Get Ready to Get Wet!
From whale watching to parasailing, now is the time to experience oceanic adventures on the Central Coast
By Bennett Barthelemy
Summer is prime for getting out and (re)discovering the salty magic of the sea. There is a bounty of options for getting wet, and our incredible surf breaks from mild to wild are only the beginning. Whether you plan to get out on your own or hire an outfitter or gear, there is a dazzling array of ways to engage with the sea. There are surf lessons, parasailing, jet ski rentals, whale watching, excellent fishing, sailing lessons, sea kayaking and paddleboard yoga, tidepool viewing, snorkeling and SCUBA diving, and the list goes on!
Our backyard is in one of the world’s top regions for watersports, from Sycamore Cove to Ragged Point, with close to 250 miles of coastline that spans Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties. Out of California’s 840 miles of coast, Ventura County checks in with 43, Santa Barbara boasts some 100 miles, while San Luis Obispo County has 93 miles.
Marine wildlife is rich here, thanks in part to its protected status and the stewards that help keep it amazing. The indigenous Chumash were the original stewards, and, arguably, original sportsmen. Their tomol canoes allowed them to paddle back and forth to the Channel Islands to fish and hunt. (Check out northernchumash.org for some deeper perspectives.) These days, the Chumash’s old hunting and boating areas are federally protected and known as the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary (channelislands.noaa.gov). Located off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, it includes 1,470 square miles of protected waters within the Channel Islands National Park.
The Sanctuary is recognized internationally as a biosphere reserve site. It is situated at the confluence of two major ocean currents, and this means incredible biodiversity. That’s one reason we get such good fishing, and so many whales migrating through the area. Its pristine kelp forests and deep-sea coral gardens hold tons of sea life.
The entire shoreline of California, to 11 miles offshore, is protected by the Bureau of Land Management under the status of California Coastal National Monument. Along the Gaviota coast, some 76 miles are stewarded by the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (gaviotacoastconservancy.org). This is just one of many organizations working to protect the Central California coast. This amazing transition zone of shoreline and ocean sustains us in so many ways and we have so many opportunities to play, educate ourselves, and be involved in helping to protect it.
This region is called the Galapagos of the North for good reason.
In Ventura County, most of the activities are based out of either Channel Islands or Ventura Harbors. Both harbors offer events along the waterfront, and now that we’re moving out of lockdown, many activities have started up again. Check out channelislandsharbor.org and venturaharborvillage.com for a list of events that happen year-round, like car shows, festivals of light, live music, and farmers’ markets.
Ventura Dive & Sport
Ventura Dive & Sport is the only dive center in the state of California that is totally self-sufficient in terms of offering all levels of diver-training (from beginner to instructor), as well as an on-site heated pool and the added bonus of a state-of-the-art dive boat. They also have a state-of-the-art repair center and a full rental department.
Based out of the Ventura Harbor, Ventura Dive & Sport offers two- and three-tank dives to Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands on their boat The Raptor, a custom-designed 46-foot dive boat with an 18-knot cruising speed. That means you can get from the mainland to Anacapa in just one hour.
They have dive classes for individuals as well as the entire family, and flexible schedules. But if you’re in a hurry, you can be fully trained and certified in just two weekends.
Ventura Dive & Sport,
1559 Spinnaker Dr #108, Ventura
(805) 650-6500; venturadive.com
Island Packers has been running trips to the five islands in the Channel Islands National Park for education, recreation, and research as well as whale watch and birding tours since 1968. Conveniently, they have boats in both the Ventura and Channel Islands Harbors. They’re the folks you’ll want to call to go ashore any of the islands, whether for a day hike or to camp. Island Packers also offers marine tours and whale watching with knowledgeable guides to give you the best chance at spotting the diverse wildlife.
Check their website’s marine mammal sighting page to see a daily tally of the number of both whale and dolphin sightings, including which specific species are currently plying the local waters. There are days where well over 8,000 dolphins are spotted in the Channel.
If you have the skills and love sea kayaking, you can also transport your personal kayak to the islands.
In the Ventura Harbor: 1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura
In the Channel Islands Harbor: 3550 Harbor Blvd, Oxnard
(805) 642-1393; islandpackers.com
Southern California Jet Skis
Located in the Channel Islands Harbor, Southern California Jet Skis is more than just jet skis. It also rents electric boats for mellow cruising around the harbor. Their 21-foot Duffy boats seat up to 10 people and has a canopy for protection from the elements. For the more adventurous, you can take a jet ski and cruise out into the open ocean for a chance to see dolphins and even whales. Rather keep your feet on shore? Choose from a selection of bicycles and tool around the harbor, shoreside.
Southern California Jet Skis,
3600 S. Harbor Blvd, in the Marine Emporium Landing
(805) 910-7257; socaljetskis.com
Santa Barbara Sailing Center
One of the largest accredited sailing schools in the nation, the Santa Barbara Sailing Center offers a myriad of courses. But they don’t stop there. You can rent a sailboat if you have the skills, or even a luxury yacht with a captain if you don’t. SB Sailing has 22- to 50-foot-long boats, good for cruising for a few hours around the Santa Barbara Channel, or for multiple days around the Channel Islands.
Kids’ camps, whale watching tours, sunset cruises, private or corporate events SB Sailing has you covered.
Santa Barbara Sailing Center,
302 W. Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara
(805) 962-2826; sbsail.com
Santa Barbara Parasail
Located at historic Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Parasail is California’s top-rated parasail company. Over the years, its Coast Guard-certified captains have taken people from ages 2 to 102 on airborne adventures. Santa Barbara Parasail is available for hire for your wedding or event as well. If it isn’t too windy or rainy, you can be pretty sure their boats are up and running.
Santa Barbara Parasail,
237 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara
(805) 940-5036; santabarbaraparasail.co
Cal Coast Adventures
If you want to rent a surfboard, kayak, stand up paddleboard, or bike in Santa Barbara, Cal Coast Adventures has you covered. If you want the inside scoop on the local area, they also offer surf and SUP lessons and kayak tours. If you find yourself further north in Morro Bay, they have a location there as well. If you own a business and want to do a great team building activity, Cal Coast Adventures can accommodate up to 30 people at one time for a two-hour surf lesson. What better way to bond as a team than to catch some waves together?
Cal Coast Adventures,
736 Carpinteria St, Santa Barbara,
and 575 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
(805) 628-2444; calcoastadventures.com
PRO Kayak Fishing
If you want guided kayak fishing or fishing kayak rentals in San Luis Obispo County, then PRO Kayak Fishing in Pismo is the place to go. Pro Kayak offers SUP classes as well. They can come up with custom classes by working with you to dial in what you need to boost your skills. With their kayak tours, you can do more than just fish, you can check out sea caves and do a naturalist and wildlife tour. For the best experience, their guides recommend being on the water before noon so that you are less likely to fight the wind.
PRO Kayak Fishing is based in Central Coast Kayaks, 1879 Shell Beach Rd,
(805) 773-3500; prokayakfishing.com
If you want to fish with experts in Morro Bay or Avila Beach check out Patriot Sportfishing. Along with half-day trips, they also offer overnight and two-day fishing trips. Bring the kids, they get to fish for free on their half-day rockfish trips (check the website for Covid-related changes). For those who want a more intimate experience, Patriot offers private chartered trips. Not an angler? Take a look at their whale watching schedule!
Located on the Port San
Luis Pier in Avila
(805) 595-7200; patriotsportfishing.com
Sub Sea Tours
If you have young kids, Sub Sea Tours in Morro Bay is a fantastic option. The waters in the bay are quite calm, and great for wildlife viewing. Jellyfish and schools of fish can be viewed up close while you stay warm and dry. Sub Sea also offers above-the-water tours, with whale watching tours in the summer and winter, from either their 53-foot boat or from what is essentially a sit-on-top open observation deck catamaran that checks in at 33 feet.
Sub Sea Tours, 699 Embarcadero, Morro Bay (805) 772-9463; morrobaywhalewatching.com