9 Best Places To Go Paddle Boarding In Southern California

Paddle Boarding Southern California

The Southern California stand up paddle board season runs for 365 days a year. Whether you’re looking for calm waters, overhead surf, or a close and personal experience with local marine life, the best places to go paddle boarding in Southern California are waiting. From San Diego up to Orange County and Los Angeles, the opportunities to jump on a SUP and immerse yourself in nature and sunshine are endless. 

From first-time paddlers all the way up to professional watermen and women, California offers something great for paddle boarders of every skill level. We kept every type of paddler in mind when we nailed down our favorite paddle board destinations by county, so no matter where you live or plan to visit, you’ll be able to launch your SUP in a place that suits your needs perfectly.

Paddle Boarding San Diego, CA

San Diego is known for its mild climate, miles of gorgeous coastline, and deep-water harbors thriving with marine life — attracting more than 35 million tourists each year. It’s these exact qualities that make “the birthplace of California” a world-class stand up paddle board destination.

paddle board la jolla
ISLE Ambassador Roxy Ng enjoying her Limited-Edition Glider

La Jolla Cove Marine Sanctuary

If you only have one day to paddle board in San Diego, you won’t regret spending it near the La Jolla Cove where visibility underwater can reach 30 feet on the right day. The extensive kelp forest in this protected cove is home to a bevy of sea life including sea lions, bat rays, sea turtles, dolphins, a wide variety of fish, and leopard sharks that pose no danger to humans.  Pay attention to the tide charts, as tide pools are revealed at deep low ties, but the water will become too shallow for your board. We recommend parking at La Jolla Shores and paddling south to the 7 caves of La Jolla just before you reach the Cove. For more experienced paddlers, we highly recommend the 3-mile round trip down to Scripps Pier and back.

Coronado Island

Coronado has a rich SUP tradition, but it’s especially suited for beginner paddlers. In fact, ISLE Surf & SUP was born in Coronado and it’s where we still enjoy monthly company paddles 15 years later. We recommend taking advantage of the free Glorietta Bay parking lots where you can launch from the soft sand beaches and paddle straight out to the Coronado bridge. Once you’ve reached a bridge, you can enjoy a nice cool swim, tether your boards together for group SUP yoga, or just admire all of the classic yachts and open ocean-ready ships anchored offshore. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see one of the U.S. Navy’s massive vessels passing through — it’s truly a magnificent sight to behold.

paddle boarding mission bay
Mission Bay is perfect for iSUPs

Mission Bay

Mission Bay is an excellent place to get your feet wet as they say. San Diego’s “water wonderland” is the country’s largest man-made aquatic park with 4,235 acres of usable land and water. Mission Bay is our favorite place for leisurely flatwater paddling with friends, kids, and dogs. And if you’re a fan of SUP fishing, you won’t be disappointed by the abundance of halibut, Corvina, and multiple species of bass.

Paddle Boarding Orange County, CA

While it’s probably best known as the home of Disneyland, beginner and intermediate paddle boarders will love Orange County for its relatively uncrowded and calm waters. There’s no shortage of places to rent a paddle board, find a guided tour, or just explore the coastline and inlets with friends.

Newport Back Bay

Newport Beach is full of expensive homes and luxurious yachts, but its inland delta is a hidden natural estuary available for everyone to enjoy. The ecological reserve makes for an especially scenic and gentle paddle that’s perfect for couples and families. While the bay is home to some 80 species of fish, it’s the birds that steal the show. The area is a vital resting spot for migratory birds from Alaska and Canada, including endangered species such as the light-footed clapper rail, the California least tern, the Belding’s Savannah sparrow, and the least Bell’s vireo.

Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve

Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve

The entire coast of Laguna Beach reminds you why paddle boarding in California is so spectacular. The idyllic shoreline is teeming with life thanks to its significant “no-take” marine protected areas that cover 7.4 square nautical miles of coastal habitats. Paddlers can expect to see dolphins, fur seals, sea lions, cormorants, and if you’re lucky, even blue and grey whales passing very close to the shoreline.

Doheny Beach

If you’re interested in trying SUP surfing, you can’t find a better beach than Dana Point’s Doheny. This family-friendly stretch of sand offers gentle rolling waves, an incredibly positive and supportive crowd, and “dry camping” options for recreational vehicles. Please note that surfboards are permitted all across the beach, but stand up paddle boards are often restricted by lifeguards during crowded times of year to the area south The Hammer at San Juan Creek. Because of Doheny’s popularity — it’s even mentioned in the Surfin’ U.S.A. by the Beach Boys. — we recommend making a reservation before your visit and inquiring about the SUP restrictions. 

Paddle Boarding Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles needs no introduction, but the cultural center of Southern California has a wide assortment of paddle board activities for beginners and professionals alike. Whether you want to enjoy SUP surfing, SUP fishing, or just a leisurely paddle on a man-made body of water, you’ll find it all within a short but possibly time-consuming drive from the City of Angels.

Malibu

On the right swell, experienced paddlers might call Malibu one of the best SUP surfing destinations in the world. World-famous waterman Laird Hamilton made headlines when he shot the pier twice during a once-in-a-decade hurricane swell in August 2014. Because Malibu is such a popular surfing destination, we only recommend taking your stand up paddle board into the lineup if you’re an experienced SUP surfer. Local surfers may not have patience for beginners learning the finer points of surf etiquette.

Rancho Palos Verdes

Intermediate and advanced paddlers looking to burn some calories next to gorgeous scenery and some of the clearest water in Southern California will love paddle boarding in Palos Verdes. We recommend beginning your journey at Pelican Cove where the “no-take” fishing designation means the tide pools are teeming with marine life. We recommend paddling south from the cove roughly 1 miles down to Terranea Beach where you’ll be able to find Hudson’s Bluff Sea Cave. At the right time of year, you may even be able to paddle right next to a pod of whales traveling north or south during their bi-annual migration.

paddle board venice canals

Venice Canal Historic District

While California’s Venice is best known for its eclectic locals and world-famous muscle beach, the appearance and feel of Venice, Italy has been alive and well in Southern California for more than 100 years. While the canals are technically part of a residential neighborhood — meaning you won’t find any board rentals or commercial activities — this a quick but scenic trip perfect for beginners and intermediate paddlers with an appreciation for historic homes. All you need to do is find a parking spot near the historic district and launch your stand up paddle board from the sidewalk. 

best places to paddle board
Posted in Travel, Paddle Board Lifestyle
Jeff Hale - Jeff is the Content Manager at ISLE Surf and SUP. He's been an avid surfer and paddler for over 20 years, and he's always looking for an excuse to spend more time in the water. Jeff grew up in Southern California where he earned his Bachelor's in English at UC Irvine and his MBA at Chapman University. You can find him in the water after work and on weekends in San Diego.