Paddle Boarding on West Coast: Top Five Spots for Summertime

Adventure Listicles Paddling Travel By Emily Leikam

As summer arrives, so does the inspiration to exercise outside and get on the water. Alongside surfing, waterskiing, kayaking, and other water sports, paddle boarding has become a popular activity as the weather warms up.

What is Paddle Boarding?

Paddle boarding, or stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), is one of the fastest-growing board sports in the world. SUP combines a fun way to get on the water with the benefits of a full-body workout. Balancing on top of what is essentially a large surfboard, paddle boarders use a long paddle to propel themselves through the water. Not only does SUP give you an incredible core workout, but, as you stand full height on your board, it provides views of secluded coastlines and soaring vistas above the water and abundantly diverse marine life below the water. 

Since SUP and scenic views go hand-in-hand, it's no wonder that a major part of the industry lies on the west coast of the United States. There are so many amazing places to paddle along the West Coast. Each one offers something unique, from drop-dead scenic views and diverse marine life to cityscapes and hidden coves. Summer is here, so it's time to explore the West Coast paddle boarding scene.

Below is a list of five of the top West Coast locations offering incredible paddle boarding experiences.

1. San Diego

Known as "the birthplace of California," San Diego offers a 365-day season for paddle boarding. With literally the perfect weather year-round, it's definitely at the top of the list for the best summertime paddle boarding spots on the West Coast. San Diego is home to many world-class paddle boarding destinations, but you don't want to miss these top spots:

La Jolla Cove

This protected cove and marine sanctuary offers the most amazing scenery, both on top of and underneath the water. Underwater visibility can reach as deep as 30 feet for views of incredibly diverse marine life. On any given day, you can see stingrays, jellyfish, yellowtail, sea turtles, and leopard sharks (posing no danger to humans). But don't forget to look up, watch and listen to the sea lions and seals on the cliffs. If you park at La Jolla Shores, you can paddle to the Seven Caves of La Jolla before reaching the Cove. This is a well-known water sports paradise for kayakers and surfers as well.

sea lions on land resting next to sea
You can't miss the amazing sea lions while paddle boarding in La Jolla. Photo by Laura.

Coronado Island

Just a 5-minute drive from downtown San Diego, Coronado Island offers great views of the skyline, baseball stadium, famous Hotel del Coronado, classic yachts and, if you're lucky, a massive Navy vessel. The waters are calm, making it perfect for all members of the family, any experience level, or some relaxing SUP yoga.

Mission Bay

The country's largest man-made saltwater bay (with over 25 miles of shoreline) offers calm winds and even calmer waters. It's perfect for flatwater paddling or SUP yoga. Mission Bay is also stocked with an abundance of halibut, Corvina and several species of bass, making for some awesome SUP fishing.

Del Mar Beach

Known as Dog Beach (it's one of the only San Diego beaches to allow dogs), it's the perfect place to SUP with your pup. The area has both calm waters and a fast-moving river mouth, making it a great paddling spot for both flatwater beginners and SUP surfers.

2. Dana Point, Catalina Island

With absolutely stunning views of the Southern California coastline, Dana Point is a great hub for paddle boarding. For the more advanced SUP surfers, Doheny Beach offers rolling waves along a nice stretch of sandy coastline. Baby Beach in Dana Point Harbor offers calmer waters for those who are newer to the sport or are interested in some relaxing SUP yoga. 

Just a short ferry ride from Dana Point lies Catalina Island. With 52 miles of coastline, the island is a mecca for paddle boarding. The island is surrounded by crystal clear waters, diverse marine life, and several coves and harbors to explore. Start your SUP experience from Avalon Bay and paddle anywhere from 1 to 12 miles between White Rock, Willow Cove, and Two Harbors.

people paddleboarding between white boats on body of water
SUPing on Catalina Island. Photo by b r e n t.

3. Monterey

Surrounded by the most magnificent ocean views and seascapes in California, Monterey is loaded with jaw-dropping SUP locations. Explore the best spots for paddling in the Monterey region:

Stillwater Cove

This heart-shaped cove is a sanctuary for flatwater paddle boarders. Glide through kelp forests, and view cute sea otters and playful seals. The cove is protected by Pescadero Point (home of the Ghost Tree) and is the drop-dead gorgeous backdrop between the 7th and 17th holes of Pebble Beach.

Breakwater Cove

Located next to the Coast Guard pier, the cove is ideal for first-time paddle boarders and families. It is also a great place to view seals, sea lions and otters.

Lover’s Point

Take your SUP and paddle through the kelp forest and along the Pacific Grove shoreline for an excellent view of Monterey Bay.

Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz Harbor and Santa Cruz Wharf (along Cowell’s Beach) are excellent spots for beginners, as the waters are calm and you don’t have to venture too far out into the ocean. You may even catch a glimpse of a whale at the wharf. The Capitola Wharf is a little busier, and parking is more difficult, but it’s a beautiful SUP location. You'll likely encounter sea otters while enjoying amazing views of Monterey Bay.

woman paddling on body of water
Paddling in Capitola. Photo by Jean Carlo Emer.

4. San Francisco

Best known for the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, San Francisco is also a popular SUP location. In fact, you can even view these attractions while you're paddling in the bay area. The waters tend to be colder in some areas, so dress appropriately (think wetsuit) for lower temps. A few popular SUP spots include:

McCovey Cove

The inlet is best known as a great place to take in the action of a Giant's baseball game at AT&T Park. There isn't a perfect view of the field, but when it's a sunny summer day and there's a home game, it makes for a fun paddle boarding experience.

Richardson Bay

The bay offers calm waters and a good place for beginner paddle boarders to get a feel for the sport.

Crown Beach

This is a must-visit spot in the Bay area for paddle boarding. It's more isolated and offers great viewing of the San Francisco skyline. Make sure to paddle close to the shoreline to avoid rough currents. The water is typically calm and easy to navigate.

5. Lake Tahoe

Located on the border of Northern California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful and serene spots to paddle board in the summertime. For a truly epic experience only available on the largest alpine lake in North America, make use of the 20 public launch and landing sites to paddle board the 72-mile length of the Lake Tahoe Water Trail. The amazing water clarity, towering trees, and majestic mountains make it the perfect spot for some of the best SUP photos.

man stand up paddling on body of water
The breathtaking water color on the Lake Tahoe. Photo by Diana Orey.

Grab Your Paddle & Get Ready to SUP

Stand-up paddle boarding has become an increasingly popular activity that offers something for everyone. It’s a fun way to get together with friends and family, including the family dog. Also, it’s a chance to escape by yourself for some peaceful paddling or meditative yoga. (If you're more interested in dynamic SUP experience, check out whitewater paddleboarding in Portland!) It’s a whole-body workout as you balance, engage your core, steady your legs and paddle along with your arms. More than anything, SUP is a way to view some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery on the West Coast. Grab a paddle, hop on a board and enjoy!

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man in KÜHL shorts paddleboarding on body of water
Emily Leikam
Emily is an avid traveler and has been all around the world from Alaska and Iceland to Peru and Bali. Her home base is Nashville, TN and when not traveling you can find her hiking, practicing yoga or cooking/baking!