Best Places to Launch and Paddle in San Diego - Liberty Station
Best Places to Launch and Paddle in San Diego (SUP, Kayak, Canoe, Prone Paddleboard)
If you paddle SUP, kayak, canoe or any personal watercraft in San Diego, you are probably aware that a convenient spot to park your car, get your board prepped, and safely launch is as important as what you are paddling. So we have created a series of paddle articles that showcases some of our favorite launch spots. Please enjoy and let us know if you have any additional suggestions to add to this ongoing series.
While San Diego is known for its beautiful sunny weather and beaches, not many paddle folks really take the time to paddle explore San Diego Bay. The bigger of our 2 local bays. Now partly this is due to heavy boat traffic and a big portion of its water access points unsuitable for launching a paddle craft. But if you know a few spots, a cool water experience awaits! And one of them for enjoying San Diego Bay is at Liberty Station.
Located at the old Naval Training Center that opened in 1923, Liberty Station is a former military installation that underwent a major transformation into shops, businesses, public markets, and beautiful water-way views. In particular, at the south east end of Farragut road is a small sandy beach, grass, and nearby parking. And once you are on the water, you have a very protected bit of water to enjoy and explore before trekking into the main part of the bay for those that are able.
For starters, while this launch spot is wonderful, there are two hazards to be aware of (as any spot is likely to have some). They include stingrays when the water is very warm, and an occasional rock or hard cement with rebar from the olden days if you don’t stick to the actual beach area for your launch. That said both are easy to avoid and pretty much non-factors. Once you are on the water you can head left to the north-east for a short paddle to the end of this waterway. You will paddle along rip-rack rocky shoreline, see lots of fish jumping out of the water, and people jogging/cycling along either shore. This will terminate around ¾ of a mile and you can see OC6 canoes from the outrigger club Kanakas when you get to the end on the shore. Wave if you see them and turn back to where you started, and continue south towards two bridges.
This section you just paddled rarely, if ever, has boats, and is 5mph if they do present themselves. Great for learning, doing intervals, yoga sup, paddling with your pup (SUPPUP) or birthday parties on the water! Plus you are literally underneath the flight path of the nearby airport so wave to the people heading to Hawaii as you paddle under them.
This is where the paddle is even better should you choose to continue. The two bridges are wide enough to navigate through on all paddle crafts, however the first one is sometimes used by fishermen, so please be aware of any fishing lines that are cast out. As you go under the 2nd bridge, aim left to go into Spanish Landing Channel or West Basin. Here you will see more fishing and parks along the left, and impressive boats and marina along the right.
You are paddling along the west part of Harbor Island here. There is on beaching spot along the left and there are restrooms there with a drinking fountain should either be needed. Continue all the way down to the end and then trek back. You are looking at close to a 4 mile loop if you finish this channel and then head back to your launch spot. Not a bad distance.
Here, should you continue to explore some more is where things can get a little more next level, so be sure to know your limits in choppier water, and understand that boat traffic here goes fast and you are barely a blip on their radar. Dress bright and paddle with caution. So here goes!
Instead of heading back to the bridges, head south. You will see Tom Hamm’s Lighthouse Restaurant on the left as well as a fuel dock. Stay to the right and there is a small harbor to enter called Americas Cup Harbor. Lots of boats to see here, and you will pass the Bali Hai Restaurant on the left as you enter. They have a restaurant guest dock here so feel free to post up there, get a drink or appetizer and make your way back. A very cool way to break up your paddle. But beware their Mai Tais are wicked strong!
If you finish this harbor and want to head for more, you have two choices to make.
To the Point: Head south to go towards Shelter Island and in the direction of the San Diego Bay entrance and Point Loma. That said, this is a shipping lane and used by the Navy, in addition to all the recreation boaters. STAY off to the side and always keep your head on a swivel. There is a beach along here on the right called Grace Beach or Shelter Island Beach and a great spot to land or launch. Boats are moored along here too and there is a fishing pier. Continue on and you will make your way to the end of the point where Cabrillo made his famous landing and the open ocean. Wind and tide and wakes are serious factors to contend with along here. So be cautious.
To Downtown and Coronado Bridge. Instead of heading South, you can also head East towards downtown San Diego. Generally best to hug the rocks as this is also high traffic shipping and ideally stay on the north side of the channel as the each side is naval and you might come across an aircraft carrier leaving port. Not ideal. As you head East, you will go about 2.75 miles from the initial launch beach and arrive at the Star of India tall ship, the cruise ship terminal and further to the south, the Midway Museum. This retired aircraft carrier is a sight to see! Especially from below. Downtown San Diego skyline is right here as well.
You can make it all the way to the Coronado bridge (~5.25 miles from the beach). Another epic spectacle. Tidelands Park and Glorrietta Bay reside by the bridge provide beaching spots and we will cover these in dedicated articles, as well as the southern portion of the San Diego Bay. If you are looking for a long, long paddle day, and want something other than ocean, these are great options. Just keep in mind typical afternoons winds come out of the Northwest and can lead to a return headwind.
So there you have it, whether you are looking for a little 1-2 mile jaunt, a 4 mile loop, a date-night paddle for drinks and apps, or a sight-seeing tour of downtown, and the greater San Diego Bay for you distance nuts. This area is not as mellow as Mission Bay, and there are no lifeguards anywhere to help if you run into problems. So carry proper communications in a dry bag, (phone or marine radio) just in case. But as someone who loves different views when they paddle, you won’t regret exploring this part of our water paradise in San Diego, and it is a great launch spot to boot!
This article was written by Clarke G., owner of CaliPaddler.com. A lifestyle brand for paddlers! For over 7 years Cali Paddler and West Coast Paddle Sports have teamed up to support the paddle community and share our stoke.