Kayaking In San Diego – America’s Finest City

There are lots of awesome places to go kayaking in San Diego. And just about all of them have that laid-back SoCal feel.

There are no wild rapids, just easy-going lakes and breezy coastal waters, so it can be the ideal place for a relaxing family trip or solo adventure.

Check out some of these amazing San Diego spots and get your paddling gear ready.

A view on marina in San DiegoPin

17 Best Places To Kayak In San Diego, CA

1: La Jolla

A boy paddling in front of the caves in La JollaPin
Courtesy: Bob n' Renee on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

La Jolla is home to some of California’s most spectacular shoreline scenery, with stunning caves and a protected marine reserve. There’s a kayak launch at La Jolla Shores along with several places to rent kayaks.

You can even paddle into the famous caves. If you’re a beginner, it’s probably best to join a guided tour because of the dangers of tides and currents. You’ll also get the chance to spot sharks, dolphins and sea lions.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy but with some ocean currents

Where to Launch & How to get there:
2000 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037


2: Mission Bay

A man kayaking on Mission BayPin
Courtesy: Jacque Myers on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Mission Bay can offer excellent paddling, with many places to launch and calm waters that can be ideal for all skill levels. The flatwater bay is also the home of the San Diego Rowing Club.

You can paddle into the many coves and stop at some of the numerous beaches and public access points. You can also get great views of some of the rides at SeaWorld San Diego. Kayak rentals are available at Sunset Point.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater bay

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Gleason Road, San Diego, CA 92019


3: Point Loma

Point Loma can be an interesting spot to paddle, with great views of downtown San Diego beyond the naval base. The waters of the bay are generally calm, with good paddling around Shelter Island and America’s Cup Harbor. However, the main channel is a major shipping lane, so it can be best to stick close to the shore.

Kayak rentals are available at America’s Cup Harbor. If you’re a skilled sea kayaker, you could also paddle around Point Loma for views of the lighthouse.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, calm water but near a major shipping lane

Where to Launch & How to get there:
2210 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego, CA 92106


4: Otay Lake

Lower Otay Lake can be an excellent spot for beginners because of its flatwater. It features rugged mountain scenery so it can be a relaxing spot. The lake is used by the US Olympic paddle sports teams and the US Olympic team training center sits along the shores.

The lake can be great for fishing and there are kayak rentals available at the launch. The lake can be great for fishing and there are kayak rentals available at the launch.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
2165 Wueste Road, Chula Vista, CA 91915


5: Lake Cuyamaca

A kayaker on the Cuyamaca lakePin
Courtesy: Burt on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lake Cuyamaca is a picturesque lake in the San Diego mountains surrounded by pine and oak forests. It can be a relaxing place to paddle, with flatwater making it great for families. There’s a campground along the lakeshore and kayak rentals available at the lakeside restaurant.

The lake is also stocked year-round with rainbow trout, so it’s great for kayak fishing. Inflatable kayaks are not allowed.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
15027 CA-79, Julian, CA 92036


6: San Vicente Reservoir

The San Vicente Reservoir is the largest in San Diego and can be a great spot for a leisurely paddle or a kayak fishing trip. Surrounded by rugged landscapes, there are various coves to explore and you can paddle around the shores of Lowell Island.

There is a large 6-lane boat ramp and kayak rentals are available on-site.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Vista Del Lago, Lakeside, CA 92040

7: Lake Poway

Lake Poway is a pretty lake surrounded by mountains. It features clear flatwater and can be ideal for kayak fishing or family paddling. The lake is relatively small, so if you’re a beginner you’re never too far from the shore.

Lake Poway is regularly stocked with trout during the winter but it can also be great for catfish and bass fishing during the summer.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
14644 Lake Poway Road, Poway, CA 92064

8: Coronado

Coronado Island can offer unrivaled views of the San Diego skyline and you can paddle under the famous Coronado Bridge. You can launch at Glorietta Bay, where you can also rent kayaks.

This is a calm bay that can be ideal for new paddlers, and an easy paddling distance to the bridge for views of downtown.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, generally flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
1975 Strand Way, Coronado, CA 92118

9: Lake Murray

Lake Murray is located within Mission Trails Regional Park and features clear calm water. There are just over three miles of shoreline to paddle around, making it a good spot for beginners and families looking for a short flatwater trip. It’s also ideal for fishing. Kayaks can be rented at the launch.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Lake Murray Boat Ramp, San Diego, CA 92119

10: Chula Vista

Chula Vista can be a great spot to launch to explore San Diego Bay and the National Wildlife Refuge that includes salt marshes and coastal mudflats. This can generally be a quiet area to paddle where you can spot various species of wildlife, including endangered species. Kayak rentals and tours can be found near the launch.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, calm water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
980 Marina Way, Chula Vista, CA 91910

11: Carlsbad Lagoon

Carlsbad Lagoon, also known as Agua Hedionda, features flatwater and sandy beaches. As well as paddling around the lagoon, you can also paddle into the creek, which can be quieter and great for wildlife viewing. Kayak rentals are available at the Recreation Area launch.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Lagoon Place, Carlsbad, CA 92008

12: Lake Miramar

Lake Miramar is a small reservoir with a wooded shoreline, small coves and picturesque vistas. It can be a good spot for kayak fishing or short flatwater trips. There are kayak rentals available next to the launch, as well as picnic areas.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
10710 Scripps Lake Drive, San Diego, CA 92131

13: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a protected area of coastline that features large sandstone cliffs. This is not advised for unskilled paddlers, as the conditions in the Pacific Ocean can be dangerous.

You can sea kayak along this remarkable coast from the state beach. But don’t get too close to the cliffs - rock falls can be dangerous.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class II/III - difficult sea kayaking with strong currents and waves

Where to Launch & How to get there:
12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037

14: Lake Hodges

Lake Hodges is surrounded by rugged mountains. It can be a peaceful place to kayak, with a good launching area and rentals on-site. This unusually shaped lake has 27 miles of forked shoreline, which can make for interesting adventures. There are also a few no-wake zones for easier paddling.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Lake Hodges Way, Mission Road, San Diego, CA 92127

15: Lake Morena

Lake Morena is a beautiful, remote flatwater lake surrounded by rocky hillsides, and it’s a fantastic place to spend the weekend. You can camp in the campground or rent a wilderness cabin to give you more time to explore the hiking trails, paddle around the lakeshore, and enjoy some fishing.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Unnamed Road, Campo, CA 91906

16: El Capitan Reservoir

El Capitan Reservoir is one of San Diego’s largest. It has 22 miles of shoreline and a large northern fork that can make for a scenic trip with wild mountain landscapes in every direction. The reservoir is also home to bass, catfish, and sunfish if you want to do a little fishing.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
El Monte Road, El Cajon, CA 92021

17: Lake Jennings

Lake Jennings can be a quiet place to paddle, with picturesque vistas and calm water. It can be a good spot for wildlife viewing, especially early in the morning. The lake is also regularly stocked with trout and is home to bass, sunfish, and bluegill. Kayak rentals are available at the launch.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
9535 Harritt Drive, Lakeside, CA 92040

Kayak Rentals, Tours And Laws Around San Diego, CA

US Coast GuardPin

●    La Jolla Kayak (La Jolla - rentals and tours)
●    Aqua Adventures (Mission Bay - rentals)
●    Disco’s Paddle Surf (Point Loma - rentals)
●    Rocky Mountain Recreation (Otay Lake - rentals)
●    Lake Cuyamaca Restaurant & Store (Lake Cuyamaca - rentals)
●    Rocky Mountain Recreation (San Vicente Reservoir)
●    Lake Poway Concession (Lake Poway - rentals)

Laws

In California, you don’t need to register your kayak unless it’s motorized. Remember to have a PFD on board for each person on your kayak.

Children under 13 must wear a PFD while on the water. Avoid alcohol while kayaking in California - boating under the influence is illegal.

Check out our full guide to California kayak laws here.

Final Words

San Diego can be a fantastic place for a laid-back adventure, with lots of lakes to kayak and coastal waters to check out. 

Have you been to one of these awesome locations? Tell us what you thought? And share this to help others discover these places. 

Remember to bring plenty of water with you and tell someone where you’re headed before you set off.

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