One of the best way to explore San Diego's beaches and bays is to get out on the water and paddle a kayak.
Anyone can enjoy kayaking from their very first outing, and the sport offers a lifetime of opportunities and challenges ranging from two-hour coastal tours to epic multi-day expeditions. There are specialized techniques and kayaks (or boats as core paddlers call them) for whitewater, sea kayaking, long distance touring, fishing, surfing and river play.
The most popular boats, used for guided tours and widely available for rent here in San Diego's temperate waters, are sit-on-tops: virtually-indestructible and ultra user-friendly, molded plastic kayaks that don't require any formal training or experience.
Couples and families with small children will particularly like the tandem models that can accommodate two or more paddlers. On any given day, hundreds of visitors and locals can be seen paddling these brightly-colored craft all around San Diego's coves and coastlines. For those who want to learn the ropes from a pro, the Mission Bay Aquatic Center offers courses for beginning and advanced paddlers.
While you can kayak virtually anyplace along the San Diego coast, La Jolla Shores beach is among the most popular. Protected from the brunt of the summer swells, it's an ideal launching point to explore kelp beds, sea caves and sea lion colonies. Most of the guided tour operations are centered here, and many local kayakers launch from La Jolla Shores for touring, fishing and diving excursions. Other popular sea kayaking locations include Mission Bay, Coronado Island, Carlsbad Lagoon and Oceanside Harbor. It's not uncommon to encounter dolphins, seals and even whales. And, in addition to open ocean, coastline and protected harbors, there are numerous freshwater lakes and reservoirs in San Diego County, many of them suitable for kayaking and, especially, kayak fishing.
Summer and fall are primetime for kayaking in San Diego. The conditions are generally calm and the air and water temperatures are warm enough to wear simply a bathing suit or light wetsuit top. Beautiful weather and crystal clear water can be found in winter and spring but, even on the best days, a full wetsuit may be in order and swell and wind conditions should be taken into consideration. Launch ramps and beaches within San Diego's protected bays are the surest bet for easy launching and landing any time of year. Any local kayak service or the lifeguards can advise you about when and where it's safe to go paddling at coastal beaches.
At anytime of year, paddlers should wear a PFD - a personal floatation device (or life vest). These are typically included in the cost of all kayak rentals and tours. Experienced kayakers going offshore often carry a beacon or signaling device, plus drinking water and other emergency gear. If you're going solo, make sure to tell a friend where you're planning to paddle and when you expect to return. Finally, remember that kayaking is a water sport; protect your valuables or leave them on dry land.