Down By the Bay: Kayaking & Fishing Fun for Kids

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If it weren’t for pruney fingers, we’re pretty sure our kids would never get out of the water. Between their obsession with the aquarium and anything related to Finding Nemo or Spongebob Squarepants, quenching their thirst for all things ocean is no easy feat. And while we can’t spend our days underwater like Jacques Cousteau, Bay Area kids can enjoy some ocean-centric activities that are both easy on the wallet and will give your little ones a different appreciation of the ocean – and maybe widen their food horizon. Check out our picks for everything from fishing, kayaking, and general ocean fun for your little water babies.

Kayak with the Kids
Paddling along the San Francisco Bay or the Monterey, your kids will see up-close what they can only see on Discovery Channel: sea harbors scratching their itches, pelicans diving for fish from the sky, or sea otters grooming their fur while resting on their backs. Seeing marine wildlife actually living in front of your eyes is a story to remember for years to come and kids will love it. All you need to do is rent an open-top kayak (no experience necessary) and paddle out for a couple hours with the kids sitting at the front, their hands free to “oooh” and “aaah” while you steer.


Based out of Sausalito, Sea Trek has no minimum age, provide instructions on safe kayaking with kids and gear you up with snug life jackets for the whole family. Trips offered at their Sausalito waterfront base as well as around Angel Island or Tomales Bay.

Sea Trek Ocean Kayaking Center
Schoonmaker Point Marina
85 Libertyship Way
Sausalito, Ca


Based out of Monterey, Monterey Bay Kayaks requires children be at least 5 years of age. Once you’re there, they charge a flat fee for unlimited kayaking on the same day, provide safe kayak instruction, wetsuits and life jackets. From there on you can join a tour or paddle at your own pace around the Monterey waterfront and kelp forests or inside the Elkhorn Slough.

Monterey Bay Kayaking
693 Del Monte Avenue
Monterey, Ca

Go Crab!
How many sea creatures do you think live around these rocks or piers? To inspire young SpongeBob Square Pants lovers to observe sea life from the safety and dryness of land, go fishing! It’s the perfect way to find out what’s out there – and potentially make a meal out of it.


Generally speaking, kids under 16 don’t need a fishing license. You do, but the exception is fishing from a pier and that’s actually the best place to catch crabs. From any pier inside the San Francisco Bay, you can only keep red rock crabs. You will likely pull up some Dungeness but you have to throw them back — it’s their breeding ground. Outside the San Francisco Bay (Pacifica Pier, for instance), you can keep Dungies (in season only).

Can’t tell one crab from the other? Kids will love learning the difference between the types of crabs and how to measure them. If dinner is on your mind, here’s what you need to know: you can keep either males or female Dungies that measure at least 5 3/4 inches across at the widest part of the shell rock crabs, and rock crabs whose shell measures at least 4 inches. The bag limit is 10 legal-size crabs for Dungeness and 35 for rock crabs – if you’re feeling good karma, invite your friends over for dinner! You can find out all the details in the regulations.


The entire crabbing setup costs maybe $25 and that’s for equipment you can use over and over again. You need a hoop net, a bait cage, some rope, some zip ties and some bait. Bait can range from leftover chicken bought at Safeway to frozen squid from a bait store. Everybody’s got their favorite!

It’s as easy as putting the bait in the bait cage, zip-tying it closed and chucking the whole contraption off the side of the pier. After 15 minutes, the kids can haul it up. It’s quite a thrill to see what you’ve caught! Sometimes you get other things, too (starfish are pretty common).

Go Fish!
Well, the same could be said about fish as for crabs: no fishing license required under age 16 and no license required at all if you fish from a pier. Of course you’ll need a fishing pole, hooks and weights to catch anything that swims with fins. Your local tackle shop can set you up with a beginner set that will work just fine in small hands. To find out what you can catch from any pier in California (coast or bay), check out the website Pier Fishing before your trip!

pier fishing

Sea Foraging
The ultimate foraging experience consists in sea foraging with master forager Kirk Lombard publisher of the hilarious Monkey Face News. Check his website for information on the next sea foraging tours for kids – and don’t be surprised if the kids ask you to go clamming or mussel-ing instead of tide pooling next time you’re on the coast!

Feeling inspired? Want to share your favorite sea experiences? We want to know how your get your kids to love the ocean beyond the plastic beach toys.

— Laure Latham

photos courtesy of Sea Trek KayakingDon DeBold, & Laure Latham

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