Small Craft Morning

Kayaking San Luis Obispo Bay to Point San Luis Lighthouse

San Luis Obispo Bay is a lovely place to kayak. The highlands backing the bay and a jetty at its western end protect the harbor from tough paddling, though you still want to get out early—prevailing offshore winds can make the return passage rough—and be sure to hug the coast on particularly blustery days.

Your voyage starts in Avila Beach at the base of the Harford Pier on the west side of SLO Bay. The recommended route is to follow the coastline south all the way to Whaler’s Beach at Point San Luis, where an enchanting antique lighthouse awaits. The voyage is just under two miles round-trip, as the seagull flies, but you’ll want to tool around in the harbor a bit and maybe ply along the breakwater too.

Kayak San Luis Bay Sea Otters

The pacified bay attracts a variety of marine and bird life. Patches of kelp just east of Harford Pier lure a playful family of sea otters as well as curious seals. As you pass Smith’s Island, a big guano-stained rock, watch for standing-room-only pelicans.

After landing at Whaler’s Beach, pull your kayak up to dry sand and ascend the stairs to Point San Luis Lighthouse, perched on a bluff amid Monterey pines and eucalyptus trees. The main keeper’s lighthouse is at the northwest end of the station. Built in 1890, the ornate Victorian wooden house is immaculately restored and open for tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Gallery image 1 of 2
Gallery image 2 of 2

Wraparound vistas extend east across SLO Bay and down the coast all the way to hazy Point Sal and out to open sea. A swing, slung to a high bough of a girthy eucalyptus, lets the sitter feast on these sumptuous views, launching you feet-first toward this sparkling seascape.

You have the presence of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant to thank for keeping the coast between Avila Beach and Morro Bay human-free, allowing plant and animal life to flourish. Kayaking to Point San Luis puts you at the threshold of the plant’s off-limits zone, making a voyage there all the more special.

undefined

On days with sizable swell, it’s worth paddling along the breakwater past Whaler’s Island to watch waves crash dramatically against the rock wall, rocketing spray a dozen feet into the air. You might just garner a new appreciation for the protective power of jetties—and the sheer force of the sea.

DO IT: Rent from Avila Beach Paddlesports, which operates from an old boatyard at the base of Harford Pier from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Monday, weather permitting. Guided tours and lessons also available. Words of warning: prevailing offshore winds can make the return passage rough, a real upper-body workout. Vincent Shay, owner of Avila Beach Paddlesports, says the best time to paddle is from 9 to 11 a.m., as winds can really pick up by the afternoon.

STAY: To bask in Avila’s mellow vibes even longer, consider overnighting at the Otter Lofts, a pair of charming condos in the heart of town. Avila Beach locals Vincent and Emily Shay rent these ocean-themed pads—a one-bedroom and two-bedroom, each with a kitchen and fireplace—and can offer insider tips for enjoying your stay. Both units are discounted for off-peak season. No pets allowed.

From the 101 Freeway, exit Avila Beach Dr. and head west for 4.5 miles to reach a parking lot at the base the Harford Pier. Avila Beach Paddlesports is at the east end of the parking lot.

Trending Stories Northern CA

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    Fall for the Treasures of North Lake Tahoe

    North Lake Tahoe in fall is an amazing time. It’s less crowded, many hiking and biking trails are open, sunsets and starry nights are spectacular, and fields of aspens are a splendor across the region.

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    Ride and Seek

    Oceanside breezes, beautiful beaches, a car-free pathway for biking, and beer at the end: You’re on a roll! The San Mateo Coast was made for beach hopping and beer tasting …

    View
  3. Image that represents the story

    Redwoods, Beach, Banner View!

    Explore among the redwoods in Henry Cowell State Park on this magical 5-mile hike featuring the big trees, a beach, and a beautiful view from an observation deck.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story

    GOAT Coastal Hike + Sunset

    GOAT (greatest of all time) Sonoma Coast experience? Hike the Kortum Trail, wine taste on a patio overlooking the Russian River, and catch a sensational sunset at, yep, Goat Rock Beach.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Shakespeare Bridge + Secret Garden

    Romeo, Romeo, we all know how this goes, but do you know how to go to the Shakespeare Bridge and secret gardens? We’ve got the online do-it-yourself hiking route for you.

    View
  2. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    Hidden Stairways of SF: Urban Hike

    This guided hike sold out fast, but new dates have been added! Get outdoors and explore the hidden stairways and gardens of San Francisco anew. Small group and socially distanced.

    View
  3. Image that represents the story

    Boontime!

    Glamp in a tent cabin or stay in private patio room among redwoods in the heart of Russian River. And do some wine tasting at these two beautiful vineyards with airy cabanas and gorgeous views.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story

    Bodega's Hidden Hike-in Beach

    Bodega Head has a mystical hike-in beach trail through secret sand dunes. Hike in, then enjoy the West's tastiest BBQ brisket on a patio overlooking Bodega Bay Harbor.

    View