to launch your own boat. Kayaking in San Francisco, especially in Tiburon, is where urban settings meet the natural wild.
Sea kayaking in San Francisco is an epic activity to try, especially at Half Moon Bay. This expansive coastline meets the sandy shores of many beaches along the coast, and is close to tons of iconic San Francisco sites.
Half Moon Bay and Half Moon Bay Beach are apart of a larger string of connected beaches that make up the coast of Northern California. The ocean can have some rough waves, so having some paddling experience before coming to Half Moon Bay is recommenced. Pro Tip- if you have a wet suit, now would be the time to use it! Ocean waves can be cold!
Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. offers tons of unique sea kayaking trips including expeditions to nearby Pillar Point Harbor and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. These spots, and others, offer a unique look at San Francisco’s diverse marine life. Their guided tours are great for beginners or groups, but they also have individual kayaks for rent too.
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 S and take exit 34 for CA-35W to Half Moon Bay. If not driving, there is a train that leaves from Caltrain Station that will drop you near Half Moon Bay.
With a mission to protect the marine wildlife that makePoint Reyes National Seashore their home, this National Park is especially dedicated to serving nature. That being said, kayaking is only allowed from July 1 through February 28 in order to give necessary space to seal pups in the area.
This limited time is even more reason to make it out to see the amazing views of Point Reyes! Most popular paddling spots include Tomales Bay (where you can most likely spot seals!), Drakes Estero and Limantour Estero. As the largest unspoiled coastal embayment in California, this seashore is perfect for paddlers looking to explore the natural beauty hidden in CA.
The areas previously mentioned are highly recommended for all levels of paddlers. Ocean kayaking is also possible, but it is better to stay closer to the coast which is sheltered from harsh tides and winds. There are six different launch sites at the park, so there is no problem bringing your own boats into the water.
Whether your looking for a nice Sunday paddle or an overnight adventure, Point Reyes offers it all! Imagine going to work on Monday and saying a seal swam next to your kayak- what an amazing experience to wow all of your co-workers! Rentals available at Blue Waters Kayaking.
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 and take exit 450B toward San Anselmo, then CA-1 to Bear Valley Rd. If not driving, there is a bus from Mission St. & 5th that will drop you .3 miles from the shore (Golden Gate Bridge Transit). Or, you can rent a car from Avis.
Opened for recreational use in the 60s, Lake Chabot is now one of the most treasured pieces of historical land in San Francisco. Stocked with catfish, bass, and other types of fish, Lake Chabot is a premier fishing spot.
This 315-acre lake, originally a water source for East Bay, is a great place for paddlers of all abilities, especially those interested in history. Visitors can enjoy scenic walks on the 280-acre Fairmont Ridge and take Lake Chabot history tours, or spend time exercising in an interactive garden.
But, of course, the main gem of this park is the lake itself. Coming to Lake Chabot is sure to be a relaxing getaway from the city; sparkling blue waters and tree-lined coasts make a beautiful backdrop for your water adventures.
Rentals are available at the Lake Chabot Marina for $28/hour. Launching your own craft is allowed, but there is a $2 fee and a $5/vehicle fee.
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 S and take exit 32 toward Fairmont Dr. to Lake Chabot Rd. If not driving, there is a bus that leaves from Montgomery St. that will drop you a mile from the lake (Bay Area Rapid Transit).
Originally over 600 acres of junkyards and wastelands, building Shoreline Lake Regional Park transformed this space by taking advantage of the area’s potential beauty. Now, it is one of the most visited parks for kayaking in San Francisco.
Shoreline Lake is a 50 mile-long saltwater lake and circulates water to and from the San Francisco Bay. Shoreline Lake’s vast waters are perfect for beginners and experts looking to explore San Francisco. Mornings are best for beginners as later in the day the wind picks up, making it an ideal place to learn how to sail too. Bonus- because of its location, the water here is considerable warmer than the Bay!
If journeying to Shoreline Lake, make sure to check out the Shoreline Amphitheater, Sillicon Valley’s premier concert venue. Paddling during the day and going to a concert at night seems like a pretty awesome trip to me!
Renting canoes, kayaks and more is available at the Shoreline Lake Marina. If traveling with a large group, consider going on a non-profit paddle day, where your flat fee goes towards charity.
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 S and take exit 399 toward Shoreline Blvd. If not driving, there is a train that departs from Caltrain Station and then you can transfer to the Shoreline Amphitheater Shuttle to take you the rest of the way.
Note: The Shoreline Amphiteather Shuttle has shut down for the 2021 season, so be sure to check their website for updates on when/if they’ll resume their services.
Just 90 minutes north of San Francisco, the quaint town of Guerneville sits in the Russian River Valley as one of the top summer getaway spots. Close to many of Sonoma’s renowned wineries and small town shops, taking a trip to Johnson’s Beach is well worth the journey.
Redwood forests make Johnson’s Beach feel like a secluded vacation spot with activities for the whole family. There are marked off swimming spots on the beach for younger kids, and intermediate kayakers can enjoy the pull of the Russian River’s current downstream.
Johnson’s Beach has an all-inclusive resort type of vibe- if looking for a truly remote place to paddle Johnson’s Beach is probably not you spot. However, because of the family-friendly accommodations, Johnson’s Beach is a prime spot on the Russian River for families and groups to enjoy.
Canoes, kayaks and other water toys can be rented at the boathouse on the beach. There is no admission fee to the beach so you can launch your own boats, but parking costs $7.
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 and take exit 494 toward Guerneville, then to First St. If not driving, there is a bus from Mission St. & 5th that will take you to Johnson’s Beach (Golden Gate Bridge Transit).
Located in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, Spring Lake Regional Park is an amazing place to kayak in San Francisco for intermediate paddlers. Because the lake is shared with motorized boats, it is best to stick near the shoreline.
Boasting 72 acres of beautiful oak woodlands with campgrounds, hiking trials, and lakes, Spring Lake Regional Park is full of opportunities to get in touch with nature. Visitors and locals alike love spending the day on Spring Lake because of the stunning vineyard views (which are close enough to be toured in the same day).
Renting kayaks is available near the swimming lagoon at the Violetti Road entrance for $12/hour. If planning to launch your own boat, use the boat ramp at the Newanga Avenue entrance.
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 and take exit 488B toward Sonoma, then Newanga Ave. If not driving, transit from Mission St. & 5th and Montgomery St. both will drop you at Summerfield Rd., 1 mile from the park. Or, you can rent a car from Avis.
With over 50 miles of coastline and surrounded by beautiful vineyards, kayaking in San Francisco doesn’t get much better than paddling aroundLake Sonoma.
Lake Sonoma’s rich history as one of the first areas restored under the federal preservation act in the 60s makes it the perfect area for water recreation. This man-made lake is surrounded by grassy hillsides, providing a beautiful backdrop for novice paddlers or those looking for a relaxing day trip (campgrounds on site).
Many paddlers enjoy making the trip to Lake Sonoma a full weekend trip. The Thumb campsite is a three mile paddle from the boat launch, a doable distance for paddlers of any ability. From there, the other 11 miles of the lake have many coves to discover and explore.
Canoe, kayak, paddleboat, and jetski rentals can all be purchased at the Lake Sonoma Recreational Area Marinaright on the lake ($30/hour). Launching your own boat is also an option.
How to Get There: If driving, start on US-101 and take the Dry Creek Rd. exit toward Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Rd. The best way to get to Lake Sonoma is by car. If you need to rent a car, check out Avis.
Additional Resources for Canoeing and Kayaking in San Francisco
What to Pack for Kayaking in San Francisco
Swimsuit: Wearing a swimsuit is essential for being out on the water! When canoeing and kayaking, chances are you are going to get wet, so best to be prepared! Click here to compare men’s and women’s styles and prices for our favorite swimsuits.
Sunglasses: Being out on the water is beautiful, but the water can really reflect light! Make sure to bring a pair ofsunglassesand croakies to keep them from falling off.
Hat: It’s best to keep the sun off of your head to keep you cool. Whether you prefer a nice bucket hat or a vintage baseball cap, keeping cool will ensure an awesome trip.
Water Bottle: Keeping hydrated is no joke! Paddling is a great way to exercise and relax, but that means it takes a lot of energy too! Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your trip withthese cool water bottles.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray: Don’t let the elements stop you from having an amazing paddle! I recommend bringingsunscreen and bug spray in the boat with you to ward off any pests and sunburns.
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