The San Francisco Bay Area is home to some of the world’s most beautiful waters—whether you’re atop the water of Tomales Bay, paddling beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, floating along the Russian River, or even kayaking with sea otters further south in Monterey Bay.
Inspired by these natural surroundings, local Bay Area businesses have sprouted up to provide some of the most interesting, unique and entertaining water activities we’ve ever heard of, including diving with Great White Sharks, sailing aboard an 1891 National Historic Landmark scow schooner, and practicing yoga on a stand up paddleboard in Richardson Bay.
Keep reading to learn about 15 different businesses offering trips, classes and excursions into some of our favorite Bay Area waters!
And for even more water-themed outdoor adventure in the Bay Area, check out The 12 Best Beaches in the Bay Area, The Best Activities for Outdoor Enthusiasts in San Francisco, and 9 Swimming Holes in the Bay Area + A Few Hidden Gems.
Headquartered in Oakland, Canoe & Kayak has been the West Coast’s finest and most extensive paddlesports company since 1972. In addition to selling all the essentials for a fun and safe trip on the water, they also offer hourly and take-away rentals as well as introductory, intermediate and advanced kayak classes, kayak fishing classes, whitewater kayak classes, kayak rolling classes and SUP classes. Their tours and trips include sunset paddles taking off from Jack London Square and moonlight paddles in Oakland, Sacramento and Redwood City. For more information on these trips, click here.
Photo courtesy of OnBoardSUP
This local, small business started in Sausalito and offers fitness classes several days a week all year long among the seals in beautiful Richardson Bay and in the pool at Mill Valley’s Scott Valley Swimming and Tennis Club. But their classes aren’t your average yoga classes. Every single one—yoga, pilates and fitness core classes—take place on stand up paddleboards in the water. To see their class schedule and reserve your board, click here.
Sail the San Francisco Bay aboard Alma.
Maintained and operated by the National Park Service, Alma is an 1891 National Historic Landmark scow schooner and the last of her kind. The 60-foot vessel was originally designed to navigate the shallow waters of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and to rest on the bottom at low tide. Today, you can sail like they did in 1891 when you reserve a group sailing trip available on certain dates throughout the summer and fall. To learn more and reserve yours, click here.
Take a kayak trip with City Kayak.
One of the most popular options in the city, City Kayak is a San Francisco paddlesport company offering kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals as well as guided beginner, intermediate and private group trips. Beginner trips include the South Beach Trip which is an easy trip to McCovey Cove and Mission Creek, the Twilight Kayak Trip, and the Giants Fireworks Trip which is scheduled in accordance with San Francisco Giants baseball games. Intermediate trips can be more challenging and include the Full Moon Kayak Trip, the Golden Gate Bridge Trip from Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Alcatraz Trip from Aquatic Park to Alcatraz Island. To see all the trip options, click here.
Boardsports California has exclusive teaching rights at two of the best beach locations in the Bay Area: Crown Beach in Alameda and Coyote Point Park in San Mateo. Since 2002, they’ve been offering kiteboarding, windsurfing and stand up paddling instruction, rentals and retail sales and have quickly become one of the best-rated boardsports businesses in the region. Their two teaching locations are ideal beginner and intermediate windsurfing destinations where you can come back to practice on your own later. Programs include beginner, progression and advanced lessons as well as windsurfing kids camps and rentals. And we recommend checking out their kiteboarding and SUP lessons, too! For more information, check out the website here.
Photo courtesy of Euanart via Great White Adventures
Did you know San Francisco is the only major metropolitan city in the world to host a population of Great White Sharks? With Great White Adventures, you can get face to face with these marine creatures through seasonal Farallon Island expeditions and cage dives. Available during the peak of the sharks’ brief hunting season from late September through November, you can embark as a topside observer, which includes continental breakfast, lunch, snacks, beverages, beer and wine, or be a cage diver, which includes all of that plus air, weights, weight belts and up-close-and-personal shark encounters.
Rent a pedal boat at Stow Lake.
Stow Lake is a man-made lake in Golden Gate Park that dates all the way back to 1893. Around the banks of the lake, visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and picnicking, and through Stow Lake Boathouse, you can also rent rowboats, pedal boats and small electric boats. To learn more about rentals, check out the website here.
Photo courtesy of Kayak Connection
Headquartered south of the Bay Area on Monterey Bay, Kayak Connection offers sea kayaking and stand up paddleboard rentals, plus instruction and tours in Santa Cruz and in Moss Landing at Elkhorn Slough. Their Elkhorn Slough location is one of the top 10 wildlife viewing destinations in North America thanks to its population of sea otters—the largest remaining raft of southern sea otters on the planet. When you paddle with Kayak Connection, you can also paddle with the otters, sea lions, harbor seals, beautiful floating jellies and migrating sea birds. Their team guarantees wildlife sightings on every outing!
Russian River Adventures was founded by Larry Laba, a Healdsburg resident and designer of the SOAR Inflatable Canoe. On their self-guided full-day and half-day trips, you can get on the water in a SOAR canoe and paddle through California’s Wine Country on one of the most secluded sections of the Russian River. Their 9-mile, full-day trips from Memorial Beach to Wohler Bridge are even dog-friendly!
Photo courtesy of Bill Keener, Golden Gate Cetacean Research via San Francisco Whale Tours
These exciting tours venture from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean and into the protected sanctuary of the Farallon Islands so guests can see the natural habitat of Blue, Humpback and Gray Whales. From the boat, you can take in iconic San Francisco sights from atop water—like the Golden Gate Bridge—then venture further into some of the most beautiful waters of the Bay Area.
Photo courtesy of Sea Trek
Sea Trek has been San Francisco’s and Marin County’s favorite kayak and SUP center for more than 35 years. In fact, when it was founded in 1982, it was California’s first commercial sea kayaking business! Today, they offer rentals, classes and professionally guided trips through the waters of Richardson Bay, week-long excursions on the Sea of Cortez, adventures under the Golden Gate Bridge and more. Their stand up paddleboard trips are also professionally guided and explore the waters around Sausalito offering spectacular views of the seaside town, Tiburon and Angel Island.
SF Bay Sportfishing offers an intimate, hands-on and educational fishing experience in the waters around San Francisco. Instructor Captain Sean Treacy has fished the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Irish Sea, the Sea of Cortez, the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Alaska and several other global waters, and he’s been fishing the San Francisco Bay since 1998. Trips are limited to six people so every angler can get proper instruction. These include full-day and half-day options, including year-round shark fishing, year-round striped bass fishing, seasonal salmon, sturgeon and halibut fishing, and even the Baseball Game Charter Trips, which anchor in McCovey Cove during a Giants game.
The Blue & Gold Fleet is one of the most popular ferry and water excursion services on the San Francisco Bay. Their fleet of 19 vessels provides regular ferry service to Sausalito, Tiburon and Angel Island as well as service to Vallejo, Alameda and Oakland, Harbor Bay, South San Francisco, Richmond and Oracle Park on San Francisco Giants game days. These are in addition to sightseeing cruises like the famous one-hour Bay Cruise Adventure and Escape from the Rock Cruise, a trip around Alcatraz Island. To see all the options and buy tickets, click here.
Photo courtesy of Adventure Out LLC
Adventure Out specializes in outdoor adventure, from backpacking and survival skills to rock climbing and surfing. As the Bay Area’s premier surf school, they offer surfing and stand up paddleboard programs in Santa Cruz and in Pacifica, the Bay Area’s only beginner surfing beach. Their professional instructors are licensed to teach at these beaches, lifeguard and first-aid certified, and trained in the Adventure Out instructor program, and this company is the only NSSIA Accredited Surf School in Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area. To check out their surf clinics, paddleboarding tours and surf camps and trips, click here.
Blue Waters Kayaking is the oldest and only full-service outfitter with waterside locations on Tomales Bay. Their locations are at the Tomales Bay Resort and Lake Sonoma at the Yorty Creek Recreation Area, and rentals, tours and classes are available for any group size. These tours include half-day and full-day paddle excursions along the Pt. Reyes shoreline, overnight camping tours, bioluminescence and evening tours, and more. To see all the team’s tour options, click here.
Do you have a favorite Bay Area water activity?
Tell us about it in the comments below!