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A SUP dream trip up the Northern California Coast

On November 14, 2015, Desolation Outdoors Founder & CEO set off on a dream trip up the California Coast with good friend, Kyle McCann. The two shut off their phones and left San Francisco at 5am in a Sprinter Van stacked to the roof with boards. Ready for anything that came their way, they pointed in the direction of Humboldt County, California. In this post, they outline the places they stopped, paddled and experienced along the way. Check it out, learn about the area and set off on an adventure of your own up the Desolate Northern California Coast.

First Stop-Bolinas, California

On Saturday morning, our first stop was just about thirteen miles North West of San Francisco in Bolinas which is a small surf town known for incredible oysters, killer views and an amazing wave. We spent about an hour in town, grabbed some snacks at the local merchant and paddled the Bolinas Lagoon. Paddling the lagoon on our Desolation Fastnet-Carbon SUP’s, we were graced by a few curious seals and an unbeatable sun rise over Mount Tamalpais, which is a key back drop to Marin County. This is a must see spot, a great wave to SUP surf and a cool place to visit. After about an hour, we hopped back in the “Paddle Wagon” and directed ourselves to Point Reyes Station.


Second Stop-Point Reyes Station and Tomales Bay, California

Being Kyle is a Florida boy and fairly new to California, we took our time as we ventured up the coast. Second stop was Point Reyes, also known for great oysters and amazing cheese. This town acts as the gateway to the Point Reyes National Seashore which is an expansive coastal region home to many Dairy Farms, Tule Elk ,Tomales Bay and the famous Point Reyes Light House. As we were a bit pressed for time to catch a sunset in Humboldt County with friends, we made the best of it with a brief paddle in a tidal creek bordering Tomales Bay.

If you have not yet been, Tomales Bay is quite the place to paddle and offers some excellent views and fun flat water conditions. When the wind is right, this can be a down winders playground. A good place to launch is at the Miller Boat Launch next to the iconic Nick’s Cove restaurant. After paddling, you can visit the restaurant for an afternoon libation and amazing seafood.

Third Stop-Bodega Bay, California

After our brief visit in Point Reyes Station, we geared towards Bodega Bay on a mission to capture some unbeatable shots of the California Coastline from a view point at Bodega Head. This view point is a great place to take in scenery and watch the whales and other marine life that regularly cruise along the California coast line. Bodega Bay houses a huge community of fisherman and the harbor is stacked full with crab pots. It is almost unbelievable how many fishing boats are docked within the harbor. When you visit, make sure to check out Spud Point Crab Company and try their famous clam chowder. You will also want to give some extra time to paddle Bodega Harbor on your SUP as it offers a lot to see. 

Fourth Stop-Point Arena, California

Once we fueled up the van and restocked on snacks in Bodega Bay, we bombed up towards Point Arena, an incredible surf location and unique town that is great stopping point to explore and surf. Point Arena features a small natural cove used as a harbor and the Point Arena Lighthouse which was first constructed in 1870! When you visit, make sure to check out the light house and surf Arena Cove if the wave is up.

5th Stop-Gualala, California

Next stop on our trip was Gualala, where we spent time paddling the Gualala River and eating lunch at Bones Roadhouse, an awesome place to grab some BBQ with a view. This restaurant features a custom made, wooden SUP dangling from the ceiling and two large dogs that cruise around from table to table keeping customers amused. When you stop in Gualala, the river is a must see and paddle. It is 3 miles in length and is home to an abundance of wildlife including Pelicans, Osprey, River Otters and large Terrapin Turtles. If you are lucky, maybe you will see one!

6th Stop-Albion, California

This next stop proved to be our favorite of the trip, although it was not planned at all. As we drove up the coast towards Mendocino, we looked down to our right while passing over the Albion River Bridge (constructed in 1944) and saw an interesting campground, marina, surf spot and river. We decided to take a right as we exited the bridge and make our way down to the campground. After registering at the front office of the grounds, learning about the river and paying our fee, we parked our van near the boat launch and set ourselves up for an adventure on the river with our SUP’s. Dry bags filled and life jackets on, we placed our boards in the water and began paddling up stream. As we distanced ourselves from the Marina and the opening to the ocean, we were quickly surprised as to how clear the water became. The first bend we passed brought a team of seals who found interest in our boards and decided to pass underneath and follow us for about a quarter mile.

Coming around another bend, we spotted the remains of an old wooden rail road bridge with metal tracks at the water line from the days the Albion River and surrounding area served as a logging hot spot. 

As we made our way up stream, we began to hear a piano being played in the distance which was quite a surprise. As we continued on, we began to hear an accordion playing in conjunction with the Piano, then a guitar. Passing another bend, we immediately saw a rustic houseboat anchored dead center of the river with smoke from a wood burning fire place gently billowing out of a chimney. As we approached the home, three individuals came outside with instruments in hand and began playing an acoustic concert of guitar, accordion, bass and vocals on the upper deck of the house boat. As they played, Kyle and I stood still onboard our SUP’s taking the whole experience in while being in a total state of euphoria. After our seven minute concert, the owner invited us onboard the house boat and we chatted for some time where we learned all about the history behind the river, boat and how he lives completely off the grid in a self-sustainable fashion. Deciding it was now time to leave, we let the owner know we needed to continue on our way and we were welcomed back in the future. The Albion River is a total must see and an excellent place to spend an afternoon. Make sure to give yourself a good amount of time to paddle this area and make it an afternoon or even more, we promise it will be worth every bit. Who knows, maybe you will have a houseboat story of your own!


7th and Last Stop, Arcata, California

On to Arcata, California, the final stop of our trip. We woke up early morning on Sunday, November 15 to the sound of strong rain and heavy wind battering away outside. We learned that our planned event for Sunday was cancelled due to poor weather so we decided to make other plans and make the best of it.

Not realizing, the day would become even better than originally planned, we went for breakfast with local Desolation Outdoors ambassador, Sky Towle, her boyfriend Hunter and their two dogs. During breakfast, we mapped out our day and established where we wanted to go, see and paddle. We chose three locations and were off as soon as the bill came.

We fired up the van and headed out to Hunter’s favorite surf spot in the channel of the Humboldt Bay. Not thinking we were going to surf to begin with, we got out of our cars and walked down to the beach to check out the massive break coming in through the channel entrance. It was amazing to see how powerful the elements in this area are, especially during a storm...

After sitting in awe for a few minutes at the channels break, we drove down the beach to check out another spot. Here is Hunter hammering through mud puddles and soft sand to get there.

Realizing the weather was clearing a bit, we decided to head a bit farther North to Sky’s favorite paddling destination at Moonstone Beach. Due to a high tide and the recent mass rain fall, we were able to drop our boards at the mouth of the river at Moonstone State Beach and paddle East towards the mountains via the Santa Rosa Creek. Almost five minutes into our paddle thinking we were in the clear of any rain, a massive rain and wind storm came in overhead and dumped buckets onto us. With the crew all laughing but cold as could be, we continued up stream towards a bridge that allows Highway 1 to pass over the Santa Rosa Creek where we hung out until the storm passed overhead. As the rain cleared and the sun poked out, we moved out from under the bridge and continued paddling on through beautiful ranch land, trees and pastures on a paddle that will not be forgotten.  

After about 6 miles of paddling, we turned our boards around and paddled back towards the mouth of the creek where we had launched. Fortunate with good weather and a wind shift, we had a nice downwind run back to the warmth of our cars.

Seeing we still had some good time left in our day, we made the decision to check out one more paddle spot, the Big Lagoon in Trinidad, CA just about 30 minutes North of Aracta where we parked our vehicles right on the water line, hung out for a bit and let the dogs play and paddle. 

Our short visit to Arcata was amazing and this is for sure, a must see paddlers paradise. Check out the areas we mention here and have a guaranteed epic time on the water during you trip. Humboldt County has a whole lot to offer and is perfect for the paddle sport enthusiast looking for unique, breathtaking locations to paddle.

After two days on the road, this is the most vacation Kyle and I have had in a long time but we enjoyed every bit of it. The Northern California Coast is without a doubt an incredible place to paddle and should be on every paddlers bucket list. We experienced incredible people, amazing views and paddled some really cool places that offer a unique experience not found anywhere else in the United States.