Monterey Bay is a world-class destination for observing marine life ranging from whales and dolphins to seals, sea lions, otters, and pelagic birds. The bay offers open-water ocean kayaking while retaining some of the comfort and safety of having fellow kayakers and boaters in the vicinity. Several local guide services are available to help beginners get started, and the bay is accessible to a wide range of abilities, though all paddlers should be prepared for ocean conditions including swells, wind, weather, tides, and tidal currents.
A popular launching point in the central bay is the harbor at Moss Landing, which offers a convenient dock and boat ramp behind a large, protective sand dune breakwater. The calm waters in the harbor area allow paddlers to warm up and reacquaint themselves with their craft and technique before paddling onto open water. Within the harbor area one is almost certain to see playful seals, snoozing sea otters, and several species of coastal birds. Paddling inland from Moss Landing will take you into wildlife-rich Elkhorn Slough; paddling past the breakwater onto open water will take you onto Monterey Bay and into the Pacific Ocean.
Migrating whales can be seen passing through Monterey Bay essentially year round. Humpback and blue whale sightings typically peak in September or October, while gray whale sightings typically peak in the winter months from December through March. In high years, a kayaker may see dozens of humpback whales in one morning, a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle that is not to be missed. If you are not paddling with an experienced guide service, be sure you understand the habits of the creatures you are hoping to view and how to approach and enjoy them safely. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary offers tips and resources for hopeful wildlife enthusiasts.
For scenic coastal paddling, Point Lobos, the "jewel of the California State Parks" found just south of Monterey, offers stunning views and abundant wildlife. The rocky coastline, though beautiful, can also be treacherous to paddlers. It is typically recommended to experienced paddlers only.
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary also posts a list of kayak access points throughout Monterey Bay for adventurers looking to explore all its nooks and crannies.