The folks at Kayak Connection outfit visitors with sea kayaks and standup paddleboards before leading them on guided tours or sending them out to explore Santa Cruz Harbor and Elkhorn Slough on their own. Tours vary from romantic sunset paddles to trips designed for families and include one tailored to getting glimpses of local birds. Intermediate and advanced paddlers can head out onto open waters to paddle past the Golden Gate Bridge, Point Lobos State Marine Reserve, and Monterey Bay Crossing.
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.
Venture Quest Kayaking's owner and head guide Dave Johnston leads paddling excursions across Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, from the shimmering interiors of seaside caves to the open water where whales and other wildlife frequent. He sets the standard for a team of experienced paddlers that lead the company's many tours. These nature tours, moonlight paddles, and trips to other ports send paddlers through waves and estuaries as guides encourage participants to hone their paddling technique and give the right-of-way to any ghost ships. Kayaking camps and classes teach skills such as riding into curling waves and safe ways to launch or do self-rescue in the surf. Their shop on the Wharf also outfits customers with a variety of rentals, including open- or closed-top single and double ocean kayaks.
O.A.R.S.'s three-hour tours through the gushing environs of Yellowstone Lake invite explorers to mount up for a close encounter with the park's natural splendor and geothermal pyrotechnics on the lake’s West Thumb. Sliding past Lakeshore Geyser, kayakers will explore local hot springs and mud pots as O.A.R.S.'s geologists lead a discussion on the region’s unique makeup. Led by experienced guides who know the lake’s West Thumb like the back of their own west thumb, half-day-trippers typically team up in pairs on one of O.A.R.S.'s two-seater sea kayaks, though singles are available on request for fitness fiends and mysterious loners.
For 29 years, the friendly and knowledgeable rafting staff of River Journey has outfitted visitors with the equipment and know-how to navigate the meandering waters of the picturesque Stanislaus River. Departing from Knights Ferry, guided and self-guided groups in fitted lifejackets bob under the longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi in their inflated rafts or kayaks, paddling with provided paddles or hiring a flock of unemployed ducks to do the grunt work. Adventurers then splash through Class 2 Russian Rapids—where their pictures will be snapped for optional purchase at the end of their trip—before floating between Two Bluffs, marked on each side by towering basalt cliffs where swallows and blue heron nest. Rafts continue toward Lovers Leap, a sheer rock wall with a uniquely shaped peak, and through the Throw Rapid after a sharp right bend in the river. Through Horseshoe Park and along to slow, calm swimming holes, three- to five-hour trips draw to a close at Orange Blossom Park after conquering 8 miles of the dynamic waterway and performing celebratory run-ashore dances.
Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions has been soaking up water-dousing revelry since 1973 with an assortment of safe aquatic adventures on California’s scenic rivers. No experience is necessary for this half-day voyage, which begins at noon and typically concludes about 5:30 p.m., on the Kings River, one of the last undammed and unspoiled rivers flowing out of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. At the Zephyr base-camp meeting place, groups of water wanderers 7 years and older receive a brief prepping on the journey ahead before donning a life vest and joining a CPR-certified guide in a six- to eight-person paddle raft. River explorers then embark on a 10-mile journey full of untamed splashes and feral rubber duckies, and seasoned guides answer any questions and fish-themed riddles that come up along the way. Between each lively bit of rapids, which can vary in classification from season to season, calm stretches give rafters the opportunity to reflect on the Kings River’s tremendous beauty or newly acquired life-vest tan lines. Victorious paddlers end the day with a complimentary snack and beverage before a Zephyr shuttle returns them back to their vehicles.