Road Journals Blog—While not cheaper than the aquarium, a guided kayak tour allows you to explore the ocean from a whole new vantage point. Since my boyfriend and I had never been kayaking before, we opted for Monterey Bay Kayak’s two-hour family adventure on sit-on-top kayaks, which meant we wouldn’t be trapped inside should we capsize. It also meant our feet had prime opportunity to be a) soaked by seawater from keeping shoes on (mine) or b) severely sunburned from removing shoes (my boyfriend). The process of squeezing bodies into wetsuits was expectedly humiliating, but we dumped our clothes into the provided bins, and we were ready for adventure.
We received a brief orientation about proper paddling form, and then were were paired off and placed with our kayaks on the beach. The main bonus of being in a beginner class, aside from the obvious necessary instruction, is that the teachers are responsible for launching you into the water. All you need to do is sit in your kayak, apologize profusely about your weight, and watch your instructor do all of the work and pull you into the ocean, far enough that the breaking waves don’t threaten to topple your kayak. Once launched, we alternated paddling through the ocean and “rafting up”—grabbing on to the nearest boat (or outstretched paddle, since I was particularly bad at steering)—so our guides could explain more about our surroundings.
We cut through the water to a sea lion sanctuary, where the smell of fish was unmistakable. The smaller males basked on the rocks, and the larger ones hopped up (some unsuccessfully) into the crevices in the concrete to nap. Those that failed flopped back into the water where they floated with flippers in the air. Our guides explained that sea lions stick their flippers towards the sun to regulate their temperatures. Near a rocky cliff, we encountered one of my least favorite thing: crabs. These little ones moved like spiders, and I frantically tried to stop our kayak from bumping into the rocks. As I struggled, keeping my paddle ready to bat off any hitchhikers, one of our guides grasped at huge strands of kelp, searching for something. It wasn’t until he passed around a Ziploc bag that I realized what was inside. Lurking in the plastic was a predator-esque specimen of a kelp crab. “Cool,” the kid in the kayak next to me said as I shuddered. “NOT cool,” I replied, as I threatened to smack my boyfriend with the paddle if he let that alien crab anywhere near me.
To my relief, we left the crab-infested alcove and paddled back farther out into the bay, where we got lucky with a few sightings. A harbor seal, who looked suspiciously like a rocky outcropping from far away, sunned his flippers in our path, and to the left a trio of otters floated lazily on their backs, hands tucked adorably under their chins. We got as close as we could without disturbing them.
In what seemed like 15 minutes, our two hours had flown by, and it was time to go return to land. And once again we had to put in little to no work, except for steering our kayaks back towards shore near our guides, who had already landed their kayaks and were ready to ensure we arrived safely. While the Bay Aquarium may give you the opportunity to view more of the ocean’s creatures, there was nothing quite like actually getting out there in a kayak and paddling next to a harbor seal with saltwater soaking your toes. And nothing will be more terrifying than that kelp crab.
Where's your favorite places to see nature up close?
This blog post was first published in August 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.