Petaluma is at the northern tip of the San Fracisco Bay Area’s network of bays and estuaries.The Petaluma River is a tidal estuary that leads into the San Pablo Bay. I’ve often thought it would be great to take advantage of the many waterways and kayaking looked like the best way to experience the bay area. I can’t believe I didn’t start sooner, but at least now I’ve started. Kayaking has provided me with an inexpensive way to get out on the water for personal reflection, prayer and a little exercise mixed in. I can be part of God’s amazing creation without being too much of a nuisance to the fish, birds and plants.
It started when I took advantage of “A Day on the River,” hosted by Clavey Paddlesports. I tried SUP (Stand-Up Paddleboard). It’s not for me. I’d rather sit down and relax. I tried a tandem kayak with Kimmy and a few solo kayaks. I loved the red Eddyline 14 footer with rudder. Of course, it was the most expensive – a few thousand dollars. Too big an investment for a sport I might not pursue. The experience gave me an idea of what I wanted to own.
My next kayaking venture was a July 4th morning tour of Tomales Bay, hosted by Clavey. They provided everything we needed and included some basic how-to-kayak instruction. The group of twelve doubled up into tandem kayaks and set out from Nick’s Cove, across the bay, around Hog Island and Duck Island and back, a four hour trip. It was low tide when we began so we paddled over some shallow water to begin with. In a grassy area, we saw dozens of bat rays swimming around and under our boats. We were told you can sometimes see leopard sharks there, but we didn’t see any that day. There were harbor seals sun bathing on Hog Island and swimming around it. We saw an osprey flying above and, of course, lots of sea gulls, pelicans, cormorants and other birds. I was hooked.
I picked up a used 14′ kayak and paddle and was ready to go. Almost. I still needed a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and a way to get the kayak from my house to the water. My first trip out, I jammed everything into my van, but that didn’t work well, so I invested in a roof rack. Now I have what I need for occasional, recreational paddling.
I love getting out with the kayak. It’s good exercise that I can sustain for hours and I enjoy the peace of being out on the water. I’ve been out on the Petaluma River, the Estero Americano, Tomales Bay and Keys Creek. Soon, I’ll be taking a bio-luminescence tour of Tomales Bay. I’ll be sure to report on that.
Here are a few thoughts from my excursions for my own future reference and to help others who need a little more info than what’s already out there for kayaking in the North Bay Area (San Francisco, California).
Know the Tide
For starters, here’s a good website for some tide tables. I’ve also added some tide table widgets below. It’s helpful to paddle out against the tide so you have the help of the tide when you’re returning. The wind is also a factor. The wind usually comes from the north on the Petaluma River and it’s especially strong in the late afternoon. Someday, when I have time, I’d like to paddle out with the tide, relax and eat lunch, and then paddle back in with the tide and, hopefully, the wind. Why work harder than you have to?
Petaluma River – Lakeville (map)
My most recent trip was on the Petaluma River, setting out from Papa’s Taverna (closed), on Lakeville Highway near Highway 116. There’s a boat ramp and dock there which you can use for $2. From there, I paddled north towards Shollenberger Park. I took a few excursions along the way, including a creek that led into the Petaluma Marsh Wildlife Area. It was beautiful. I was surprised to hear a train in the distance. It was the new SMART train and it whizzed by about 200 yards away.
Turning Basin, Petaluma
Here’s a current tide table for the Petaluma River at the D Street Drawbridge. You can change the date and move the time to see what the tide will be later on.
One of my favorite places for kayaking is Tomales Bay. Nick’s Cove is a convenient place to park and launch. I believe the cost is $6. There are lots of birds and if you’re lucky, you might see bat rays and leopard sharks. There are some abandoned wrecked boats, but I don’t recommend going near them. Cormorants have taken over and have polluted them with their poop. Smelly! The same is true of Hog Island and Duck Island. The islands were available for camping at one time, but the campsites were closed and cormorants took over. The islands’ eucalyptus trees are filled to capacity with cormorants and the ground is white and smelly. Somehow, the harbor seals don’t mind. I see them on the beach and swimming nearby.
Be warned, the wind can kick up on the bay and make it difficult to get where you want to go. People have died there! I wasn’t able to get a cell phone signal there (I have AT&T. I think Verizon is better). So, watch the weather reports and by all means, wear your PFD. It’s best to go with somebody too.
One day, I launched from a turn-out near a bridge along Hwy 1 (free) and paddled Keys Creek to Tomales Bay and back. That was a tamer way to start and beautiful.
Tide Table for Nick’s Cove, Tomales Bay
The Petaluma River – Downtown
For me, the Petaluma River is close by and a great way to get into the water fast for some exercise and serenity. It’s a tidal estuary, complete with murky saltwater. There is no current to speak of. You can float downriver or upriver depending on the tide.
There are two places to launch in the city limits – the dock on the Turning Basin (free) and the Petaluma Marina at the Sheraton Hotel. The river in between is beautiful. It’s a view of small town Petaluma that you can’t see any other way. You pass by kids fishing, barges and yachts as well as fishing kayaks. You might see a team of rowers in their hull. It’s also safe. The water is not very deep since the river has not been dredged in years and there are more people around, so someone is likely to see you if you capsize.
Petaluma River at Black Point/San Pablo Bay
If you follow the Petaluma River all the way, you will enter San Pablo Bay. Or you can take Hwy 37 and launch from Black Point boat launch ($6). I spent a little time on the bay. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not very choppy. Still, I only ventured out about a mile and stayed near the shore, since I was alone. I did take the excursion along Novato Creek, a calm, marshy area.
San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge
Estero Americano, Valley Ford
From Petaluma, follow Bodega Highway through Valley Ford and turn left at Dinucci’s Restaurant and left on Valley Ford Estero Road. There’s a small place to park and launch (free) at the bridge. It was beautiful on the day I went out. I started out paddling against the wind and had it to my back when I returned, which was helpful, since I overdid it going out. If you go far enough, you’re out on the ocean. I’m not ready for that.
Spring Lake, Santa Rosa
If you don’t want to worry about the tide or waves, you can kayak on Spring Lake, in Santa Rosa. You can rent kayaks at the boat house on weekends. The kayaks are the sit-on-top kind. They’re not as maneuverable and you get wetter, but there’s an advantage. They don’t sink if you capsize.
Recommended: Get the Tide Graph App by Brainware ($1.99 for Android) Look for it in the Google Play store and the iTunes store.