Bay Area Boating With Kids

Taking the family out for a paddle or a sail may seem like a great idea in the water-rich, eco-friendly Bay Area. But venturing out into the ocean, or even a calm lake or harbor, in a self-propelled watercraft can be intimidating at first, especially for families with children.

Fortunately, there are many locations and watercraft options suited to families who want to try wind- or muscle-powered boating. Modern polyethylene kayaks and stand-up paddle boards – or SUPs – are very user friendly, joining the traditional line of canoes, pedal boats and sailboats that can make great watercraft for beginners and kids.

At the same time, certain waterways are ideal for newcomers; outfitters are often on hand to rent boats and lead tours there.

Try out a few different watercraft, and you soon may find you’re gung-ho on sail and self-powered boating. These vessels are cheaper to rent, at around $15 to $30 per hour, than motorized watercraft. They move slowly, so they’re safer to operate. Plus, they’re good for you and the environment: While you build up your biceps, you’ll be shrinking your carbon footprint. And you’ll be enjoying the fresh air with the family – many companies even allow you to bring the family dog.

Here are some of the non-motorized boating options around the Bay Area. Be sure to check with rental agencies in advance; some are open weekends or warm months only, and others have age minimums – often age 5 or 6 – for certain watercraft or tours. Outfitters provide life jackets for children, which are required by state law for children under 13.


Bolinas Lagoon. The Stinson Beach sandbar juts out from the mainland, protecting this 1,000-acre lagoon from the surf and providing a peaceful place to paddle with youngsters. Kayaks and stand-up paddle boards are available at Stinson Beach Surf and Kayak, 3605 Hwy. 1, Stinson Beach. 415-868-2739. . For a guided kayak lagoon tour, contact Outback Adventures, located year round at 43905 Hugo Terrace, Fremont. 510-440-8888.

Sausalito. In a quaint harbor beneath Sausalito’s hills, paddlers can explore rows and rows of fishing ships, sailboats and colorful houseboats. Sea Trek offers kayak and SUP rentals here as well as monster paddle boards that can carry up to six people and dogs. Sea Trek also offers a kids’ day camp, beginners’ classes and several daytime and nighttime tours. There are tours geared especially for families around Sausalito and more advanced trips to Angel Island and the Golden Gate. Located at the Bay Model, Sausalito. 415-332-8494.

San Francisco

South Beach. Just want to get your feet wet at paddling sports? City Kayak in South Beach Harbor allows people to take a kayak out for free for 30 minutes on specific Sundays, once or twice a month. City Kayak also offers kayak, SUP and canoe rentals as well as classes and trips of varying intensity. More advanced paddlers can take guided trips to see Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, Treasure Island and holiday fireworks. Located on Pier 40, San Francisco. 415-294-1050. 

Stow Lake. Boaters at this lake in Golden Gate Park can travel under the old bridges, head to Strawberry Hill – famous for its birds and butterflies, visit the Chinese pagoda and follow turtles as they swim. Pedal and rowboats as well as electric boats can be rented from the historic boathouse. 50 Stow Lake Drive E., San Francisco. 415-702-1390. 

East Bay

Jack London Square. With a little paddle power, you can gain a front row seat for the many special events and daily bustle along the waterfront at Jack London Square. Rent boats or SUPs from California Canoe & Kayak or attend one of their many paddleboard and kayak classes and tours, including sunset and moonlight tours and a guided paddle from Treasure Island. 409 Water St., Oakland. 510-893-7833.

Lake Chabot. This lake offers 315 acres of peaceful paddling space surrounded by rolling, oak-studded hills. Book a guided kayak tour or rent rowboats, kayaks, pedal boats or electric boats from the Lake Chabot Marina and Café. 17936 Lake Chabot Road, Castro Valley. 510-247-2526. 

Lake Elizabeth. The centerpiece of Fremont’s Central Park, this 83-acre lake offers kayak, paddle boat and SUP rentals as well as sailing lessons for ages 14 and up. 40000 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont. 510-790-5541. 

Lake Merritt. To explore this saltwater tidal lake in downtown Oakland, families can rent pedal boats, kayaks, rowboats and canoes, or if you have sailing experience, sailboats as well. The Lake Merritt Boating Center also offers youth boating and sailing lessons and camps. 568 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. 510-238-2196. .


Half Moon Bay. Get up close to the harbor seals, birds and otters as you cruise the protected Pillar Point Harbor or coast into the open Pacific. Half Moon Bay Kayak Company rents kayaks and SUPs and also offers a tour specifically for families with youngsters, docking at Pillar Point to explore the tide pools. If your kids want more, sign them up for the children’s kayak camp or teens’ kayak fishing camp. 2 Johnson Pier, Half Moon Bay. 650-773-6101.

Redwood City. From the Redwood City waterfront, boaters can wander around several marinas, meander through Corkscrew Slough to the Bair Island Ecological Reserve and head deep into San Francisco Bay. California Canoe & Kayak offers kayak and SUP introductory courses and tours here. 487 Seaport Court, Redwood City. 650-593-6060. Outback Adventures also offers a tour from Redwood City to Bair Island. 43905 Hugo Terrace, Fremont. 510-440-8888. Youth sailing programs are offered by Spinnaker Sailing School  and at Sequoia Yacht Club.

Silicon Valley

Almaden Lake. Just a 10-minute drive from downtown San Jose, this lake offers an opportunity to get on the water without leaving town. Pedal boats are available to rent from Memorial Day through Labor Day. 6099 Winfield Blvd., San Jose. 408-794-7275.

Stevens Creek Reservoir. Tucked in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this 86-acre reservoir offers an escape from the rush of nearby Silicon Valley. Outback Adventures rents kayaks and SUPs during warm months here. It also offers two-hour introductory paddling and SUP classes and a youth water sports camp. 11401 Stevens Canyon Road, Cupertino. 408-867-3654. .Outback’s year-round location: 43905 Hugo Terrace, Fremont. 510-440-8888.


Loch Lomond. You’ll feel miles away from it all on this lovely mountain lake, which offers rented rowboats, paddle boats, canoes and electric boats from March through Labor Day. 100 Loch Lomond Way, Felton. 831-335-7424. 

Santa Cruz. From the Santa Cruz shore, Venture Quest offers rented kayaks while Kayak Connection rents both kayaks and SUPs, and both provide tours throughout the area. Here is a sampling: Start at the harbor and discover the kelp forests, paddle among the otters in Elkhorn Slough, explore the sea caves from Natural Bridges State Park or launch into the open ocean at Davenport for a close view of migrating grey whales. Venture Quest, No. 2 Santa Cruz Wharf. 831-425-8445. . Kayak Connection, 413 Lake Ave., Santa Cruz. 831-479-1121. 

Angela Geiser often kayaks and paddle boards with her kids and is a frequent contributor to Bay Area Parent.

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