Best Shop In the Bay Area?

I’m fairly new to kayaking (but love it so far), and live in the SF Bay Area. Figure that it’s a good idea to build a relationship with a great local shop for equipment, classes, tours, and general advice.

I’ve done a little research, and it seems like we’re a bit spoiled here in the Bay Area, with a bunch of allegedly strong shops to choose from:

Aquan Sports - San Carlos

California Canoe & Kayak - Oakland

Kayak Connection - Santa Cruz & Moss Landing

Monterey Kayak - Monterey & Moss Landing

Blue Waters - Inverness & Marshall (Tomales Bay)

Eskape - Santa Cruz (classes, tours & rentals only, I think)

Sea Trek - Sausalito (also classes/tours/rentals only, I think)

Outback Adventures - Fremont & Corte Madera

Sunrise Mountain Sports - Livermore

Golden Gate Kayaking - (classes only, I believe)

And of course, we also have about ten local REIs that sell kayaks … but I’ve been a bit underwhelmed with their in-store kayak selection and staff knowledge of the sport. Is it just me? =[

In any case – any Bay Area folks around here? What do you think of the shops listed above?

Not just for retail, but also for classes and tours too. And are there any utterly fantastic, full-service shops that I didn’t list?

Any and all information, direct experience, and blatant opinion welcomed. :slight_smile:

wo is closest

– Last Updated: Jul-20-11 11:46 AM EST –

Many of the shops listed are good. I would try the one who is convenient for you first. For the level you sound like you are at, any on the list should be fine.

Eskape is lessons only. Roger Schumann is the owner, and also one of the few instructor-trainers around (the folk who teach the other instructors). CCK also has a couple of instructor-trainers who they contract with for classes. I don't think any of the others do that level.

Sea Trek is rental and lessons only. (Edit - they do trips/tours also- should have mentioned that).

Golden Gate Kayaking is lessons only. Seems to be doing more whitewater recently than sea kayaking, but I could be wrong.

Add Headwaters
out in Lodi to your list. MBK is a great shop. They have free use of their changing and hosing facilities and hot chocolate. You have to pay for parking at both sites because of the city ordinances.

Yeah, I’m a local and use some of them
I have used REI, Aquan and California Canoe and Kayak.

REI is the same as REI everywhere. Don’t expect deals, they do have some good equipment and they will be helpful, but not necessarily knowledgeable. BTW, you can buy stuff online at and have it delivered free to the nearest REI store.

Aquan were very knowledgeable and helpful. They have a larger selection of kayaks than REI, plus the other water sports stuff. Not particularly cheap, but they say they do match prices. They appear to have good classes.

I ended up using Cal Canoe & Kayak at their Half Moon Bay location for classes and the class I took was excellent. A good selection of kayaks to practice on. But this was not their retail store, so I don’t know about their prices or store service.

Also, West Marine carries limited kayak stuff in all their stores, and there’s one in San Carlos adjacent to REI and across the street from Aquan. That allows me to shop all 3 at one time.

And for a different approach
If you want to build your own (or even consider it) Wolfgang Brinck is located in Alameda.

REI isn’t SO bad…

– Last Updated: Jul-15-11 6:53 PM EST –

Gosh, I hope I didn't come across as slamming REI. They sell a LOT of different products across a multitude of sports, and do so reasonably well. But that same breadth of offerings makes it hard for them to have much depth-of-knowledge, I'd say. =[

A lot of ppl are telling me that Aquan and CCK are the way to go. Visited Aquan already, they were fairly impressive, especially the staff.

I'll also have a chance to check out Kayak Connection and Monterey Kayak early next week, when my gf and I paddle Elkhorn Slough. Their Moss Landing locations, anyway.

not that abd
Without a doubt, REI is better than a Dick’s, Sports Authority, or any of the other big box stores. REI employees are generally active in outdoor activities, so may actually use some of the products they have (can’t always say the same about big box).

But the kayak specialty shops are usually a step above REI on this.

That was my point
I shop at REI stores too and do their outlet online as well. I’m not at all against them. They’re a good store and their people are good and very dedicated to outdoor enjoyment. My only complaints: full MSRP and you won’t necessarily get a kayak maven when you go to their water sports area. This isn’t a fatal flaw! Just that I can often do as well or better elsewhere.

On the other hand, if you were going to equip yourself for a camping trip by kayak, bike and shank’s mare, and you needed good topo maps and some climbing gear, there are very few stores that could match REI for being helpful.

I just shop hard for everything, so inside knowledge and lower prices are higher on my list than convenience.

REI is terrible
I love REI, but their kayaking policies are terrible. Just ask them where their instructor’s got certified. They hired Roger Schumann for years, then discovered they could save a ton of money be keeping it in house – no ACA, no BCU, nothing.

I had the distinct pleasure of watching at REI instructor demonstrate a “roll” on Elkhorn Slough. He said, “Now I’m going to show you a roll”. He tried to come up once, he tried to come up twice, then he bailed out and swam. Then he said, “Now I am going to demonstrate a paddle float rescue” (!). Priceless. I kid you not.

Kayak Shop
Aquan and CCK are both good shops. I have purchased a couple of Delta kayaks from REI, as they are a Delta dealer. Purchased online and had boats delivered to local store for pick up. No hassles and a great return policy in practice.

If you are headed to Elkhorn and have the time Monterey Bay Kayaks by the Monterey harbor is a great shop. They do lessons, lots of gear and good boat selection. They also have some really good deals on previous year models that have not sold.

Happy Paddling

I guess you have to give him some chutzpah points for trying to play it off, anyway.

But yeah, I’d like the instructor who can actually roll, please.

Visited CCK…
Visited CCK over the weekend. Shop was a bit smaller than I was expecting given their rep, but that’s probably to be expected seeing the high-rent area they’re located in (Jack London Square). They had a LOT of 'yaks outside on the dock for rent, maybe over 50. Nice.

The staff was super-knowledgeable, which is a huge plus… shops are really about the PEOPLE, more than anything else. In fact they were so knowledgeable that you got the feeling that the questions you were asking were pretty boring to them. Actually a good sign. :slight_smile:

Sadly, I walked out without buying anything. They had less clothing than I thought I would, and were all but cleaned out of the specific things I wanted. Or what little they had just didn’t work for me. :frowning:

Location seemed a mixed bag for lessons… protected from the Bay and certainly warmer than the ocean, but a LOT of power boat traffic. But it’s more about the instructor, and apparently they have some of the best.

Very good shop, but Aquan’s more conveniently located for me, and seems to have more clothing and accessories.

Next up: Kayak Connection in Santa Cruz, wanna check them out.

For lessions
Try their Half Moon Bay location.

just be aware
The HMB site is not a drop in site - you have to register for classes/tours in advance.

Monterey Bay Kayaks
Since I do most of my paddling in Monterey, I always go to MBK (2nd location at Elkhorn Slough). Good staff, all of whom also teach or assist with classes. I can’t say for certain that they’re cheaper than REI, but they do have a much larger boat selection (


Nor is it a store
It’s a scheduled class or kayak rental site that’s not open every day.

But scheduled classes seem to be the norm anyway. I’m not sure anyone runs a drop-in operation here!