Monterey Bay Water Sports

Monterey Bay H2O

Monterey Bay California USA

Old Fisherman's Wharf.
Photo courtesy:

Heed the call of the waves and venture beyond the beach.

By Jill K. Robinson

Stand on any beach or bluff in Monterey Bay and look out across the water to the vast Pacific Ocean. The seascape here is an essential part of the culture and has inspired art, poetry, stories, songs, and films. It influences the weather, romance, local wine, and what shows up on the dinner table. One of the best places to become intimately familiar with its importance is out there among the liquid swell.

Monterey Bay falls within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a federally protected marine area off California's central coast. At a shoreline length of 276 miles, extending an average distance of 30 miles offshore, and 12,713 feet deep at its deepest point — it's one of our nation's largest marine sanctuaries, even larger than Yellowstone National Park.

You don't need to dive in that deep to enjoy the wealth of Monterey's water-based activities, and regardless of where you fall on the adventure spectrum, there are plenty of options that match your definition of adventure.


Whether you're fishing from shore, a pier, or on a charter fishing trip, the year-round diversity of fish makes Monterey Bay full of adventure. With companies that charter daily fishing trips from Old Fisherman's Wharf, a day on the water can be as easy as showing up on time and buying your ticket. Depending on the season, fisherfolks may catch rockfish, lingcod, halibut, salmon, Dungeness crab, or sand dabs. Head out with outfitters like J&M Sport Fishing or Chris' Fishing Trips, and the pros on board can walk you through the best practices for being a successful angler. A handful of state parks and beaches in Monterey Bay allow saltwater fishing, and both sandy and rocky beaches are ideal for catching different types of fish. Don't forget to get a license, unless you're fishing from a public pier or public wharf, which doesn't require one.

Monterey Bay Water Sports

Lingcod caught at Old Fisherman's Wharf.

Photo courtesy: Chris' Fishing Trips


California takes its surf culture seriously, but having fun is always the first goal for the sport. If you're a newbie, consider taking a class like those offered by Monterey Bay Surf Lessons and Carmel Surf Lessons, where you'll get the scoop on necessary techniques. If you're an experienced surfer and want to head out on your own, get rental gear and local lore at On the Beach Surf Shop, where surfers on staff can also help you determine the right break for you. The shallow waters near Del Monte Beach are sweet for beginner shortboarders, advanced riders flock to spots from Lovers Point to Big Sur, and Asilomar State Beach and Carmel Beach are best when waves are lower than waist high (and less likely to have powerful riptides). No need to be aggro in the lineup — there are enough waves for everyone.

Monterey Bay Water Sports

Students at Carmel Surf Lessons.
Photo courtesy: Carmel Surf Lessons


When it comes to the best ways to be close to the water, spy wildlife, and get a little exercise, kayaking and stand-up paddling (SUP) always come out on top. If you're lucky, you may see harbor seals, sea lions, and sea otters, as well as brown pelicans, cormorants, jellies, and sea stars. Outfitters like Monterey Bay Kayaks and Adventures by the Sea let you choose whether you want to go it alone with rental gear, or get a tour with guides leading the way who share insights on the area and its marine life. Available classes help newbies learn the ropes, but aren't necessary unless you prefer to take your time ramping up, or want to eventually venture out into more challenging conditions. When you're out on the water, gaze down into the kelp forest to get a sense of the tranquility below.

Monterey Bay Water Sports

Stand-up paddle boarders at McAbee Beach on Cannery Row.
Photo courtesy:


Imagine a sunset sail where you spy whale spouts while the golden light falls on the Monterey coastline. For many, the romance of the sea is all about sailing, especially when you can pick a destination that's as beautiful as Monterey Bay. The fastest path to getting out on the water is with companies like Sail Monterey, known for its popular sunset cruises complete with snacks, wine, and cozy blankets for breezy, cool nights. Daytime two-hour voyages explore the bay in search of spectacular views and fascinating marine life. And a private cruise for a small group is perfect for families or your closest friends. Monterey Sailing & Boat Charters is another outfitter that offers private sailing charters of two to four hours that range from Cannery Row to Lovers Point, and farther out to Carmel and where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean.


There always seem to be crowds around the windows of the Kelp Forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, all mesmerized by the towering strands of kelp reaching into the sunlight. Monterey Bay beckons to divers from around the world to experience this feeling from below the surface, complete with the possibility of getting close to anemones, nudibranchs, wolf eels, harbor seals, and sea lions in their element — without glass between you. Dive shops like Breakwater Scuba, Bamboo Reef Dive Center, Aquarius Dive Shop, and Dive to Survive Scuba offer tours from San Carlos Beach to Point Lobos, as well as courses to get started or improve your existing skills. If you're traveling with dive buddies and want to explore on your own, all four shops also stock rental gear and plenty of advice. Once you've gone beneath the waves, you'll wonder what you're missing when you're on the surface.

Monterey Bay Water Sports

A group from Breakwater Scuba at San Carlos Beach.
Photo courtesy: Anne De Souza/Breakwater Scuba