Bay area kayaking with kids suggestions

-- Last Updated: May-20-15 11:00 AM EST --

We just recently acquired a couple of used sit on top malibu two tandem kayaks. I have three boys ages 7-12 and we are looking for fun places to kayak with the whole family that will be good for beginners. I have kayaked a few times in calm water in half moon Bay, tomales bay and in and around some marinas. I feel fairly confident but know that I don't know much about anything.

I'm hoping to find some interesting places to paddle around in the Bay Area that may also allow the kids to play in the water as well. They are very good swimmers. (By the way, I'm in the East Bay, near Concord.)

I'm hoping for both recommendations and advice about what we should be thinking about and know. There are reservoirs that would be easy and fun. But I'd also like to know about the slough and the delta. What should we be thinking about and know regarding tides and flow, putting in and getting out, swimming in the water, etc.

I really appreciate any and all suggestions.

Thanks very much and I look forward to hearing from everyone.


pet launch locations has a site where people lists launch locations, including many in NorCal, at

One thing to keep in mind, the main danger in our area is cold ocean water. Without a wet suit on, don’t expect to be able to swim more than a hundred yards if you flip in the ocean water and can’t get back on your boat. The reservoirs/Delta/edges of the bay are not nearly as cold, so safer in this aspect.

But you can’t always avoid cold water, so the alternate route ids to take some classes on how to get back on to your kayak and how adults would get kids back on to the kayak. Usually you don’t flip in flat water, but when something unusual happens (waves, etc.), so best to know how to do it in those conditions.

forgive me
for posting a link. I have not kayaked here but looked over the area in person and online for bird research.

Possibly an area for your trip at least at slack or

with attention to tides and winds

NOAA currents and tides> online

Here in the north bay
the water will run from mid 50’s to low 60’s, so wetsuits are recommended. Yeah, they grow fast, but I never regretted putting my son in one. He is in college now, but loves the water since he’s never had the life altering experience of diving into Monterey Bay without any protection.

My favorite spots for calm water paddling are as follows:

Monterey Bay (when calm) is simply awesome. A bit of a trip, but well worth doing. Lots of wildlife, including otters, harbor seals, dolphins, whales (at times), and steel backed homo sapiens blowing bubbles down below. Lots of avian wildlife as well as world class beauty. You can paddle the shorline inside the bay on a calm day and have a great time. Caveats are the weather can change quickly, the water is cold (low to mid 50’s most of the year, reaching low 60’s at times in winter) and deep (immersion protection/PFD’s/swimming ability/ability to rescue self and re-enter kayaks required), powerboats (generally not a problem, but I’ve seen jerks in “personal water craft” (PWCs) harrass kayakers. The coast guard is nearby and WILL intercede if this is observed. They are not, however, much of a presence away from Monterey Harbor.

Elkhorn Slough (Moss Landing) - estuary that opens onto Monterey Bay. Easy paddling as long as you go in and out in the direction of the tides. Can often be paddled even when the bay is in full storm (not that we’ll have a storm any time soon, although this May looks more like winter than Feburary did). Lots of wildlife and beauty here. Harbor seals and sea lions, at the very least, are always present, as are many species of water fowl.

Tomales Bay - protected, but often in fog and can be chilly. Shallow, filled with critters (though the water is rather murky). Can be choppy when the winds kick up in the afternoon, as they often do everywhere up here. Less wildlife to be seen above water than Elkhorn, but still a lovely paddle. Also an estuary, so tidal currents are an issue.

Sauaslito (over by Sea Trek) has good access and often the waters are protected and calm. There can be some fast tides, but the trip to Angel Island is very popular. There are clubs that make that trip frequently on weekends.

Lake Berryessa (when there is water and few powerboats - ie. weekdays fall to spring)- can be a nice relaxing paddle.

Any marinas (Benicia, Berkeley, Martinez, Vallejo) where there are nearby wetlands and sloughs to explore. My son and I have paddled (with the tide, of course) from the 9th street marina to Dillon Point to the islands/reefs off first street in Benicia. Some current issues if not timed well, but a lot of fun. Birds are abundant and sea lions occasionally come in (usually during the salmon runs).

The strait itself should probably be avoided (ships, relatively narrow channel, and rather fast currents) and the fast tidal waters of the Napa River are the caveats. The Napa River inland from Mare Island would be better, but it has very limited access, so there is that. The public marina across from Mare Island is rather busy, but you can launch for free in one of the least pleasant places on the river to paddle.

Just some ideas.


with State Park

kids and the Pacific
PFDs and wet suits. Watch the tide table. Teach them in shallow water.

Bay Area Sea Kayaker meeting
There is a Bay Area Sea Kayakers meeting this Wednesday, where one small segment will be a member going over the launch sites near Vallejo. 7pm in SF. for details.