There is a magical allure to boating the American West Coast. The 3,000 miles of magnificent coastline, bathed in its glorious and consistent trademark weather, is well-known among boaters. It’s also brimming with breathtaking destinations – each and every one a guaranteed feast for the eyes that will melt your cares away.
Boaters enjoy the West Coast for countless different reasons. Some say it’s the atmosphere and endless sunny days, while others say it’s the wide range of boating experiences it offers. So, the query isn’t whether to give West Coast boating a try, but rather where to chart your course first. To help make your choice easier, here are a few boating destinations that will not disappoint:
For over 33 years, Seattle has been a prominent boating destination along the West Coast. It’s the go-to waterfront locale for sporting and leisurely boating in the region – and the fun never stops! From the unrivaled natural beauty and world-class attractions, to a booming arts and culture scene, major sports teams and more, there’s always something to do in Seattle.
And, of course, the Puget Sound is one of the most popular places to cruise. From the striking views of snow-capped Mount Rainier, to the towering double bridges of the Narrows, cruising the sound is a celebration for the senses. But don’t daydream, as the fast currents of the channel can be challenging to navigate. Another picture-perfect place to stop is Penrose Point State Park. From the deck of your boat, you get a clear view of the grand forested Penrose Point, climbing into the sky over the nearby Fox Island.
Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz is widely known as the land of sun, surf, redwood-covered mountains, hippy culture, and an effortlessly laid-back vibe, but don’t let that relaxed ambience fool you. It’s exactly what you picture when you think of a classic California beach town, and is home to the iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. And then there’s the mountains, where you can take a steam train over trestles and through the towering redwood forest.
Santa Cruz has a wonderful mix of beaches and rugged coastline. However, it’s known for high waves brought on by high-speed winds. They may be popular with the surfers, but boaters don’t much care for them. Don’t be discouraged, no matter your level of boating prowess, you will find an enclave that suits you perfectly. And when you go out to sea, you may find that playful seals, otters, and sometimes Great White Sharks, may be eyeing you from a distance.
San Diego, California
The coast of San Diego has something for every boater; exhilarating sailing adventures on the open waters, as well as casual sight-seeing cruises along the bay. When it’s “land ho!”, you can steer your boat to the docks and check out the oldest active sailing ship in the world - the Star of India. You’ll also want to get close to the USS Midway, the world's longest-serving aircraft carrier. Its daunting size towers above the docks of the busy Embarcadero, San Diego’s cruise ship hub and lively social scene.
If you happen to be cruising during the winter season, you should be prepared for some gigantic visitors passing by your boat. San Diego is renowned for whale sightings during the winter. That’s when mother whales swim beside their calves, journeying towards the warm waters of Mexico. Encountering a whale in the open waters is an exhilarating experience you won’t soon forget.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco beckons to boaters, inviting them to try out their sea legs among the sights and sounds of this celebrated city. In addition to a rich culture and highly acclaimed restaurant, bar and shopping scene, you must take a ride on a cable car, visit Alcatraz or The Rock as it’s affectionately known, and take a walk down the crookedest street in the world, Lombard Street.
Once back on the water, San Francisco has so much to offer boaters. Most of its world-renown sites are right there on the water. The coastal town of Sausalito is a great, walkable area for the whole family, Angel Island allows visitors some of the best views of the city, Golden Gate Bridge and waterway. But be sure to put on your heavy clothes when going out to sea, as the temperatures can quickly fall to very low levels. When the cold waters of the open sea mix with the warm waters of the Bay, they form that ever-present fog. Fog, along with boat traffic, high winds and pretty strong currents, makes cruising these waters a bit of a challenge.
San Juan Islands, Washington State
Yearning for some calmer waters? Then head north for the San Juan Islands. The lovely tranquility comes from the 300-mile Vancouver Island that shields these islands so well from the storms and swells of the open Pacific Ocean. There is so much to do here! From recreation and wildlife watching, to charming shops, first class spas, history, arts, and of course, first-rate dining, wineries, breweries and distilleries, these islands offer are the perfect mix for travelers on the West Coast. We recommend the Lopez Island Farmer’s Market ... a farmer’s market like no other - swing by, your galley will thank you.
There are numerous anchorage points along the islands’ pristine shorelines. Sailing to Sucia Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, San Juan Island and the other iconic islands, let you experience each island’s unique personality. Island hopping is not only fun, but encouraged here. Be sure to look over the side of your boat when in the shallows though, this way you can see the countless purple starfish that the region is recognized for.
The temperamental waters of the West Coast
If you haven’t cruised the waters of the American West Coast, you need to know that the Pacific is temperamental - you never really know what you might encounter. So, you’ll want to be prepared, especially when on the open seas. The weather, waves, wind and other conditions can be drastically different from one stretch of the coast to another. The fact is that sailing the Pacific Northwest, Northern California or Southern California can be as different as day and night.
For instance, waves on the West Coast tend to be significantly larger than waves on the Atlantic, Gulf Coast, or Great Lakes. That’s why you need to plan ahead, learn what you can expect, and keep your eye on the weather. A great resource is the US West Coast Boating Guide. A little homework ahead of time will guarantee a great boating vacation.
We have a feeling that if you visit any one of the destinations on our list of best boating destinations on the West Coast, you may find yourself returning over and over again! So, which do you plan to put at the top of your boating bucket list?
Written by: Jo Montgomery