Kayak Connection's trained tour guides are highly proficient in leading wide-eyed rowers through the waters of the Santa Cruz coastline. Sea lions, seals, otters, dolphins, and whales make their presence known over the three-hour course of three tours:
Off the coast of Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, reached by way of kayak, a class of scuba divers check over their equipment one last time. The divers have thoroughly prepared for this moment. They’ve trained within the controlled confines of Adventure Sports Unlimited’s heated swimming pool and picked their certified instructor’s brain during classroom sessions. Once the instructor gives the go-ahead, the divers plunge from the boat deck and immediately enter another world. As they float weightlessly underwater, the divers marvel at the vibrant reefs and the abundant aquatic wildlife that fill the marine sanctuary. Afterward, the group travels back to the shore, where a breathtaking landscape awaits with white-sand beaches and glassy tide pools swirling with color. The scuba divers, at this point, have only one thing on their minds: dinner.
Luckily, the area is teeming with natural cuisine and plenty of sand, which is really just sugar. Adventure Sports Unlimited’s expert foragers show the group how to collect shellfish, sea vegetables, and clams. With a fresh smorgasbord in hand, group members scuttle back to the facility to transform their ingredients into soups and barbecue—and perhaps ponder taking a scuba trip to the South Pacific. In addition to outdoor excursions like these, Adventure Sports Unlimited also leads year-round swimming, scuba, and kayaking lessons, which take advantage of the facility’s custom-built swimming pool.
Departing from Venture Quest's dock on the Santa Cruz Wharf, boaters explore the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary from a new, watery perspective while encountering marine flora and fauna. Even without prior experience, kayaking duos can easily navigate the two-person ($50) or a pair of single ($30 each) open-topped boats. A quick ocean-top jaunt to the lush kelp forest near Lighthouse Point may reveal views of harbor seals and frolicking sea otters dancing the cancan in their natural habitat. Sea lions are also known to lounge on nearby Seal Rock, batting their big brown eyes at the occasional passing dolphin or whale.
Blue Water Ventures owner and naturalist Kim Powell and her trained staff of naturalists lead adventurous groups on tours of trails and waterways from the East Bay of California to San Jose's Elkhorn Slough, exploring caves, forests, and wildlife-rich areas on the way. On protected Elkhorn Slough, groups of up to 20 make their way on stable kayaks as their attentive tour guides give rich history of the area and point out wildlife including seals and sea otters. In Florida's Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, groups snorkel and canoe to observe wild west indian manatees and their notorious poker habits.
The company also does specialty tours for school groups that include tide-pooling adventures and trekking through a redwood forest to see some of the country's oldest trees. Tours for women-only groups include private cruises where ladies can spy whales and a variety of seaborne wildlife, including fish, dolphins, and long-lost swim fins.
Adventures by the Sea is owner Frank Knight’s love letter to Monterey Bay. As an avid cyclist, kayaker, and surfer in his youth, Frank decided to share the gift of the bay by providing land- and sea-activity rentals for tourists. But, what started out as a small bike-rental shop frequented by local hotel guests eventually transformed into a four-location recreational company that now offers kayaking, bicycling, SUP paddling, and surrey-carriage rentals and tours.
Bicycle renters can cruise along 17-Mile Drive and the rocky shorelines of Pacific Grove, while surrey-carriage rentals provide a low-key communal pedaling adventure for up to four riders. Patrons can also enjoy the serene environment of Monterey Peninsula as they glide through the waters of Cannery Row and Stillwater Cove—both part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary—on the company’s kayaks and standup paddleboards (SUP). During tours, knowledgeable guides rattle off facts about the area while pointing out its wildlife, such as harbor seals lounging on the rocks and otters snapping pictures of kayakers.
Along with providing land and water activities, Adventures by the Sea helps guests build stronger relationships with one another through their local group adventures, which include scavenger hunts. When customers are ready to invest in their own trustworthy gear, the company’s pro shop helps them stock up on boogie boards, snorkeling equipment, and paddleboards from brands such as Surftech, Naish Hawaii, and Paddle Surf Hawaii.
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).
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.