Opportunities for adventure on the water lie around nearly every cove and corner in the Southern California region of San Diego County. For kayakers in particular, the 70 miles of coastline are a slice of paddling paradise. Whether you prefer the calm waters of Mission Bay or the thrilling chop of La Jolla Shores (complete with curious sea lions), there’s a body of water to suit your style. Experienced paddlers and first-timers alike will find plenty of wind-in-the-hair thrills. Here’s how to navigate the open water and the best spots to go kayaking in and around San Diego.
With sunny skies year-round, San Diego’s famously mild weather is just one of the many reasons it’s such an appealing spot for kayaking. Warmer waters make summer and fall the most popular seasons—you can jump in the ocean, no wetsuit required. But there’s no bad time to kayak in San Diego. Winter and spring bring the benefit of fewer paddlers and a less crowded experience. From June to September, you can look out for groups of leopard sharks along La Jolla Shores. These beautiful (and completely harmless) sea creatures head to the shallow waters to breed—and swimming with the swarm is a favorite annual activity for San Diego locals.
Check out the best places to kayak in America’s Finest City—plus where to rent kayaks in San Diego and spots to launch if you brought your own boat.
Sandy beaches, sea caves, and the rich biodiversity of La Jolla Ecological Reserve (otherwise known as the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park) make La Jolla one of San Diego’s most popular kayaking locations. Keep your eyes peeled to admire bright orange garibaldis, shovelnose guitarfish, dolphins, leopard sharks, and sea lions. Kayaking along La Jolla Shores also offers incredible views of the sea cliffs and rock caves––staples of San Diego’s natural landscape. The beach and cove provide some protection from the waves, but paddlers should be prepared to navigate a bit of chop.
Where to rent kayaks in La Jolla: The area around La Jolla Shores Beach is dotted with half a dozen kayak rental outfitters, including Everyday California, La Jolla Kayak, and Bike & Kayak Tours. All have the option to go at your own pace with rentals only, or to paddle as part of a guided tour. Keep in mind: Only tour groups are allowed to enter the dark and mysterious sea caves.
Where to launch: The La Jolla Shores Boat Launch is located at the west end of Avenida de la Playa, on the south end of La Jolla Shores.
The largest man-made aquatic park in the United States, Mission Bay Park stretches along 27 miles of the San Diego coastline. The west end of the park includes a network of tiny islands and channels of clear, azure water for exploration. The park encompasses approximately 4,235 acres—roughly half of which is water—providing visitors with plenty of space for adventure and relaxation. The calm, flat waters make paddling a breeze, but keep an eye out for motorized boat traffic, water-skiers, and Jet Skis.
Where to rent kayaks in Mission Bay: Single and tandem kayak rentals, along with other fun toys like paddleboards and hydrobikes, are available at Aqua Adventures, Mission Bay Aquatic Center, and Ray’s Rentals North Mission Beach. For a twilight experience, Sun Down Kayaking Company offers sunset and nighttime rentals.
A quick drive or ferry ride from Downtown San Diego, charming Coronado Island feels worlds away. The island earned its nickname, “The Crown City,” from its golden, sandy beaches which are known to sparkle under the San Diego sun. It’s also a great option for kayakers looking to get out on the water while enjoying city skyline views. For a self-guided, on-the-water architecture tour, paddle out under the Coronado Bridge. The impressive two-mile-long structure was built with some of the longest steel plates in the world. You can also opt for a guided tour to learn about iconic sites like Naval Air Station North Island, Hotel del Coronado, and Petco Park.
Where to rent kayaks in Coronado: Located along the island’s eastern shore, Ray’s Rentals and SUP & Saddle both rent single and tandem-style kayaks. Farther south on Glorietta Bay, you can pick up a vessel from the Coronado Boathouse or Seaforth Boat Rentals.
Head up the coast to the seaside community of Carlsbad for family-friendly kayaking fun. The Aqua Hedionda Lagoon (known to locals as the “Carlsbad Lagoon”) comprises three adjacent bodies of water. The largest 295-acre inner lagoon is the primary spot for water sports. The saltwater wetland and watershed are glassy and calm—great for beginners and kids, as well as naturalist-minded paddlers interested in exploring the unique coastal ecosystem and its 192 species of birds. Kayaking here is best at high tide when the streams fill with water and wildlife.
Where to rent kayaks in Carlsbad: California Watersports has a fleet of kayaks, as well as other human-powered and motorized vessels for rent.
Where to launch: The free launch area is located at the public beach on Bayshore Drive. Whether you rent or BYOK, paddlers are required to purchase a $9 daily permit to be on the water.
While San Diego kayakers congregate in these popular spots, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path paddling locations up and down the coast, as well as inland options. Consider Shelter Island (a small, man-made island on the north side of San Diego Bay), Lake Hodges (a popular reservoir for both hiking and water sports in Rancho Bernardo), and the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Rescue in Chula Vista. Plus, the water-sport adventure doesn’t stop with kayaking. San Diego is also known for its legendary surf spots, unique boating adventures, and sprawling sandy beaches.