Smooth waters, colorful sunset skies and warm weather make Orange County the ideal spot to try out the emerging trend of paddleboarding. Though interest in this pastime has been building throughout the last few years, more and more shops are offering rentals near popular seaside hotspots, making it super easy to get your hands on a board and a paddle. Following continued success, some shops are even offering innovative experiences, like light-up boards and fitness classes. These are our picks for the best places to paddleboard in Orange County.
Balboa Island and the nearby Newport Harbor are the perfect place to try stand-up paddleboarding for the first time. Because the island is so small, it’s easy to reach the beach from the paddleboard shop. But, aside from coastal access, Balboa Island has another benefit for first-timers: calm waters. Set further away from the open ocean, it’s easy to get the feel for the board and find your balance. Once you do, you can traverse the nearby Newport Harbor as well for views of local boats and waterfront restaurants. Those who are especially daring can paddle down the coast to Corona del Mar, where there are rocks to maneuver around and small beaches to be found.
Enlist the help of La Vida Laguna to paddleboard to the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve, a pristine area off the shoreline that is unlike anything else you’ll find in the area. These guided tours take visitors over clear waters, giving them a chance to peer down onto kelp beds, rock reefs filled with colorful fish and underwater canyons. But, aside from the mysteries hiding below the surface, the area is brimming with other life as well—dolphins, whales, sea lions, birds. There is so much to see here; if you’re looking to get up close and personal with marine life outside of an aquarium, this is a fantastic way to do so. Tours launch from a gentle cove, making it easy to get started, and they include all equipment, the tour and even photos.
Though technically a sailing company, Westwind has expanded to include stand-up paddleboarding as well. In addition to rentals, they offer lessons on the calm waters of the Dana Point Harbor, an area that is always teeming with activity from boats, canoes, swimmers and more. The Westwind rentals are also located right next to the water so you don’t have to walk with the board to reach the water. A beautiful backdrop of greenery and houses dot the cliffs behind the harbor and plenty of events are held along the shoreline, making it easy to combine your day of paddleboarding with one of many local festivals.
Another place removed from the rough waves of the ocean, Newport Back Bay has the calm waters that make for the ideal paddleboarding environment. Those who haven’t tried it before can opt for a free on-shore tutorial before heading out onto the bay; they also offer longer paid lessons that go over important techniques and etiquette. The thing that truly makes the Back Bay fun to explore via paddleboard is Pirate Coast’s SUP Glow night tour. The iridescent glow of the LED lights attached to the boards makes for a fun and utterly unique experience once the sun starts to go down. Explore the bay under the light of the moon on this one-hour guided adventure.
Of course, just as the Newport and Dana Point harbors were ideal for paddleboarding, so is the Huntington Beach Harbor. Traverse the waters that wind past nearby beach houses and boats while you take in the views of the distant mountains and harbor palm trees. The water here looks like glass as you glide over the top, creating a relaxing environment, especially early in the morning or just before sunset. Grab your rentals from OEX Sunset Beach, a local shop that also offers lessons, group adventures and boards for sale. Rental rates are great here so you can spend half a day out on the water for only $35.
While paddleboarding itself is a blast (and an excellent workout if you’re moving fast enough), combine it with yoga for an even more difficult fitness adventure on the water. You can still rent paddleboards from Bliss and even take standard lessons, but contorting your body into famed yoga positions on top of the board takes the word balance to a whole new level. Tone your muscles and test your balance skills as you focus not only on nailing the poses, but also on staying atop the board and not tumbling into the water below. Yoga is already a relaxing, spiritual workout, but on the water at sunset, it becomes an irreplaceable experience with a truly stunning backdrop.
Ashley Ryan is an Orange County native that loves traveling, live music and photography. She blogs at Pure Wander and freelances for a variety of publications including Newport Beach Magazine and Laguna Beach Magazine.