Five California SUP Sanctuaries

The California coastline is filled with prime paddling locations. Photo: Jonathan Kemnitz Absurda

Five California SUP Sanctuaries

By: Rebecca Parsons

California’s coastline is famous for a reason. Take a drive along the famed Pacific Coast Highway and you’ll be treated to stunning scenery, peeling waves, delicious dinners, and endless places to pull off for a quick paddle. While luxurious resorts and 5-star restaurants are nice, we’re partial to dirt parking lots and coastal campgrounds. Based in San Diego, we know a thing or two about camping and paddling the California coastline. Here are five of our top picks.

It doesn’t get more classic than cruising the California coastline in a VW bus. Photo: Rebecca Parsons

San Onofre 

It’s difficult to think of a spot more classic than San Onofre. Located on the border of Orange County and San Diego, San-O is famous for its laid-back vibes and slow, rolling waves, perfect for beginner and experienced paddlers alike. Camping is available on the bluffs above Trails or on the beach at Churches (for military personnel only). Popular spots for standup paddlers include Dog Patch for beginners and Churches for more advanced paddlers. Additionally, Doheney State Beach–home of the Pacific Paddle Games–is located just 10 miles north, as well as the Dana Point Harbor if you’re interested in flat water paddling.

Easy livin’ down at San-O. Photo: Rebecca Parsons Absurda

Santa Barbara

Home to world famous surf spot Rincon, as well as other iconic breaks including Sandspit and El Capitan, Santa Barbara has a little something for paddlers of all levels. Paddle surf at world-famous Rincon or navigate the calm waters of the harbor mouth at West Beach. With numerous coastal campgrounds to choose from, top picks include El Capitan, Carpentaria, Refugio and Gaviota State Beaches. After a fun day on the water, enjoy s’mores over the campfire or dine at one of the many trendy downtown eateries.

Morro Bay 

Located in San Luis Obispo county, Morro Bay offers calm paddling conditions in front of picturesque Morro Rock. Campgrounds are located directly across from the bay, allowing for easy access to the water. If you’re looking for waves, head to Pismo, Shell or Grover Beach for some sweet rides. Explore the sand dunes at Montana de Oro, explore the farmer’s market downtown, or navigate the unique mud flats along Morro Bay at low tide.

Paddlers enjoy a nice day in Santa Cruz. Photo: Covewater SUP

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a classic surf town where the forest meets the sea, offering an array of different camping options. Camp along the coast at Manresa Uplands, New Brighton State Beach or spend some time in the forest at Henry Cowell State Park. Pleasure Point is a popular paddling and surfing spot, offering fun rides and scenic views. Cowells is another classic surf break with the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk serving as a backdrop. If you’re looking for flat water, head to the Santa Cruz harbor or New Brighton State Beach for calm conditions. When you’ve had your fill of paddling, take a hike through stunning Nisene Marks in Aptos, Pogonip along the UCSC campus, or a coastal stroll through Wilder Ranch.

Santa Cruz is a hotspot for SUP surfing. Photo: Covewater SUP


A lesser-known paddling destination, Humboldt is undoubtedly one of the most stunning locations along California’s coastline. With colder, sharkier waters than its southern counterpart, most people stick to the land. This means empty, crowdless seas for the diehard paddler. For less adventurous paddlers, Big Lagoon and Stone Lagoon offer calm conditions intermixed with dazzling scenery. Camping is available at Big Lagoon as well as Moonstone Beach and Gold Bluff Beach.


For another prime spot, check out our SUP camping adventure on Catalina Island.

Ultimate guide to the best urban paddling spots.

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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