Best Places to View Wildlife from a Paddle Board in California

California is not only known for its stunning landscapes but also for its rich and diverse wildlife. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this state is by exploring it from a paddle board. California's lakes, rivers, and coastal areas offer unique opportunities to view wildlife up close while enjoying the serenity of the water. In this article, we will guide you through the best places in California to view wildlife from a paddle board, highlighting the possible wildlife encounters and the scenic backgrounds of each location.

Key Highlights:

  1. Lake Tahoe: Offers crystal-clear waters with potential sightings of bald eagles, ospreys, mule deer, and black bears.
  2. Elkhorn Slough: A tranquil estuary near Monterey Bay, home to sea otters, harbor seals, and a variety of seabirds.
  3. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve: Known for great blue herons, western sandpipers, and terns, with stunning coastal views.
  4. Tomales Bay: Offers sightings of seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, and bat rays, with Point Reyes National Seashore as a backdrop.
  5. Salton Sea: Attracts a diverse bird population, including white pelicans and American avocets, amidst a unique desert landscape.
  6. Channel Islands National Park: Explore marine life like California sea lions, dolphins, and gray whales in a protected marine reserve.
  7. Santa Barbara Channel: Spot dolphins, humpback whales, and sea birds, with the Channel Islands in the distance.
  8. Monterey Bay: Known as the "Serengeti of the Sea," it's a hotspot for marine biodiversity including sea otters and migrating gray whales.
  9. Mendocino Coast: Paddle along pristine beaches and witness sea lions, harbor seals, and occasionally orcas and humpback whales.
  10. Russian River: Glide past great blue herons, ospreys, river otters, and beavers with vineyard and redwood scenery.
  11. Morro Bay: Home to herons, egrets, sea otters, and sea lions, with Morro Rock providing a dramatic backdrop.
  12. San Francisco Bay: Offers a mix of urban and natural landscapes with sightings of harbor seals, sea lions, and more against the city skyline.

paddle boards on lake tahoe
  1. Lake Tahoe, Northern California:

    Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is renowned for its crystal-clear waters and breathtaking scenery. Paddleboarding on this alpine lake not only allows you to admire its stunning surroundings but also offers opportunities to spot various wildlife species. Keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring above the treetops or diving into the water to catch fish. You might also encounter ospreys, mule deer, and even black bears along the shoreline. The majestic mountain backdrop adds to the beauty of your wildlife viewing experience on Lake Tahoe.
  2. Elkhorn Slough, Central Coast:

    Located near Monterey Bay, Elkhorn Slough is a hidden gem for wildlife enthusiasts. This tranquil estuary is home to a rich diversity of marine and bird species, making it a perfect spot for paddle boarders seeking wildlife encounters. Glide through the calm waters and observe playful sea otters floating on their backs, harbor seals basking in the sun, and an array of seabirds such as pelicans, herons, and cormorants. The scenic backdrop of rolling hills and marshland creates a serene and picturesque setting for your paddleboarding adventure.
  3. Tomales Bay, Northern California:

    Tomales Bay, located in Marin County, offers a peaceful and scenic setting for wildlife viewing from a paddle board. This narrow inlet is home to a diverse range of marine life, including seals, sea lions, and harbor porpoises. Paddle along the bay's calm waters and keep a lookout for the elusive bat rays gliding beneath your board. You may also spot majestic brown pelicans soaring overhead and diving into the water to catch fish. The backdrop of rolling hills and the pristine Point Reyes National Seashore completes the picturesque scenery.
  4. Salton Sea, Southern California:

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    Despite its unique and sometimes challenging environment, Salton Sea attracts a remarkable variety of bird species, making it a fascinating destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Paddleboarding on this saline lake provides an opportunity to witness the impressive migrations of birds along the Pacific Flyway. Watch as elegant white pelicans, colorful American avocets, and countless other waterfowl congregate on the shores and dive into the water in search of food. The stark desert landscape surrounding the sea adds an intriguing element to your wildlife viewing experience. For this location be sure to check water conditions before heading out! When the conditions are safe this can be an incredible spot to paddle board, although maybe not with the pup.

  5. Channel Islands National Park, Southern California:

    For an unforgettable wildlife viewing adventure, paddleboarding around the Channel Islands National Park is a must. This protected marine reserve encompasses a chain of islands off the coast of Southern California, offering unparalleled opportunities to observe marine life in its natural habitat. Embark on a paddleboarding expedition and encounter playful California sea lions, curious dolphins, and even majestic gray whales during their migration season. The scenic beauty of the islands, with their rugged cliffs, sea caves, and pristine beaches, adds to the allure of this wildlife-rich destination.

  6. Santa Barbara Channel, Southern California:

    The Santa Barbara Channel, stretching between the mainland and the Channel Islands, is a vibrant marine ecosystem teeming with life. Paddleboarding in this area allows you to witness the magnificent beauty of the Pacific Ocean and encounter a variety of marine wildlife. Keep an eye out for pods of dolphins swimming alongside your board, majestic humpback whales breaching in the distance, and sea birds soaring overhead. The stunning coastal vistas and the distant silhouette of the Channel Islands create a mesmerizing backdrop for your wildlife viewing experience.
  7. Monterey Bay, Central Coast:

    Monterey Bay is a renowned hotspot for marine biodiversity and is often referred to as the "Serengeti of the Sea." Paddleboarding in the bay provides an opportunity to observe a vast array of marine species, including sea otters, harbor seals, and sea lions. Look out for the iconic spouts of migrating gray whales during the winter and spring months, as well as the acrobatic leaps of dolphins. The dramatic coastline of Monterey Bay, with its rugged cliffs and scenic beauty, enhances the enchanting atmosphere of your wildlife viewing adventure.
  8. Mendocino Coast, Northern California:

    The Mendocino Coast offers a pristine and unspoiled environment for wildlife enthusiasts. Paddle along the rugged coastline and witness the remarkable diversity of marine life. Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions basking on rocky outcrops, harbor seals bobbing in the waves, and the occasional orca or humpback whale passing by. The stunning backdrop of towering cliffs, pristine beaches, and ancient redwood forests makes the Mendocino Coast a truly enchanting destination for wildlife viewing from a paddle board.
  9. Russian River, Sonoma County:

    The Russian River winds its way through Sonoma County, providing a tranquil setting for wildlife observation. Paddle along the gentle currents and watch as great blue herons wade along the riverbanks and ospreys soar above, scanning the water for fish. Keep your eyes peeled for river otters playing in the water or beavers building their dams along the shoreline. The scenic backdrop of vineyards, rolling hills, and majestic redwoods adds to the charm of your paddleboarding journey on the Russian River.
  10. Morro Bay, Central Coast:

    Morro Bay is a picturesque estuary located along California's Central Coast, offering a peaceful and scenic environment for wildlife viewing from a paddle board. Glide through the calm waters and observe the abundant birdlife that calls this area home, including herons, egrets, and shorebirds. Keep an eye out for playful sea otters floating on their backs and sea lions basking on the docks. The iconic Morro Rock, a massive volcanic plug, provides a stunning backdrop to your paddleboarding adventure.
  11. San Francisco Bay, Northern California:

    San Francisco Bay, with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and stunning city skyline, offers a unique backdrop for wildlife viewing from a paddle board. Explore the bay's diverse ecosystems and encounter a variety of marine life, including harbor seals, sea lions, and even the occasional harbor porpoise or whale. As you paddle along the waterfront, take in the panoramic views of the city and the surrounding hills. The juxtaposition of urban and natural landscapes adds to the allure of your wildlife-viewing experience in San Francisco Bay.


paddle boards on the beach

Exploring California's waters on a paddle board opens up a world of wildlife encounters and breathtaking natural beauty. From the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe to the serene estuaries of Elkhorn Slough and Bolsa Chica, and from the tranquil Tomales Bay to the remarkable Salton Sea and Channel Islands National Park, each location offers a unique and unforgettable experience to view wildlife up close. As you paddle through these stunning landscapes, keep your eyes and ears open, embrace the serenity of the water, and allow the natural wonders of California to captivate your senses. For wildlife tips check out our blog and this article on Beginners Guide To Bird Watching. For other places in California check out these articles If you are looking for some other places to paddle board in California or do some sup fishing then check out these articles, Hidden Gems To Paddle Board In California or our article on The Ultimate Guide On Finding Places To Paddle Board Near You. And for SUP Fishing The Best Places To SUP Fish In California. For sup yoga, this is the article for you, The Best Places for SUP Yoga in California: Find Your Zen on the Water!