KQED Guides

Best On-The-Water Adventures in the Bay

Updated: June 17, 2014

Flickr: Perfecto Insecto

For the outdoorsy type, there’s no shortage of on-the-water adventures in the Bay Area. Our temperate climate means it’s almost always a great time to get out and learn how to sea kayak, sail, deep sea fish, windsurf, or even take up dragon boat racing. Take your pick!


One of the best ways to interact with or at least observe the local sea life, like seals and pelicans, is to paddle around in a sea kayak. There are a few great places to learn the peaceful art of sea kayaking, both on San Francisco Bay and a bit further north. In Sausalito, try Sea Trek, which offers beginning and advanced classes and rents out kayaks, paddleboats, and stand-up paddleboards. Another good bet is California Canoe and Kayak, out of Jack London Square in Oakland, and if you’re willing to go farther afield for truly peaceful waters, get to Tomales Bay’s Blue Waters in Marshall in West Marin. (Bonus to Tomales Bay: Oysters! End your day up there with a visit to Hog Island Oyster Co.)


Flickr: Jessica FM

Seasoned sailors often name the San Francisco Bay as one of the best places in the world to sail because the conditions are so good and the challenges are sophisticated and varied, and one can rest assured that every voyage will be a little different. For those learning to sail, the Bay is a great place to start because it offers terrific day-long sails to places like Tiburon, Sausalito, or Angel Island, and because there are plenty of options for both bold learners (like jumping right in to sailing in tricky currents and wind conditions, not to mention busy vessel traffic) and those who want to learn in a less challenging situation (like calm estuaries). Many people say that if you learn to sail on San Francisco Bay, you can sail safely anywhere in the world.

There are also plenty of sailing schools to choose from depending on where you live in the Bay Area and what type of experience you want.

In the Berkeley Marina, there are two sailing schools: OCSC Sailing and the Cal Sailing Club. OCSC is a hangout for sailors beginners to expert sailors, with courses running the gamut from basic keelboat to offshore and navigation instruction, and the Cal Sailing Club (which is open to anyone, not just those associated with Cal), offers great beginners and advanced beginner lessons and some free lessons on Saturdays. (Bonus: Both schools are known for not just great sailing lessons but for their lively social scenes. Witness this review on Yelp for the Cal Sailing Club: “Where else can a postal worker, oracle executive, and berkley [sic] undergrads mingle in the sun and drink beers while telling tall sea yarns?  Filled with a great group of people, a grill, and the best playground it’s a great place to spend a sunny day.”)

Those interested in learning to sail in slightly more protected waters might want to consider Club Nautique in Alameda (note it has a location in Sausalito as well). If you’re a San Francisco resident and don’t want to cross a bridge to learn to sail, there’s the San Francisco Sailing School, located at Pier 39.


Interested in catching your first salmon? Consider booking a fishing trip with Lovely Martha, a company based on Fisherman’s Wharf that’s been around for decades and is known for being “beginner friendly.” (Check out their lively Facebook page). Another option is Flash Sport Fishing, also down at Fisherman’s Wharf, led by Captain Steve Talmadge, who looks every bit the part of seasoned sport fisherman.

Note that to go fishing, you first need to get a fishing license. Find out more at the California Department of Fish and Game.


Flickr:Jason Reidy

If you’re strong and a good swimmer, taking up windsurfing might be just the ticket this summer. The Cal Sailing Club listed above also offers windsurfing lessons with an extra side of fun (its motto is, after all, “Sail. Windsurf. Party.”), but another good option is Boardsports, which has locations in Alameda, San Mateo and San Francisco and offers private and group lessons for beginners. For those of us in the South Bay, head out to California Windsurfing in Foster City.


Last but not least, let’s not forget dragon boat racing, a competitive and very vigorous sport that many think began in southern central China 2,500 years ago and requires a crew of 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a “sweep” who steers. The San Francisco Bay Area Dragons offers free classes every Saturday morning at its Foster City location.


Of course, if you’re beyond your adventure-sports prime (or maybe you’ve got a family in tow), there are more sedate ways to spend some time on the Bay, taking in the beauty of the city skyline and the Golden Gate. Ferries are not just for commuters and Alcatraz-bound tourists. Take a gander at the schedule and enjoy a quick trip to (and from) a scenic locale: Tiburon, Angel Island, the SF Ferry Building, Jack London Square. And for an even more leisurely pace, you can find a host of private charters and group cruises. Sure, a dinner cruise under the Golden Gate isn’t going to get you your X-Games merit badge, but it’s a beautiful way to spend a few hours away from the bustle of city streets.

– Meghan Laslocky


  • Benjamin Durr

    I have actually tried all of these activities! I learned from the best experts in our place and nearly tried going for advanced lessons. Although the things I know I can do aren’t that much broad yet, I know I have more to learn. It’s always fun being on the water!

  • Toeknee Toe

    Cal Sailing Club is a Non-profit. Cal Sailing Club membership cost $75 for 3 months.
    It’s quarterly membership will be raised to $99 for 3 months on Jan 2013.
    Get annual membership for $225 before Jan 2013.

  • Surfdancer

    Part of what makes Cal-Sailing great (inexpensive AND with a lot of great equipment) is the same reason it is so fun: it is a membership cooperative. Each member adds a couple hours work to the quarterly dues, which mean members get to work and play together: a great combo!

  • http://www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org/ Paul Kamen

    Cal Sailing Club is by far the best and least expensive way to learn to sail in the Bay Area. Because all the instruction is volunteer, the main thrust of the program is not just to teach new members how to sail, but to provide the skills and background necessary become a sailing instructor and to help teach the next wave of new members. This is in contrast to most commercial sailing schools, where the goal is to move customers into bigger boats that they can buy or charter.

    Cal Sailing Club starts beginners in small and responsive boats. These small-boat skills translate easily to much larger boats, but the reverse is not true, and very few really good sailors start out in big boats.

    In typical summer winds, the 15 ft boats used for primary instruction at CSC handle much like larger boats in storm conditions. But no sailing school will let a student practice with a big boat in a storm – so sailors who start out in larger keelboats are missing an important set of skills that is very difficult to acquire later.

    One result of the all-volunteer program is that some instructors are not very good, while other instructors are really superb. This does put some responsibility on the student to sort out the good teaching techniques from the not-so-good.

    The only real downside to CSC is that it is not always efficient with students’ time. Sometimes there are not enough volunteer instructors on a busy lesson day, and sometimes new members are asked to help with boat repair projects instead of sailing. If you can only spare an hour or two a week, and need your lesson to start and end on a reliable schedule, then a more expensive and more structured program (such as Cal Adventures, next door to CSC) might be better.

    CSC is a great social scene, too. No-one has to be paid to hang out there.

    And, while you’re in the Berkeley Marina, check out the dragon boat team at the Berkeley Racing Canoe Center across the street from CSC at M-Dock, and the crewing opportunities in the Friday Night Races (summer) or the Sunday afternoon races (winter) over at Berkeley Yacht Club. All of these activities welcome drop-ins.

  • http://www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org/ Paul Kamen

    For dragon boat racing and recreational paddling in the East Bay, there’s the Berkeley Racing Canoe Center at M-Dock in the Berkley Marina, the Oakland Renegades in Lake Merritt, and the Alameda DragonFlyers in Alameda.

    The Berkeley club is the most active of the three, with weekday evening practices year round from 6-7 pm Monday through Thursday, and Saturday mornings at 9 and at 10:30. http://www.BerkeleyDragons.org for more info and the latest practice schedule. The full moon night-time practices are especially popular. Drop-ins are always welcome, there’s no charge for the first two sessions, paddles and lifejackets provided. Small children, non-paddling passengers and well-behaved dogs can usually be accommodated.

    Membership is $100/year and includes unlimited use of assorted kayaks and a 1-person outrigger canoe.

  • Toeknee Toe

    Cal Sailing Lessons are for Members Only. They take place Monday and Thursday afternoons. Saturday Lessons are from 10AM to 1PM. We do offer free Open House rides to the general public on certain Sundays once a month. Open House schedule starts in Spring and ends in early Winter. Please visit CAL-SAILING.ORG for more details.