Top 8 Wildlife Tours in the San Francisco Area

In General, SUP Activity Recommendations, SUP Location Recommendations by Perfect Paddles

San Francisco is famous for its steep, winding streets, bountiful food markets, interesting architecture, and of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But it should also be known for its tremendous treasure trove of outdoor activities and exciting biodiversity of its wildlife found along its shores.

Over the course of the last few years, residents of San Francisco along with visitors, have been taking advantage of the unique areas found around the city to explore nature, find a relaxing way to detox from the congested streets, and discover peace in the outdoors.

And one of the most effective ways of achieving these goals has been the ability to stand on a paddle board and explore the wildlife of northern California. From the standing position on a board, participants in Wildlife Tours are afforded the added advantage of being able to see the horizon as well as the depths of the water below. This fresh perspective has allowed paddlers to see what the natural world has always offered them- a chance to reconnect.

SUP Wildlife Tours have taken off in the San Francisco area as a way to cleanse the spirit. Which can explain their rise in popularity. For those travelers visiting the shores of northern California, Perfect Paddles has compiled a Top 8 Wildlife Tours in San Francisco and the surrounding areas to give an alternative activity for those who need a break from the city and want to find their own slice of peace in the great outdoors.

Rubicon Adventures (Forestville)

Much like their name, Rubicon is a paddling company filled with supreme instructors and guides to take you on the ultimate paddling adventure.

Offering many options in regard to SUP tours and guided adventures Rubicon really shines in relation to Wildlife Tours with their Russian River Estuary Tour in Sonoma County.

The tour is approximately 2 hours long and takes paddlers from the river mouth, stop at Goat Rock Beach for a short break where paddlers can catch their breath and take in the natural surroundings, and from there they will climb back on their boards and paddle around Penny Island.

If this isn’t an enticing enough adventure, the Russian River Estuary is home to one of the largest concentrations of marine mammals and sea birds with over 50 migrating species making their way to its shores on a yearly basis. On top of that, paddlers may also be able to spot otters, certain species of deer on land, and the occasional fish if the water is clear during the season.

This exciting tour will give paddlers a true taste of the California northwest region. Rubicon Adventures is a Perfect Paddles recommendation for a reason!

SUP Shack (Santa Cruz)

SUP Shack’s SUPventures take paddlers on a 2-hour tour of the Santa Cruz harbor where paddlers will be able to make their way to the ocean for additional sights to see and challenges to conquer.

Adventures always start in the morning where winds and waters are both calm, allowing beginners easy access to this exciting time on a board. Once a beginner lesson has been administered by the highly qualified team, paddlers will be guided through the Santa Cruz Harbor where they are likely to see rays, plenty of species of gulls, pelicans, and many species of rock-dwelling fish.

Once in the ocean, paddlers may be able to spot dolphin popping out of the waters and if the migration patterns are correct, the occasional whale surfacing!

SUP Shack makes its way onto number seven on the list due to its accessibility for beginner paddlers and its highly visual experience of seeing the harbor and the opportunity to paddle in the ocean. Perfect Paddles highly recommends!

Petaluma SUP (Petaluma)

Petaluma SUP has a unique twist on the Wildlife Tour circuit as they provide paddlers with a self-guided trip to Lakeville Landing.

Before the trip is commenced, qualified instructors will go over the basic paddling techniques and make sure participants are up to the task of paddling the 5mile distance spanning 2 hours on the water. If the team considers the paddlers fit, they will be able to paddle with their group without a guide to Lakeville Landing where they will pass Olompali State Park and see the beautiful rocky cliffs of the coast.

This tour is perfect for those who do not wish to paddle with a guide or are experienced enough to make the trip safely themselves and would like to take their time doing so. As a bonus, Olompali State Park is home to the longest, continuous wetland estuary on the west coast of North America! Which means, of course, there are plenty of opportunities to see the biodiversity of the region.

Home to a large variety of birds, deer, bats, and of course various aquatic creatures such as bass and related species. The unique bonus of being able to paddle close to the protected shores of the state park make Petaluma SUP’s tour number six on our list!

Be sure to check out their page on Perfect Paddles for additional discounts through our Buddy Deal!

Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. (Pillar Point Harbor)

Despite their name only having ‘kayak’ in it, Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. located in Pillar Point Harbor, is home to a variety of SUP tours to keep even the most diehard paddler happily smiling and entertained.

Bumping up their time on the water to 3 hours, Half Moon Bay takes paddlers on an adventure to Pillar Point with a starting point in the harbor where beginner lessons and safety information will first be administered.

Once the lesson is taken care of paddlers will make their way into Pillar Point Harbor where a guide will provide them with additional pointers as well as interesting history of the harbor and area.

Along the way, paddlers will be able to see and interact with seals, sea lions, and occasionally sea otters with the occasional Gray, Pilot and Humpback whale spotting off the coast if their migrations times are correct. Due to the increased time on the water and the chance to see some of the most famous animals in the area, Half Moon Bay makes it into our top five on the list of Wildlife Tours in the San Francisco area.

101 Surf Spots (Redwood City)

Teaming with Barbary Ghost, 101 Surf Spots offers paddlers a private boating expedition where groups will be provided world class views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the San Francisco skyline before passing directly underneath San Francisco’s famous bridge where the captain will drop anchor in Treasure Island’s sheltered cove. Once safely anchored in the cove, participants will be able to dump boards over and explore the secret coves of the island while also being able to paddle to shore and explore on foot.

The most unique portion of the trip is Treasure Island which is an artificial island built in 1936-1937 for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. This island is now home to numerous buildings, a military base and of course various species of wildlife.

Paddlers will almost be guaranteed to spot a family of dolphin shooting through the water, as well as the numerous bird species which make this artificially built island their home. The paddling portion of the trip is fun, easily accessible and safe for beginners as it takes place in the protected coves of the island.

The combination of a fun and interesting boat ride with a finale of being able to explore Treasure Island by paddling, makes for an exciting afternoon spent on the water. 101 Surf Spots also offers a Buddy Deal through Perfect Paddles, which means additional savings for paddlers! Be sure to check them out on our website here.

Sea Trek (Sausalito)

Offering half-day excursions through the area, experienced guides will take paddlers from the beginning stages of paddling to being incredibly comfortable on the water allowing participants to fully enjoy their time on the tour.

Starting in Bay Model, paddlers will make their way onto the water where they will paddle around Richardson Bay where they will be able to see a variety of wildlife native to the area.

Most tour participants should expect to see harbor seals, sea lions, pelicans, cormorants and more! As an additional feature for the tour, guides will explain to the participating paddlers the unique history of Sausalito by paddling through the local houseboat community. Overall, this is a distinctive experience for paddlers of any skill level!

The opportunity to see the diverse wildlife in combination with the interesting history of the local community lands Sea Trek at number three on our list!

Also be sure to check out their page on Perfect Paddles for discounts on their services through our Buddy Deal!

Mike’s Paddle (Alameda)

Do not let this simple name betray your thoughts on Mike’s Paddle. This company offers world-class tours for beginner and experienced paddlers alike!

Dubbed their “Discover the Bay” tour, Mike’s Paddle provides adventurers with an excellent tour of the entire bay surrounding their launch point in Alameda.

Their tours consist of four options- the Beach and Estuary Tour, Rock Wall Tour, Treasure Island Tour, and a Downwind Boat Tour. While all the tours make for an adventurous afternoon not easily forgotten, for this list we will be focusing on the Beach and Estuary Tour. This tour is perfect for beginners, as the other tours are for more advanced paddlers.

After completing a beginner lesson, groups will be guided along the neighboring beach before reaching the Oakland Estuary between Alameda Island and Bay Farm Island. Mike’s Paddle described this tour as “serene” due mostly to the easy paddling conditions and ability to see a variety of wildlife including dolphin and a variety of ocean-dwelling birds.

We mentioned this tour was perfect for beginners, right? Well, another reason this is true is the ability for Mike’s Paddle to pick up participants on an ending point of the tour and drive them safely back to the shop before departure. Essentially, this is a one-way trip, allowing paddlers to relax while taking in the tremendous views offered by the area.

Due to the options, the wildlife, and the bonus of having to paddle only one-way, Mike’s Paddle lands at number two on our list!

Also be sure to check out their landing page on Perfect Paddles for discounts through our Buddy Deal!

Napa Valley Paddle (Napa)

Landing our top spot is Napa Valley Paddle located in, of course, Napa.

The reasons for their top spot are due solely to their wonderful Napa Valley Paddle’s Carneros Wildlife Preserve SUP Adventure. It’s quite a title.

Or, as they state on their website, “Set to the champagne vineyard backdrop and accessibly only by water, paddlers glide across the ride with Mt. Tamalpais and Mt. Diablo looming large on the horizon.”

From this vantage point, the tour takes participants to the center of migratory action where paddlers will be able to enjoy the peace and beauty of birds in their natural habitat. The entire tour is home to one of the most beautiful habitats on the west coast and paddlers can expect to see red-tail hawks, golden eagles, American green-winged teal, buffleheads, gadwalls and Canada geese.

In addition, paddlers can add one wine tasting, charcuterie and cheese platter or a boxed lunch to enjoy after completion of the paddle.

The chance to paddle in Napa Valley, enjoy the views, the wildlife and the wine makes Napa Valley Paddle’s Wildlife Tour number one on our list! And, like other shops before, Napa Valley Paddles offers a Buddy Deal through Perfect Paddles for discounts on their services. Be sure to check them out here!


San Francisco is currently one of the busiest hubs in the world to experience life in the city and the natural habitats surrounding it. And while paddling may not always be the main reason to visit the area, the chance to do so should not be passed up by anyone!

The northwest area of California is home to a large variety of species calling the water and trees their homes. One of the best ways to experience and interact with this wildlife in the area is by hopping on a SUP and getting on the water.

From this vantage point, paddlers can expect to see seals, sea lions, pelicans and host of other bird species filling the air with their powerful calls and bright colors.

We hoped you enjoyed reading about our Top 8 Wildlife Tours in the San Francisco area and we cannot wait for you to personally experience all they have to offer. And as always, Perfect Paddles will be there to guide you in the right direction towards the best tours, rentals, and shops in your area. We cannot wait to see the smiles on your faces as you make your way onto the water!