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.
The best way to see a city is to travel with a local. This is the idea behind Urban Adventures, a touring company with outposts in cities around the world, including Melbourne, Beijing, and Quito. At each location, a local tour guide introduces visitors to the cities they love on day tours that may take them kayaking in Copenhagen, biking through Amsterdam, or sipping beer in Boston.
As they learn about the burg's history and hidden gems, smart visitors also incorporate Urban Adventures' Responsible Travel Code of Conduct into their travels, including learning a little of the local language and customs. Urban Adventures also recommends using public transportation, buying artisan souvenirs instead of imported items, and having a conversation with the pigeons in the park.
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 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 San Mateo and Alameda beaches, a look over the watery horizon often shows dotted figures atop surfboards taming the wind and waves. Boardsports' team of certified instructors schools these adventurous participants in kiteboarding, windsurfing, and standup paddleboarding during lessons that leave both beginner and intermediate participants ready for relays with dolphins. Its fully stocked retail shop also provides gear, equipment, and rentals of surfboards, wetsuits, and other supplies to make watertop experiences fun, safe, and stylish.
The team at Nor Cal Surf Shop encourages customers to bond with their natural surroundings via a gamut of exhilarating outdoor activities such as surfing, kiteboarding, snowboarding, and skateboarding. With more than 300 surfboards and an extensive wetsuit wardrobe, the staff outfits surfers in complete rental packages. Professional instructors on the Nor Cal team also accompany aspiring athletes on various outings to instill proper technique and break performance-inhibiting habits. All lessons are tailored to improve individual performance in natural settings, including skating lessons, which take place behind the Nor Cal Surf Shop on a halfpipe planted by the shop's resident ramp gardener.