Journey Through the Water Trails of San Francisco

Gnarly surf pros are in for a treat under the Golden Gate Bridge
Gnarly surf pros are in for a treat under the Golden Gate Bridge
George Clode

Branded Content Lead

Whether it’s surfing under the Golden Gate Bridge or kayaking down Mission Creek, San Francisco’s many water trails are a brilliant way to experience the Bay Area.

There are many tried and tested ways of taking in San Francisco’s amazing views, from riding its iconic cable cars to hiking the Twin Peaks. For a totally fresh perspective, take to the Bay Area’s many incredible waterways and see the city anew.

Ocean Beach is a great place to surf in San Francisco

Kayaking in McCovey Cove

The San Francisco Giants play at Oracle Park, a 40,000-capacity baseball stadium right on the shoreline, in the China Basin district. Every game day, locals jump in their kayaks and paddle to McCovey Cove in the hope that they’ll be in the right place to catch a “splash hit” home run as it comes sailing out of the stadium. Visitors to the area can take part in the McCovey Cove Experience, which includes a kayak lesson and use of all the necessary equipment for the duration of the game. Be warned, though, the likelihood of you catching a ball is low; there have only been 91 splash hits in the 22 years that the stadium has been open, but the unique atmosphere and the roar of the crowd make it more than worth the trip.

Canoeing down Islais Creek

The area around Islais Creek was once one of the Bay Area’s industrial heartlands, so those paddling up and down it get a great insight into San Francisco’s hard-working past. The waters here are calm and protected, which makes it great for going out in open-topped canoes or family-sized dragon boats, and because it’s off the tourist trail it’s a peaceful spot.

Surfing under the Golden Gate Bridge

California is home to a whole host of world-famous surf spots from Ventura to Huntington Beach, but the quirkiest place to catch a swell is surely Fort Point, a left-point break under the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s not for the faint-hearted – inexperienced surfers would be better off heading north to Bolinas Beach in Marin County – but gnarly old surf pros are in for a treat if they time things right.

The quirkiest place to catch a swell is Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge

Pier 40 to Mission Creek

This 4mi (6km) kayak round-trip gives you a great sense of the varied delights of San Francisco’s water trails. You start at Pier 40 and paddle through the open, but protected, waters of South Beach Harbor and its packed marina of pretty boats, before heading through McCovey Cove, with its brilliant views of the Giants’s Oracle Park. From here you paddle down Mission Creek, a canal that takes you into the heart of the city. There are all kinds of architectural points of interest up and down this waterway, including a famous floating house, and it’s surprisingly rich in birdlife: cormorants, grebes, warblers and snowy egrets are all known to fish in its waters.

Hit the open water at Aquatic Park

The man-made cove created by the Aquatic Park Pier is a great place for flat-water paddling, with views of the beautiful Black Point gardens and handsome Aquatic Park itself. For experienced paddlers, the cove can be a starting point for one of San Francisco’s most challenging – but also most exhilarating – trips, into the open water of the Bay. From the cove’s north coast location you’re perfectly positioned to get out-of-the-ordinary views of some of the most iconic city sights, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Horseshoe Cove and, most thrilling of all, Alcatraz Island, with its terrifying prison.

Paddle boarding at Crane Cove Park

Crane Cove Park in Dogpatch has opened up a previously inaccessible old, industrial neighbourhood, and it’s quickly emerged as one of the best spots in the city for paddle boarding, thanks to the cove’s calm and well-protected waters. Dogpatch Paddle rent out gear from their shop next to the park, and they do private and group lessons for anyone new to stand-up paddle boarding. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can head out to explore the shoreline of the Central Basin, from where you get a great view of the city and can often see seals and dolphins larking about in the water. Once you’re done paddling, head to the nearby Ramp Restaurant for massive plates of comfort food and live music.

Crane Cove Park has calm and well-protected waters, ideal for stand-up paddle boarding

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