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Days
?
Motors Allowed?
Yes
Difficulty
Easy / Class A
Distance
5.00 mi (8.05 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Santa Cruz harbor is a great launching point for a day on the water. Convenient to get to and surrounded by the amenities of Santa Cruz, the harbor is friendly to families and beginners but also offers access to the many adventures to be had on Monterey Bay. The harbor itself is well protected behind a substantial breakwater, giving true first-timers a place to learn the basic strokes and get the feel of their vessels (though powerboat and sailboat traffic must be yielded to). Turn the corner past the break, however, and the Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you.

Most paddlers will head for the Santa Cruz Wharf, the kelp beds around reknowned surf spot Steamer Lane and Seal Rock to the west, and past Seabright State Beach and the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk. A round trip from the harbor to the wharf is 4 to 5 miles and a few hours at a leisurely pace. Seals and sea lions congregating at these landmarks can be heard across the bay, and dolphins, whales, porpoises, otters, pelagic birds, and other marine life are frequently spotted along the way. 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. Local rental outfits such as Kayak Connection make a day on the water a cinch.

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.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Convenient. Good for beginners. Wildlife.

Cons

A fun outing but not high adventure.

Pets allowed

Allowed

Put-in location (lat, long coordinates)

36.9686, -122.0017

Take-out location (lat, long coordinates)

36.9686, -122.0017

Water Temperature

60.00 °F (15.56 °C)

Features

Family friendly
Flushing toilets
Potable water
Rental facilities
Boat ramp(s)
Shelters
Lighthouse
Wildlife
Bird watching
Whale watching
Fishing

Trail type

There-and-back

Access

Vehicle

Typically multi-day

No

Shuttle required

No

Site characteristics: Water

Ocean

Portage required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz, California
San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz, California
San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz, California

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