The 17 Best Places To Kayak In Southern California

Southern California is a kayaker’s paradise, boasting a stunning array of paddling destinations that cater to all skill levels and preferences. From the rugged coastline of the Pacific Ocean to the tranquil waters of pristine lakes, this region offers an unparalleled kayaking experience. 

But it doesn’t stop at the captivating scenery. Southern California also offers a rich cultural tapestry that adds depth to your kayaking experience. As you glide through the crystal-clear waters, you’ll have the chance to learn about the area’s history and immerse yourself in its vibrant culture.

In this article, we’ll take you on a journey through the 17 best places to kayak in Southern California. Let’s dive in.

kayak in Southern California

The 17 Best Places to Kayak in Southern California

Are you an adventure seeker looking for the best places to kayak in Southern California? Look no further! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler, these spots offer something for everyone.

To make planning your next kayaking trip easier, we have organized these locations based on their regions. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the ultimate list of must-visit kayaking spots in Southern California!

#1. La Jolla Sea Caves

La Jolla Sea Caves kayaking Southern California

If you’re looking for an unforgettable kayaking experience in Southern California, look no further than the stunning sea caves of La Jolla. This hidden gem offers a unique opportunity to explore a world unlike any other. La Jolla has everything from sea cave exploration to encountering fascinating marine life.

Sea Cave Exploration

Paddling through the mesmerizing sea caves is an adventure like no other. As you navigate your kayak through the narrow passages and intricate rock formations, you’ll feel a sense of awe and wonder at the natural beauty surrounding you. The echoes of crashing waves and the cool ocean breeze add to the enchanting atmosphere.

Marine Life

One of the highlights of kayaking in La Jolla is the chance to spot playful seals, dolphins, and sea lions in their natural habitat. These curious creatures often swim alongside your kayak, providing an up-close encounter that will leave you in awe. Keep an eye out for majestic whales passing by or graceful sharks gliding beneath your kayak as well.

Best Route: La Jolla Underwater Park

To make the most of your kayaking adventure, paddle through the breathtaking La Jolla Underwater Park.

#2. Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park kayaking

If you’re seeking a kayaking adventure in Southern California, look no further than the breathtaking Channel Islands National Park. This hidden gem offers an abundance of remote beauty, making it one of the best places to kayak in the region.

Remote Beauty

Prepare to be captivated by the untouched landscapes of the Channel Islands. These pristine islands provide a sense of tranquility and seclusion that is hard to find elsewhere. As you paddle along the crystal-clear waters, you’ll be surrounded by unspoiled nature and stunning vistas at every turn. The absence of development allows you to immerse yourself in the raw beauty of these islands.

Best Experience

If you want to have an amazing adventure, you should go on a sea cave kayaking tour around Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. This special experience will show you some really cool caves on big cliffs by the sea. It’s like a work of art made by nature! When the sunlight shines through the cracks in the rocks, it makes pretty patterns on the water, and you’ll feel like you’re in a different world.

Island Wildlife

The Channel Islands are home to diverse wildlife, both above and below the water’s surface.

#3. Lake Arrowhead

Go to the beautiful Lake Arrowhead for a calm kayaking adventure with amazing mountain views. This lovely lake is in the San Bernardino National Forest, and it’s a hidden treasure. The water is very peaceful, making it great for people who love kayaking and want a quiet getaway.

One of the best spots to explore in Lake Arrowhead is the calm waters around the Lake Arrowhead Village. As you paddle through this area, you’ll be greeted by a sense of tranquility and serenity. The village adds to the nice atmosphere of your kayaking adventure with its cute shops and restaurants.

The main attraction of Lake Arrowhead is undoubtedly its tranquil waters. This lake is different from other busy kayaking spots in Southern California. Here, it’s quieter and more peaceful, so you can enjoy the beauty of nature around you. Glide across the crystal-clear waters and take in the breathtaking views that surround you.

What sets Lake Arrowhead apart from many other destinations is its year-round beauty. Regardless of when you visit, this place never fails to impress. The lake becomes even more magical during winter when the mountains nearby are covered in snow. You can see the snowy mountaintops reflected on its surface.

#4. Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

Escape to the picturesque setting of the San Bernardino Mountains at Big Bear Lake, one of the best places to kayak in Southern California. This popular place has amazing mountain views and clear blue waters, and it offers lots of fun things to do.

For the best kayaking route, go along the northern side of Big Bear Lake. You’ll see beautiful mountains and even visit the Big Bear Discovery Center. While paddling in the calm water surrounded by tall pine trees, you’ll see some breathtaking scenery. 

One of the great things about kayaking at Big Bear Lake is that there are lots of other activities, too. You can go fishing, mountain biking, and do winter sports. So, whether you love adventure or just want to relax in nature, this place has something for everyone.

While you kayak on Big Bear Lake, look out for the animals that live here. You might see graceful birds flying in the sky or curious animals peeking out from the forest. There’s a lot to discover and enjoy. The forests around Big Bear Lake make your kayaking experience even more beautiful.

#5. Newport Back Bay

If you’re looking for the best places to kayak in Southern California, make sure to add Newport Back Bay to your list. This hidden gem offers a unique kayaking experience that combines stunning natural beauty with an abundance of wildlife.

Ecological Gem

Newport Back Bay is a special place for people who love nature. It’s like a paradise for them because it has many different environments. When you paddle your kayak there, you’ll see beautiful wetlands, calm fields, and lively areas where rivers meet the sea. This place has many different plants and animals to see up close.

Tidal Channels

One of the highlights of kayaking in Newport Back Bay is navigating through its intricate network of tidal channels. One of the most exciting parts of kayaking in Newport Back Bay is going through its twisty tidal channels. These channels are affected by the way the tide goes in and out, so the scenery always changes.

It makes your kayaking adventure really interesting. You’ll float along these narrow water paths as they go through the bay, and it’s a thrilling experience you won’t find anywhere else.

#6. Lake Casitas

Embark on a kayaking adventure at Lake Casitas, one of Southern California’s best places to kayak. Nestled in the serene setting of the Ojai Valley, this picturesque lake offers a tranquil escape for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful paddling experience or hoping to reel in some fish, Lake Casitas has something for everyone.

Near the Casitas Water Adventure, the lake’s west side lies the ideal kayaking spot. Here, you’ll find calm waters that are perfect for gliding along and taking in the breathtaking surroundings. As you paddle on the calm shores of Lake Casitas, you’ll be surrounded by lots of green plants and beautiful scenery. It feels like you’re really part of the place.

One of the best things about kayaking at Lake Casitas is that it’s known for being a great spot for fishing. If you like fishing, you’ll have a great time here because there are lots of bass, catfish, and trout in the water. Just get in your kayak and enjoy the excitement of catching fish while the peacefulness of nature surrounds you. Besides kayaking, Lake Casitas has a fun water park called Casitas Water Adventure, which is great for families.

#7. Huntington Harbor

Huntington Harbor Southern California Kayaking

If you love kayaking and want to find great places to go kayaking in California, you should definitely visit Huntington Harbor. It’s a hidden treasure with a coastal feel and beautiful surroundings that make for an unforgettable kayaking experience.

When you paddle through the complex network of canals in Huntington Harbor, you’ll feel the relaxed coastal atmosphere, which is hard to resist. The water is calm, and the currents are gentle, so it’s perfect for both beginners and experienced kayakers.

The scenic channels are one of the best routes to explore in Huntington Harbor. These channels will take you through the marinas and give you a wonderful coastal feeling. You can paddle through peaceful inlets and pass by charming homes along the water. While you’re in these residential areas, keep an eye out for harbor seals sunbathing or playing in the water.

If you want to try something different, you can also go stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) in Huntington Harbor. With SUP, you stand on a bigger board and use a paddle to move through the calm water. It’s a fun way to challenge yourself and enjoy the stunning scenery from a different perspective.

#8. Lake Cuyamaca

If you love kayaking and are looking for great places to kayak in Southern California, you should check out Lake Cuyamaca. It’s a hidden treasure tucked away in the peaceful mountains. This mountain lake is perfect for kayakers who want to get away from the busy city life and enjoy a calm and cool environment.

When you paddle around the edge of Lake Cuyamaca, you’ll see some really amazing views of the mountains all around it. Just picture yourself gliding on clear water, with pine forests and big peaks as your backdrop. These incredible views make you feel like you’re part of nature’s beauty.

One of the best things about kayaking at Lake Cuyamaca is that you can see wildlife along the shores. While paddling in the calm water, keep your eyes open for different animals in this area. You might see graceful birds flying above or small animals running along the banks, and each encounter adds some excitement to your adventure.

For people who love fishing, Lake Cuyamaca has lots of different types of fish waiting for you to catch them. It’s a great spot for fishing, too. Cast your line into the depths and try your luck at reeling in trout, catfish, or even sturgeon.

#9. Lake Perris

Kayak Fishing Lake Perris Southern California

If you’re trying to find the best places to kayak in Southern California, you should check out Lake Perris. This amazing place offers a really great kayaking experience, and you’ll be amazed by how beautiful it is and all the fun things you can do there.

One of the best things about kayaking at Lake Perris is that you can paddle your way to a place called Bernasconi Beach. This is a really nice spot where you can relax and swim, and it’s a perfect break during your kayaking trip. Just picture yourself gliding on really clear water, with stunning views all around you, as you head towards this beautiful beach.

Best Experience: Kayak to Bernasconi Beach

One of the highlights of kayaking at Lake Perris is the chance to paddle your way to Bernasconi Beach. This popular spot is perfect for relaxation and swimming, providing a great break during your kayaking adventure. Imagine gliding through crystal-clear waters, surrounded by breathtaking views, as you make your way towards this idyllic beach haven.

Vast Recreational Opportunities

Lake Perris has more than just kayaking; it has lots of fun water activities for people who love the outdoors. You might see other people having a great time on jet skis or sailing boats when you’re out on the lake in your kayak. So, whether you like the peacefulness of kayaking or you’re looking for some exciting action, Lake Perris has something fun for everyone.

Family-Friendly Destination

Lake Perris is an ideal choice for families looking to spend quality time together on the water. The lake features designated swimming areas where kids can safely splash around while parents relax.

#10. Mission Bay

Are you looking for the best places to go kayaking in Southern California? You should definitely consider Mission Bay. It’s like a paradise for water sports and offers perfect conditions for kayaking, sailing, and other fun water adventures. Whether you’re new to kayaking or have experience, Mission Bay has something for everyone.

One of the cool things about kayaking in Mission Bay is that you can go around Fiesta Island. This route is really enjoyable and gives you beautiful views of the bay. Plus, it’s easy to reach sandy beaches. As you paddle along, you’ll be surrounded by nature’s beauty, and there are lots of chances to take great photos.

But Mission Bay isn’t just for kayaking; it’s also a great place for exploring islands. Inside the bay, many islands are waiting to be explored, each with its special charm. Take your kayak and paddle to these hidden gems while enjoying the peacefulness of nature.

Mission Bay has got you covered if you’re looking for more activities beyond kayaking. The area offers scenic paths and boardwalks perfect for biking and rollerblading enthusiasts. Soak in the stunning views as you cruise along these paths, enjoying the refreshing coastal breeze.

#11. Santa Barbara Harbor

Santa Barbara Harbor kayaking

Embark on a kayaking adventure from Santa Barbara Harbor, where stunning coastal views await. Nestled along the charming Santa Barbara coastline, this picturesque harbor offers a unique perspective to explore the beauty of Southern California’s waters.

Paddle around Stearns Wharf and the harbor entrance for an unforgettable experience. As you glide through the calm waves, you’ll be treated to fantastic coastal views and a glimpse of the iconic wharf. The sight of colorful boats bobbing in the water adds to the vibrant atmosphere of this sailing hub.

Santa Barbara Harbor is not just a place for kayaking; it’s also a bustling nautical scene. You’ll find sailboats gracefully gliding across the horizon and fishermen hauling in their catch of the day. Immerse yourself in this lively maritime environment and soak up its energy.

After your kayaking excursion, take some time to relax on one of the nearby sandy beaches. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin as you unwind amidst breathtaking coastal scenery. If you’re up for some exploration, head back to Santa Barbara Harbor and wander through its charming shops and restaurants. Indulge in delicious seafood or pick up unique souvenirs to commemorate your visit.

#12. Dana Point Harbor

Dana Point Harbor is in Southern California and is a great place for people who love kayaking. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re really good at kayaking, this harbor has calm waters and beautiful views that make it a perfect place for your kayaking adventure.

Beginner-Friendly Waters

One of the main reasons why Dana Point Harbor stands out as an excellent place to kayak is its beginner-friendly waters. The calmness of the harbor’s waters makes it ideal for those new to kayaking or wanting a more relaxed experience. Whether you want to try kayaking for the first time or enjoy a peaceful paddle, Dana Point Harbor won’t disappoint.

Whale Watching Opportunities

Beyond its tranquil atmosphere, Dana Point Harbor also provides unparalleled whale-watching opportunities during the annual migration season. As you embark on your kayaking journey, keep an eye out for majestic whales swimming alongside your kayak.

This awe-inspiring sight will undoubtedly create lasting memories and deepen your appreciation for these magnificent creatures.

Exploring Baby Beach

Baby Beach is an absolute must-visit spot for those looking to explore the best routes within Dana Point Harbor. Situated within the harbor, this area boasts serene and calm waters that are perfect for beginners and families with young children.

#13. Lake Elsinore

Experience the thrill of kayaking on Lake Elsinore, Southern California’s largest freshwater lake. Paddle amidst stunning sunsets and vibrant birdlife at the picturesque Lake Elsinore. Unleash your sense of adventure as you navigate through Lake Elsinore’s expansive waterways.

Water Activities

When visiting Lake Elsinore, you’ll find an array of exciting water activities to enjoy alongside kayaking. Whether you’re a seasoned paddleboarder or a jet ski enthusiast, this destination has something for everyone. Feel the rush as you glide across the water on a paddleboard or rev up your adrenaline with a thrilling jet ski ride.

Diverse Fishery

Anglers will be delighted by the diverse fishery that Lake Elsinore offers. The lake is home to an abundance of bass, catfish, and carp, making it a popular spot for fishing enthusiasts. Cast your line and test your skills as you aim to reel in one of these prized catches.

Best Spot

For those seeking tranquility while kayaking or fishing, head towards the northern part of Lake Elsinore near La Laguna Resort.

#14. Hollywood Reservoir

Give yourself a break from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles by going kayaking at Hollywood Reservoir. It’s a special spot where you can paddle near the famous Hollywood Sign, making it a great opportunity for some awesome photos. Plus, there are other cool things to explore here too!

As you smoothly paddle on the quiet waters of Hollywood Reservoir, enjoy the amazing cityscape views in front of you. The city’s shiny buildings look cool against the calm nature around, and it makes your kayaking adventure truly unforgettable.

One of the best things about kayaking at Hollywood Reservoir is that you can also have a relaxing picnic as part of your adventure. Just find a comfy spot by the water, spread out your blanket, and have some tasty food in this peaceful place. It’s a great way to unwind and recharge after an exciting paddle.

The area around Hollywood Reservoir is full of wildlife and lush plants, which makes it even more interesting. Look out for different types of birds that live here, and you might also see other animals going about their day in this natural place.

Whether you’re really good at kayaking or trying it for the first time, Hollywood Reservoir has something fun for everyone.

#15. Alamitos Bay

Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, Southern California, is a wonderful place for kayaking. It has a charming waterfront community and calm waters, making it a perfect location for a relaxing or adventurous kayaking trip.

You can paddle through the beautiful canals of Alamitos Bay and enjoy some unique views. When you explore the scenic canals around Naples Island, you’ll be surrounded by lovely waterfront houses that add to the beauty of your kayaking adventure. The peaceful and quiet atmosphere makes it a soothing journey as you glide along the calm waters.

But Alamitos Bay is not just for kayaking; it’s also a popular spot for sailors. There are plenty of opportunities for sailing, creating a lively nautical atmosphere that enhances the appeal of the place. Watching sailboats gracefully glide on the water while you kayak adds to the enchanting feeling of your overall experience.

If you’re up for more exploration after your kayak trip, consider hopping on a bike and exploring the nearby scenic paths. Alamitos Bay is located close to Belmont Shore, an area known for its charm and beauty. Cycling along these paths will allow you to soak in even more of Southern California’s breathtaking scenery.

#16. Silverwood Lake

Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, Silverwood Lake offers a mountain escape like no other. Its clear waters and picturesque surroundings make it undoubtedly one of the best places to kayak in Southern California. Let’s explore what makes this hidden gem so special.

Paddle near Cleghorn Beach for an unforgettable kayaking experience. As you glide through the calm waters, take in the breathtaking views of the lake and nearby forested hills. The tranquility of nature envelops you, providing a serene backdrop for your adventure.

Not only is Silverwood Lake perfect for kayaking, but it also offers excellent fishing opportunities. Cast your line and try your luck at catching rainbow trout, catfish, or bluegill. Whether you’re an experienced angler or just starting out, the abundance of fish in these waters guarantees a thrilling fishing experience.

For those seeking a complete outdoor getaway, camping at one of the lakefront sites is a must-do. Set up your tent amidst nature’s beauty and fall asleep to the soothing sounds of water gently lapping against the shore. Wake up refreshed and ready to embark on another day of kayaking or simply bask in the peaceful ambiance that surrounds you.

#17. Lake Hodges

Embark on a kayaking expedition at Lake Hodges, known for its peaceful atmosphere and abundant wildlife. This hidden gem tucked away in Southern California offers a serene escape as you navigate through the calm waters of picturesque Lake Hodges.

Peaceful Setting

One of the highlights of kayaking at Lake Hodges is the peaceful setting it provides. Surrounded by rolling hills, you’ll find yourself immersed in nature’s tranquility. As you paddle along the waterways, the stress of everyday life melts away, replaced by a sense of calm and serenity.

Best Route

For a really peaceful kayaking experience in the hilly area, go to the southern part of Lake Hodges near the Lake Hodges Boat Rentals spot. This area has some of the best routes to explore. You can smoothly paddle on the clear water and enjoy amazing views that appear around every corner.


Lake Hodges is also great for people who love to watch birds. While you kayak through its pretty waterways, look out for different types of birds that live here. You might see graceful ducks gliding on the water and majestic herons sitting on branches. There are many chances to get a closer look at these beautiful creatures.

Activities Beyond Kayaking In Southern CA

Southern California is not only a paradise for kayakers, but it also offers a plethora of other exciting activities that can complement your kayaking adventure. From stunning sunsets to thrilling rock climbing, there is something for everyone to enjoy. So, when you’re ready to take a break from the water, here are some fantastic options to consider:

Sunset at Griffith Observatory

One of the most amazing things you can do in Southern California is watch the sunset at Griffith Observatory. It’s way up on Mount Hollywood, and it gives you a great view of Los Angeles and the beautiful area around it. When the sun goes down and the sky turns all sorts of pretty colors, you’ll feel like you’re in a magical place.

Desert Hot Springs Spas

After an exhilarating day of paddling through picturesque waters, pamper yourself with a visit to the rejuvenating spas in Desert Hot Springs. Known for its geothermal hot springs, this oasis offers therapeutic mineral baths that will melt away any residual tension from your muscles. Indulge in soothing massages or soak in natural pools while surrounded by serene desert landscapes – it’s pure bliss and relaxation.

Final Words

In the mesmerizing waters of Southern California, kayaking enthusiasts are spoiled for choice when it comes to exploring the region’s aquatic wonders. From tranquil lakes to rugged coastlines, Southern California offers an array of breathtaking destinations for paddlers of all levels. As we bid farewell to this journey through the best places to kayak in Southern California, remember that the adventure never truly ends; it merely evolves with each stroke of your paddle.

About Addison

Hark! Fellow seekers of adventure! 

I'm Addison, a passionate adventurer from Oregon's captivating Pacific Northwest. Alongside my brother Ronin, we founded PaddleWiggle, a kayaking website. On my page, you'll find thrilling stories of my kayaking expeditions.

So, join me as I explore wild rivers and hidden coves, sharing the raw beauty of nature through PaddleWiggle's expedition section.

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