Left. Right. Left. Right. Paddle hard and then brace for impact. Paddle harder! One more salty smack in the face and then suddenly things are calm. The surf has been conquered and a wide expanse of ocean is just waiting to be explored. Well, at the very least, the La Jolla Ecological Reserve – which is filled with more sea life per capita than anywhere else in California – is now yours for exploring. Sea kayaking has become incredibly popular in La Jolla and guided tours make the sport accessible to beginners looking to test the waters (pun intended), tourists, and Southern California residents looking for another way to enjoy our stunning coastline.

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Flanked by multi-million dollar homes that, according to our guide Steve-O, are poised to fall into the ocean within the next 100 years, the La Jolla Ecological Reserve protects 533 acres of marine habitat. This spot has the perfect amount of natural beauty, ecological diversity, and colorful history, mixed with gentle surf and typically calm waters to make it an ideal spot for your very first sea kayaking adventure. Bright orange garibaldi swim alongside sea cucumbers, dolphins, and sea lions. Harmless leopard sharks flock here in the summer months to mate, giving this spot the nickname Leopard Shark City. Dramatic sea caves are pummeled with surf, including Sunny Jim’s Cave, once used to bring in illegal Chinese immigrants as well as contraband whiskey during Prohibition.

OEX Dive and Kayak has been operating tours of the reserve since 1995, taking adults as well as children on a kayaking experience they won’t soon forget. The most popular tour is the Original Sea Cave Tour which takes kayakers on a 90-minute paddle across the preserve, over a variety of sea life and out to the famous La Jolla sea caves. If the surf is low (safety is always a priority), paddlers have a chance to enter . Regardless of the surf conditions, there are always fish to spot, sea lions to watch, and incredible scenery to enjoy.

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Sunset kayak tours are great times to witness dolphins and sea lions feeding. The water is often at its calmest and the sunsets are magical. If hanging out on top of the water is just not enough for you, perhaps a kayak and snorkel combo will do. This tour is designed to give visitors a more immersive experience inside the mostly underwater ecological park. Those looking to take advantage of San Diego’s mild winter weather should take the opportunity to kayak alongside gray whales. During the months of December through March, OEX will take kayakers on a 4 hour voyage 4 miles off the coast to see these 40 foot giants. Ready to go it alone? Kayak rentals are offered as well.


  • Rent a wetsuit. The water is chilly and the wetsuit allows you to focus on the experience instead of the temperature.
  • Leave your electronics on dry land. Cameras will get wet so unless you have something waterproof, don’t bother bringing it. Luckily, the guides will snap a couple pictures for you free of charge and post them on their Facebook wall where you can snag them for keeping.
  • Bring a friend. Share a double kayak and get further, faster. Best of all, you have someone to keep paddling while you take a break.
  • Bring kids but don’t expect them to paddle until about age 8 or 9. Kayaking takes strength and coordination that young children just don’t have. Let them just go along for the ride and have a blast out on the water.
  • Be ready to work. This is kayaking, not a boat ride. Luckily, you will be having so much fun that you won’t mind the physical exertion.
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Sharlene Earnshaw is the editor for Trekaroo, a website dedicated to helping families travel better.