Best Places To Kayak In California

The Grom Life is an independent publisher. You will not find paid product promotions or sponsored content on this site. You will find affiliate links which means we may earn a commission if you purchase through these links.

Kayaking in California is any watersport enthusiast’s dream come true. With kayaking being one of the best ways to experience the local wildlife, landscapes, and history of an area, it is a great way to view one of America’s most biodiverse states.

California has various microclimates that make it ideal for any outdoor activities. With ample options to choose from, such as kayaking around coastal islands, along the sea shoreline, the inland mountain lakes, and even whitewater rivers, it is perfect for kayakers of all skill levels.

While kayaking is generally an easy sport that almost any beginner can master quickly, there are still a few things that everyone should be aware of before planning a kayaking trip. These include the best-rated spots for paddling, what you should bring with you on your trip, and how much a day on the water is going to cost.

The Top 10 Kayaking Spots In California

With so many different places to go paddling in California, from the exciting sea adventures to the peaceful inland mountain lakes, choosing the perfect area for your trip becomes daunting. This is why we’ve narrowed down a list of the best places to go kayaking in California for you!

La Jolla

La Jolla beach is often called the Jewel of San Diego and with good reason. La Jolla is considered by many to be the state’s most popular place to paddle. This is because it offers a wide variety of trips you can take and the most exotic wildlife you can spot on your trip.

If you’re looking for adventure, beauty, and mystery, La Jolla is the perfect place for you. With many hidden caves just off the coast and the chance to paddle past dolphins, sea lions, harbor seals, and many other ocean creatures, it’s no wonder this beach has become every kayaker’s ideal place.

It’s impossible to ignore this area’s spectacular sights with sea cliffs that tower over 300 feet, mysterious sea caves, the rocky reefs by the shore, and long stretches of sandy yellow flats. There are outfitters nearby for kayak rental, and you can even book a sunset tour and watch the sky change colors from the water.

Channel Islands

The Channel Islands is located within the Channel Islands National Park, with five islands within the park. The area is rich with an abundance of natural sea life. Through the crystal-clear waters of the Channel, it is possible to spot many cetaceans, pinnipeds, starfish, urchins, spiny lobsters, and giant black seabass.

Spending the day paddling in this park will ensure you get to see numerous intriguing rock formations, various seabirds, and different beaches. The Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers many guided tours with various skill requirements and lengths of time out on the water.

The Channel Islands will ensure that kayakers of all skill levels will have an unforgettable experience.

Big Bear Lake

The stunningly beautiful Big Bear Lake is the center of the San Bernardino National Forest, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. This lake sits at an altitude of around 6,750 feet above sea level. Many have described the Big Bear as a picture-perfect alpine lake.

With a length of 7 miles long, half a mile wide, and its deepest point reaching only 72 feet, it’s not the biggest lake in California. It is, however, one of the most beautiful. With a scenic tree-spotted shoreline and multiple isolated rocky inlets that your kayak can explore, spending the day paddling on this lake is something worth bragging about.

Lake Almanor

Lake Almanor is considered one of the most beautiful places to go kayaking in northern California. Lake Almanor is also a great spot for beginners who are inexperienced kayakers. With exceptionally calm waters, you’ll float all your worries away on this man-made reservoir from the 1900s.

June Lake

For any kayaker who loves paddling through the mountains, June Lake is the perfect kayaking spot. Located in the eastern Sierra Nevada region, you will be able to float through the snowy peaks and evergreen forests. The beauty is enhanced by the fact that the mountains surrounding you will be reflected onto the crystal-clear waters of the lake.

June lake covers around 320 acres and is half a mile wide. At one mile in length, it is the largest lake in the area. If you would like to make your day more memorable, be sure to add fishing to the list of activities for the day and stand a chance to catch either a rainbow, brook, brown, or cutthroat trout, all from the safety of your kayak.

Russian River

The Russian River flows through Sonoma County. It starts in Cloverdale, where it then runs and connects with the ocean in Jenner. There are multiple regional parks along the river, which serve as access points to anyone wishing to kayak in the area.

Some of the parks include Guerneville River Park, Monte Rio, and Steelhead Beach. The best time to go paddling in this area is during the kayaking season, generally lasting from May to September.

The Russian River is a fantastic place to kayak. It is one of the most incredible places for paddlers in California. While kayaking through the different parks, it is not uncommon to see some amazing wildlife such as bald eagles, turtles, otters, and other spectacular bird species.

Pismo Beach

Pismo beach is an excellent place to go kayaking. However, this beach is not for the faint of heart. Between the rough surf zone and the high afternoon winds, you can expect an excursion to be a bit more physically challenging than other areas. It is generally recommended to book a spot earlier in the day because of how intense the afternoon winds can get.

Despite all its hardships, kayaking at Pismo Beach is well worth your time and effort. It is home to numerous caves, kelp forests, rock gardens, and arches that will take your breath away. The tide pools will give you a chance to spot anemones, crabs, seals, and even dolphins.

Los Angeles River

There are two stretches of the Los Angeles River that have been designated for both kayaking and canoeing. The Elysian Valley River has a 2.5 mile stretch for paddling, and the Sepulveda Basin River, which is only 2 miles.

The Los Angeles River is a big tourist attraction thanks to the movie ‘Grease’ where the final car race goes down in a huge concrete ditch. In the 1930s, many of the river’s waterway was enclosed in cement due to the high amounts of flooding in the area.

Venice Canals

Relax and unwind while you discover one of the most picturesque experiences while paddling down the Venice Canals in California. Tucked away in-between the Venice Boardwalk and the posh Abbot Kinney, paddling down these canals will certainly offer a completely alternative experience to kayaking through the alpine mountains.

Salton Sea

Spend your entire day paddling on one of the world’s largest inland seas, the Salton Sea. The new kayaking trail extends a whopping fourteen miles along the shoreline. The Salton Sea is located about fifty miles away from Palm Springs and is 235 feet below sea level.

For a really unique change of scenery, paddle along the shoreline to view the truly magnificent volcanic geographical features caused by a magma chamber under the sea. This sea is also one of the best places for beginners to kayak, as the sea’s salinity is so high your kayak will be more buoyant than other bodies of water, allowing you to go faster with much less effort.

How Much Does It Cost To Go Kayaking In California?

Kayak rentals average at around $30 for two hours of paddling time on the water. Almost all reputable kayak rental places will also issue you your own PFD (Personal Floatation Device), and many give short briefing courses on safety tips while kayaking for beginners.

However, if you are really into the sport, it may be well worth your time and effort to invest in your own kayak.

Kayak TypePrice (Average)
Touring Kayak$1800 – $2000
Whitewater Kayak$950 – $1100
Fishing Kayak$250 – $350
Beginner Kayak$200 – $300
Inflatable Kayak$65 – $75

What Time Of Year Should I Go Kayaking In California?

In general, you’ll want to hit the water during California’s annual kayaking season. Their main kayaking season with the best weather to go paddling runs from May through September.

Any professional kayaker will agree that the best time for anyone to go paddling is during the early summer months or late spring. This is because, around this time of the year, it is not so cold outside that you have to dress warmly in layers, but it also isn’t so hot and humid that the weather would prohibit you from having tons of fun.

The only potential hazard you may encounter on the water during the summer and spring months when kayaking is the chance of rain. However, as California has a Mediterranean climate, this isn’t all that likely. So, you can plan your kayaking trip without the worries of a thunderstorm ruining your sunny days.

The most dangerous time for kayaking is during the winter months when the temperatures drop so low that the water freezes over. However, California has a relatively stable climate, and your only chance to see snow is high up in the mountains. So stay low down by the coastal cities, and you should be good to go.

7 Essential Items To Take Kayaking

There are a few essential items you need to remember to bring with you while kayaking to ensure you have an amazing day out on the water; while limiting the stress of the chance that your personal items could be water damaged.


Water is perhaps one of the most important things to remember when doing any physical activity outside in the sun all day. For any strenuous outdoor activity, you will need to regularly drink water to keep your body hydrated.

Dry Boxes / Bags

A dry box is an excellent item to bring with you on your kayak. With its watertight rubber seal, you can store your cellphone, camera, and even small snacks without the worry of them getting wet.

Dry bags are a better option for larger items on your personal. Such as a change of clothes, a towel, and maybe even your packed lunch. The dry bags are made from waterproof material and roll closed to form a watertight seal. They are also easily manipulated into any shape to fit comfortably in your kayak.


Sunscreen, just like water, is essential for any outdoor activity in direct sunlight. If you are planning to spend many hours on the water under the direct sun, a surefire way to ruin your day out is to end it off with a nasty sunburn. Sunscreen helps prevent immediate burns and protects you in the long term from developing skin cancer.

Sunglasses / Hat

A common irritation for many kayakers is when they cannot see where they are going because of the sunlight shining in their eyes or from squinting too much due to the sun’s reflection on the water shining into their eyes.

A good way to prevent this from happening is to bring a pair of sunglasses and a hat. Wearing a hat while you kayak will not only protect your eyes from the sun but the skin on your face as well. If you’re worried about falling into the water and losing your sunglasses, you can purchase a strap that attaches to your sunglasses and hangs around your neck like a necklace.


One of the most highly recommended fabrics for watersports is polyester. This is because it is quick to dry and won’t leave you soaking and uncomfortable in your clothes for an extended period (like cotton will).


Anyone who is into watersports will tell you that closed shoes are the safest option. You should always wear closed shoes while you are kayaking for safety reasons. An ideal pair of shoes would be wet shoes, as they have the best grip when walking on slippery surfaces due to their rubber soles.


You should always carry a whistle with you when you are kayaking. Whistles can be extremely useful in emergencies when you need to call for help. A whistle is more useful on the water as the water can stifle certain sounds. So if you have fallen in, have an injury, or are in any other emergency, a whistle is more likely to be heard by someone close to you than using your voice to call for help would.


California is hands down one of the finest places in America for kayaking. With their wide variety of options to choose from, such as kayaking high up in the mountains, low down along the shoreline, their coastal islands, their inland lakes, and even whitewater rivers – there is something that everyone can appreciate.

It is also one of the most incredible areas to see many ocean and river animals up close for wildlife lovers. From dolphins to seals and sea lions to starfish and spiny lobsters in the coral reefs, the biodiversity found in the Californian kayaking excursions is unmatched.