Your Guide to Bay Area Kayak Camping: Tomales Bay & Beyond

Your Guide to Bay Area Kayak Camping: Tomales Bay & Beyond


You may have kayaked, and you may have camped, but what happens when you combine the two together? We won't spoil it for you, but we can say that it's pretty damn magical, and very much worth the exploring and planning (which is why we're here).

First thing's first, Tomales Bay is where it's at when it comes to kayak camping in the Bay Area. Just an hour and a half north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore provides the perfect place to reconnect with your primal self.

The Food

Fact: 40 percent of California's oysters come from Tomales Bay, so if you've never tried 'em, now is the time. And if you love 'em, now is the time to stock up! Tomales Bay Oyster Company is a great place to stop on your way to the nearby town of Marshall—a popular place to rent kayaks and grab last-minute libations to go with said oysters.

The Flora & Fauna

Open hillsides, grassy meadows, over 1000 species of plants and animals, Tomales Bay is a natural wonder. Plan your trip accordingly, and you can catch bioluminescence in the water—it's as cool as it sounds.

The Gear

No kayak, no problem! Blue Waters Kayaking in Marshall is right across from many of the overnight camping beaches that span Tomales Bay. For a small fee, they'll even tote your extra stuff across on a motorboat! Not like you need anything other than a tent, the beach, and a belly full of oysters to get you through the night.

Tip: there's also a US Post Office nearby, so you can ship that idyllic “wish you were here" postcard home to the fam.

The Launch & The Destination

What better way to map out your adventure than... a map! Take a look at this treasure map from the National Park Service that visually explains all of your overnight, boat-in camping options. You'll even notice there's an elk reserve on the peninsula! In addition to the two most popular beaches, Marshall and Tomales (where outhouses are provided), you have fifteen other overnight beach sites to choose from. All other overnight beaches practice leave no trace, meaning you have to pack out your poo—so, there's that.

Before you rush out the door, make sure to reserve a permit to camp on the west side of the Tomales Bay. Once you've made your reservation, you'll also need to get a beach fire permit (it's free) from the nearby Bear Valley Visitors Center. You'll definitely want to grill up some of those oysters for dinner.

Once you have your kayak, you have four areas to choose from to launch: Marin County Parks Miller Boat Launch, Tomales Bay State Park, Tomales Bay Resort, and Lawson's Landing. Pick the launch point depending on the level of epic you want your paddle to be from Point A to Point B.

(Photo by Hipcamper, Alex Johnson)

Overnight camping beaches (from south to north):

Kilkenny Beach

Long Cove Beach

Fruit Tree Beach

Marshall Beach: On the west side of Tomales Bay across from the town of Marshall. Vault toilets, yes!

No Name Beach

Tomales Beach: More vault toilets!

Elk Fence South Beach

Elk Fence North Beach

Pelican North Beach

Wall Beach

White Gulch Beach

Pita Beach

Jacks Beach

Blue Gum Beach: Closed March 1 through June 30 to protect harbor seal pupping.

Avalis Beach: Watch out for strong tides and currents in this area.

Duck Beach: Watch out for strong tides and currents in this area.

The following beaches are day-use only:

Hog Island

Heart's Desire Beach

Indian Beach

Insider's tip: Start your kayak trip as early as possible to snag one of the better beach spots. Also, be careful not to camp too close to the water, as rising tides could lead to the ocean lapping at your tent flap in the middle of the night.

Beyond Tomales Bay, you can find overnight kayak camping at Angel Island State Park. Once you arrive on the island via ferry (kayaking from San Francisco to Angel Island is a no-no), you'll find rentals and a map to the one kayak-in camping spot. Another option is Anthony Chabot Regional Park, in the East Bay, about 20 minutes from downtown Oakland.

Last but not least, read over the National Park Service's Guide to Low-Impact Boat-In Camping. Paddle on!

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