Kayaking on Monterey Bay and Elkhorn Slough

Kayaking on Monterey Bay and Elkhorn Slough is guaranteed fun. "Everyone comes back pretty surprised at how many animals are out there!" says Dustin Knight of Adventures by the Sea.

It's not just the adorable sea otters, sea lions and harbor seals, or the soaring pelicans, sandpipers, loons, and grebes, says Kasey Boyer of Elkhorn Slough's Kayak Connection. "If you're lucky you'll see leopard sharks and bat rays in the water, too!"

Cass Schrock of Monterey Bay Kayaks has tales of even larger sea life spotted by kayakers. "People have seen whales or dolphins," she says. "But you have to be pretty darn lucky to see the whales!"

Fun For the Whole Family

A kayaking trip can give families stories to share that last for years to come. Whether it's seeing wildlife up close or seeing Cannery Row from the water, kayaking is a great way to spend time with your family and "to see things from a different angle," says Knight.

Schrock notes that Monterey Bay Kayaks has family adventure trips specifically geared toward young children. More than one child has spotted a crab in the kelp as Mom and Dad are paddling along.

"Every day someone comes back with a smile and says, ‘This seal followed us all the way down and all the way back!'" Knight says. Seals are very smart and curious and "sometimes they follow you around like a puppy dog," he says.

Marine Close Encounters

It's important, however, to keep 100 feet of distance from marine mammals. Seals and sea otters "get overly curious and climb up on the [kayak] decks," Boyer says, but "it's not encouraged."

Knight agrees, and tells a story about a wildlife encounter that got uncomfortably close. "A lady was kayaking in front of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a juvenile harbor seal hopped in the back of her kayak. She thought it was the greatest thing in the world, and had her husband take her picture."

It all seemed fun - until the seal overstayed his welcome. "She said, ‘Okay, time to go, get out!' The seal wouldn't go. The seals don't do what they're told," Knight says.

In the end, the only way the woman could get the seal out of her kayak was to flip the kayak over, Knight says. The seal swam off. Eventually, the kayaker, soaked and bedraggled, managed to get back into her kayak and paddle back to the beach. Now she makes sure to follow the rules; when an overly curious sea mammal gets closer to her than 100 feet, she calmly paddles away.
Where to Go: Monterey Bay or Elkhorn Slough?

Every kayaker champions his or her favorite kayaking spot. "[Monterey Bay] is good for beginners because it's for the most part protected from the open ocean," says Knight. Elkhorn Slough, says Boyer, is even calmer. "It's like kayaking on a lake," she says.

Schrock can't pick a favorite; she loves them both. "Elkhorn Slough is the inland nursery for a lot of fish and sharks...it's peaceful and quiet," she says. But there's a lot to love about "the excitement, the harbor activity and historic nature of Monterey Bay," she says. "People have to see both because they show the full range of what the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has to offer."

Monterey County: The Perfect Place To Begin Kayaking

Both Monterey Bay and Elkhorn Slough are calm and sheltered, making them perfect spots for a first kayak excursion. Outfitters such as Adventures By the Sea, Kayak Connection and Monterey Bay Kayaks. provide renters with "outer layers, the life jackets and all the gear for the boats," as well as the kayaks, says Schrock.

You'll also get instruction on how to kayak. "We provide a 10-15 minute lesson on the beach," Knight says, "telling you where to go, where you're going to see the animals, how to paddle." In just a few minutes, "we'll tell you everything you need to know" to have a great morning or afternoon on Monterey Bay.

Kayaking: Tips for the Beginner

  • Wear sunscreen. Though most of your body will be covered by wetsuits or paddling jackets provided by the outfitter, there is still the potential for sunburn on any exposed skin.
  • Wear quick drying clothing. Not sure which clothes are quick-drying? "Wear something you'd work out in," says Knight. Boyer adds, "Wear as little cotton as you can, especially cotton like jeans - it gets wet, it gets heavy and it stays that way."
  • Wear sunglasses. On a bright, sunny day the light will reflect off the water, making it doubly sunny.
  • If you are prone to seasickness and going out on Monterey Bay, you may want to take Dramamine. The small swells can upset the stomachs of the especially motion-sensitive.
  • Don't expect to stay bone dry. "This is a water sport, so you can expect that even in a kayak you very well could get wet," Boyer says.
  • "Anything like cameras and binoculars are a ‘bring at your own risk' kind of thing," says Boyer. They provide great views, but aren't easily recovered if they drop into the drink. There are many great kayaking memories that have been preserved on camera - and a few waterlogged cameras that have wound up in Davy Jones' locker.
  • If you're going on Monterey Bay, go in the morning. "It's usually a little more calm than the afternoon," Knight says. "Late afternoon can be nice as well."
  • "I'd recommend if it's your first time take a guided tour," Boyer says. Schrock agrees, saying, "That way you will get the most out of your two or three hours on the water. Guides will take care of you." You'll also learn a lot, she says; "The guides have so much information about the area!"


Lay of the Land

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Lay of the Land



County Map


Click on the links for high-resolution maps of Monterey County communities, suitable for printing: Monterey, Carmel and Carmel Valley, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Salinas, Seaside, Marina, Sand City and Moss Landing.


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