Kayaking in and Around San Diego: The 10 Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

By James @ Sea Kayak Explorer

San Diego is paddling country. You’l find kayakers tearing up the surf, cruising mountain lakes, and rubbing elbows with the yachties in the harbor.

Whatever sort of kayaking adventure you have in mind, you can probably find it near San Diego. So here’s a look at the top ten best places to kayak near San Diego.

For more, check out our list of kayaking destinations in California here.

1. Coronado Beach, CA

Coronado is the most popular beach spot in San Diego, so of course, it’s a great place to check out via kayak. Coronado Beach lies on a peninsula that forms the protected harbor that is San Diego Bay. The naval air station dominates the tip of the peninsula.

On the ocean side, the wide and picture-perfect beach is the perfect spot for sunbathing, surfing, and general beach-going. If you’ve got a sit-on-top, this is the place to try out a little bit of surf kayaking. On calm days, there’s nothing better than a leisurely paddle along the beach in the clear water.

You can get to Coronado Beach two ways. When coming from the north, you can take Interstate I-5 to the Coronado Bridge. You’ll get a great view of San Diego Bay as you cross over and onto Coronado.

From the south and the town of Imperial Beach, head to the beach and wind your way north along Silver Strand Boulevard, also known as State Route 75. The beachside highway will take you through some beautiful seaside communities–so don’t be surprised if you make several stops along the way.

If you don’t have your own kayak, check out Bike and Kayak Tours to hire one.

2. Glorietta Bay, CA

If you’d like to explore the San Diego Bay side of Coronado, check out the put-in available at Glorietta Bay. From here, you can explore the middle part of the bay, around the bridge, or even cross the bay and head into downtown.

Even though Glorietta Bay is on the inner harbor, the peninsula is narrow here. From the park, you can see the Pacific beach right across the street. Fancy circumnavigating? Park here and launch from either the beach or the park. Then go all the way around Naval Air Station Island and come back the other way. You should reserve this trip for calm days since it is quite a long paddle in mostly unprotected water.

The boat launch is located off the access road to the municipal pool. You can park in the small lot at the south end of the pool complex–but beware, it can fill up fast on weekends. You can also check out the adjacent Glorietta Bay Park, which has a lovely calm sandy beach where you may be able to launch.

And if you don’t have your own kayak give the City of Coronado Boathouse a call to rent one.

3. Mission Bay, CA

Mission Bay is a protected harbor located just north of the city. Many popular resorts and marinas line its shores, including the Hyatt and SeaWorld San Diego.

The harbor is lined with sandy beaches and calm waters–the perfect place for a relaxed paddle. If the water’s too rough for the outside beaches, head to Mission Bay.

The shores of Mission Bay are lined with parks where you could easily launch your kayak. To get to the area, head east on the Ocean Beach Freeway (Interstate I-8) and take the Mission Bay Drive exit north.

Pass SeaWorld and continue on West Mission Bay Drive. The first spot to check out is Mission Bay Park. Then head across the bridge to check out Bonita/Ventura Cove with its long sandy beaches, perfect for launching.

If you want to get farther into the bay and away from the ocean, head to the Northern Wildlife Preserve. Launch at Crown Point Park on the north side of the bay, accessed from Pacific Beach Drive.

Finally, Mission Bay Park is located adjacent to Interstate I-5. There’s a popular boat ramp here, primarily due to its accessibility from the city. In addition, there’s a sandy beach next to the boat ramp, perfect for paddle craft.

If you don’t own a kayak or boat try either Aqua Adventures or Mission Bay Sports Center to rent one for the day.

4. La Jolla Cove and Sea Caves, CA

La Jolla is a unique spot, not just because it’s beautiful but also a protected marine reserve. Over 6,000 acres of the underwater landscape and the coastal canyons make up the La Jolla Underwater Park. No fishing or collecting of any kind is allowed. The park contains a fascinating variety of underwater landscapes, from shallow rocky reefs, kelp beds, sand flats, and deep submarine canyons. Many of these treats are visible to snorkelers and even kayakers on clear days.

The crystal clear waters provide occasional views of sea life, too. You just might see the state fish (the Garibaldi), leopard sharks, dolphins, or playful sea lions!

The real draw to the underwater park is the seven caves that have been worn into the sandstone shoreline. The only way to see most of them is by kayak on a calm day–only one of them can even be hiked to. Calm Cave is the best. It’s so large you can actually paddle into it and explore.

The town of La Jolla is located along La Jolla Boulevard, about 12 miles north of San Diego. The La Jolla Parkway exit off of Interstate I-5 takes you right to the beach.

For kayak rentals head over to La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks or Bike and Kayak Tours – La Jolla

5. Shelter Island, CA

Shelter Island is a large man-made island on the north end of San Diego Bay that protects a large marina from wave action. On its outer side, there is a mix of rock jetties and sandy beaches. A large boat ramp dominates the center of the island. The sand beach nearby is great for use as a put-in.

Shelter Island lies right on the busy entrance to San Diego Bay, so it’s hardly a peaceful and serene paddle. Still, paddling around the thousands of vessels that call San Diego their home port is fascinating. So long as you keep your eyes on the road and stay out of the way, there’s a lot to see and enjoy. For safety, always assume that other boaters cannot see you.

Shelter Island is accessed via Shelter Island Drive, which connects to Rosecrans Street. Follow signs for the Silver Gate Yacht Club and the Shelter Island Boat Ramp and for rentals check out Action Sport Rental at Kona Kai Resort and Hotel.

6. Lake Hodges, CA

Want to get away from the ocean for a day, or maybe it’s just too rough out? Lake Hodges is a large, scenic lake located in the mountains north of town. It’s a popular spot for watersports, including boating, windsurfing, swimming, and paddling. Additionally, dozens of hiking trails wind their way around the hills surrounding the lake.

The lake is located off of Interstate I-15 near the town of Rancho Bernardo. The lake is most easily accessed from the visitor center located on Lake Hodges Way. Be aware that the lake is closed seasonally and usually only open on certain days of the week the rest of the year. Currently, it’s open Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

For renting a kayak or boat head over to Lake Hodges Visitor Center.

7. San Onofre State Beach, CA

San Onofre is one of California’s most coveted beach locations. You can enjoy a wide variety of activities here. Of course, you can kayak, but surfing, birding, cycling, and camping are also wildly popular. The break at Surf Beach is legendary. Most of the beaches, including Surf Beach, are open only during daylight hours.

Bring your own boat. Unfortunately, there are no rentals available at the state beach so you’ll need to bring your own kayak.

8. Dana Point Harbor, San Clemente, CA

Dana Point is about an hour north of San Diego off of Interstate I-5. There is a scenic harbor that is chockablock full of boats of every type. The breakwaters here keep the waters calm and protected, even in the worst of weather. South of the breakwaters, gorgeous Pacific coast beaches line the towns of Capistrano and San Clemente.

To get there, head north on I-5 to Camino Las Ramblas/Pacific Coast Highway. Then turn left on Dana Point Harbor Drive. For kayak rentals check out San Clemente Kayak Rentals or Pure Water Sports.

9. Coronado Cays, CA

The south end of the bay gets smaller and more protected. It’s still wide open water, but the farther back you travel, the less big ship and boat traffic you will have to deal with.

The Coronado Cays area is a neighborhood lagoon filled with islands. Each waterfront home has dock space for private yachts of all descriptions. The calm waterways between the islands make for a relaxed day of paddling no matter what the weather outside is like.

One of the best spots to launch is at Grand Caribe Shoreline Park. The south end of San Diego Bay is a national wildlife refuge managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Coronado Cays is a great place to access it.

The Coronado Cays area is located south of the town of Coronado along Silver Strand Boulevard. There’s lots of Pacific-side beach access along this stretch, too. But to get to the harbor, take Coronado Cays Boulevard to the Grand Caribe Causeway.

If you don’t have your own boat, visit Action Sports Rentals at Loews Coronado Bay Resort to hire one.

10. Chula Vista, CA

Across the bay on the “mainland” is the city of Chula Vista. This is another excellent area for accessing the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge (featured in the image above).

Launch from Bayside Park, which has a long sandy harborside beach. It’s at the end of G Street, right off of Interstate I-5. Exit the freeway at either E or H Streets. The address is 999 Bayside Parkway, Chula Vista, CA 91910.

If you’d rather launch at the boat ramp, head to the marina area at the end of Marina Way.

And for kayak rentals check out Chula Vista Watersports or Chula Vista Kayaks who will be able to sort you out.

Summing up the Best Places to Kayak Near San Diego

San Diego is blessed with beautiful beaches and gorgeous weather–is there anything more a paddler needs in life?

Work on your surf skill in the Pacific, or head to one of the numerous protected harbors for some flat water touring.