Half Moon Bay Kayak Co.'s fleet of colorful plastic shells slices through the glimmering waters of Pillar Point Harbor, carrying crews of paddlers past playful harbor seals and chattering pelicans. Co-owners Doug Connor—who has conquered rushing rapids as a member of the United States Wildwater team—and Chris Manchester—who has kayaked along thousands of miles of coastline, including the world's second-largest barrier reef—channel their passion for paddling into a range of kayak and standup-paddleboard rentals, lessons, and tours. With expeditions to locales as far-flung as Honduras and Mexico, Half Moon provides sea explorers with exotic open-water explorations as well as local excursions to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, San Gregorio State Beach, and next-door neighbors' unattended kiddie pools.
Armed with gear from City Kayak, guests paddle past scenic San Francisco sites such as Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and South Beach Harbor during guided or unguided treks. Visitors can navigate their way beneath the Lefty O'Doul drawbridge and catch home-run hits soaring out of the baseball stadium and into McCovey Cove, or advanced paddlers can traverse strong winds and tidal currents en route to Treasure Island. City Kayak also schedules classes, which teach students basic sea-kayaking skills, self-rescue techniques, and how to eskimo roll, an escape maneuver that one could use to avoid the songs of tone-deaf penguins. City Kayak rents out gear such as wetsuits and booties for tours and also sells a collection of kayaks, paddles, and accessories to equip paddlers for future travels.
Richard Bothwell has hiked Mount Kilimanjaro, scaled Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, and surfed the waves of four continents. But perhaps his greatest feat was establishing the Outdoor Adventure Club in 1996, where he leads others in conquering nature's challenges. He and a staff of seasoned outdoors enthusiasts escort visitors of all fitness and experience levels in local excursions and international vacations, all centered on exploring the great outdoors. On the local level, the guides lead rock-climbing classes at Castle Rock State Park in addition to hiking, backpacking, whitewater-rafting, kayaking, and skydiving excursions. International adventure vacations expose folks to surfing in Costa Rica, rafting in Patagonia, and mountaineering in Peru. The expeditions marry the camaraderie of a social club with the expertise of professional guides, who are each trained in emergency wilderness care in case of squirrel attacks.
At the heart of Castro Valley sits Lake Chabot, a 315-acre drinking-water reservoir surrounded by miles of parklands and walking trails. At the marina, Lake Chabot Fishing Outfitters provides a complete assortment of bait and tackle, along with rod and reel rentals, boat rentals, and a café stocked with breakfast and lunch. Depending on the season, anglers can try different fishing methods to track down their desired targets. In the fall through the spring, spoon and fly fishers often reel in hungry trout, and summertime anglers are often successful with catfish, crappies, bluegill, and largemouth bass.
Firmly anchored by the tranquil waters of Shoreline Lake, Lakeside Café offers refreshing café fare to refuel fatigued beachgoers after a rousing sail or lake-monster search. Breakfast offerings such as three-egg omelettes (starting at $7.75) and eggs benedict ($8.50) are served with roasted new potatoes and toast, while pancakes ($7.75) and bagels ($2.25) keep things classic and classy. For lunch, ravenous aquanauts can fork into crisp bistro salads or hot and cold sandwiches, which are served with potato salad or fries. Leafy plates such as the Mediterranean spinach salad with feta, kalamata olives, red onions, cucumbers, and mint vinaigrette ($7.95) comfortably coexist alsongside sandwiches, like the fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil on herb focaccia ($7.95), and classic fish and chips ($8.95).
Seated in your kayak, you're surrounded by cerulean waters that stretch out into the horizon. To your left, the San Francisco skyline looms in the shimmering afternoon sun. You drift by a raucous Giants game, a village of houseboats, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Led through undulating waters by American Canoe Association– and Wilderness First Aid–certified guides, San Francisco Kayak & Adventures' nautical tour groups traverse the San Francisco Bay or Sausalito waterfront during the day, at sunset, and under the light of the full moon. The guides lead their groups through calm costal waters in sturdy, closed-deck tandem kayaks, which keep legs dry and don't require typical Flintstone-style paddling. The guides regale their group with area history while pointing out local marine life. They only shepherd about eight paddlers to keep tours intimate and personal and customize paddling instruction to the ability levels of the group.
Guides also help visitors explore the natural world on land during hiking excursions between redwood trees in Muir Woods, along a coastal trail in the Tennessee Valley, and past ghost-town buildings at China Camp Village. To expand visitors' wilderness exposure, they also lead adventures such as sailing, rock-climbing, cycling in the city, horseback riding on the beach, and sleeping in phone booths.
Point Reyes Outdoors leads hiking, biking, and kayaking expeditions through the unsown hills of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the tranquil waters of the California coast. During kayak tours, explorers jaunt through the tidal waterways of Drakes Estero and sunset forays into Tomales Bay. Guided nature hikes explore the local bounty of flora and fauna such as marine mammals, wildflowers, or migratory lawn gnomes.
Nature specialists, such as biologists, nurses, and certified kayak instructors, lead all tours and provide insight into the landscape and its inhabitants. Point Reyes Outdoors also rents out mountain bikes, which guests can use to pedal through a circuit of nearby trails that climb Fir Top mountain or stretch out to Wildcat Beach.