Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
By Erika Mailman
We all say we want to get the kids off their screens and into nature more, so I’m resolving to pack a picnic lunch and spend a few hours on the water. There are many options for boating with kids on the bay—or on lakes if the big waves and possibility of sharks scare you. (You did know Tiburon means shark in Spanish, right?)
LAKE MERRITT BOATING CENTER
Oakland’s spent many resources on improving Lake Merritt. It sparkles with cleaner water and a beautiful walking loop around its three-mile perimeter. Besides boating, your younger kids will enjoy the vintage amusement park on its shores, Children’s Fairyland. For boating, check in at the Lake Merritt Boating Center (it’s cash only, so visit the ATM first). You can rent pretty much any kind of boat, from a rowboat to a kayak to a pontoon, and sailboats for more experienced sailors; all are $15-18 an hour plus deposit. You can even book time on a Chinese dragon boat as long as you also hire one of center’s instructors, running about $90 an hour all-included.
Once you’re on the water, you’ll see glorious buildings like the Kaiser Center, the courthouse and the Scottish Rite temple, the beautiful old homes peppering the hillside, plus the more modern skyscrapers. Not far from the boating center is a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary, and you’ll see many coots, herons and pelicans.
568 Bellevue Ave., Oakland; For hours and fees: http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/opr/s/boating/OAK029815
STOW LAKE, GOLDEN GATE PARK, SAN FRANCISCO
This lovely historic lake lets you rent paddleboats, rowboats and even motorized boats—powered by electricity so they run silently. The boats are all American-made and are billed as “the most non-tipping, self-bailing, unsinkable boats.” (Isn’t that what they said about the Titanic? I digress). The boats run $22-37 per hour depending on type. There’s much to see as you paddle around: a charming stone bridge, a Chinese pagoda and a waterfall. There’s a café right on the lake for treats afterward.
50 Stow Lake Drive, San Francisco
For hours and fees: http://stowlakeboathouse.com/boats/
For kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on the open water, check out SeaTrek rentals. Paddleboards look (for some, like me) intimidating but are actually not that hard to stand up on. The boards are wider and much more stable than they look from shore. You’ll receive a quick orientation to make sure you’re comfortable before you set out.
At this spot, you’ll see marine wildlife, harbor seals, spectacular views of San Francisco, Alcatraz and the north bay, and even some floating homes in Richardson Bay. A single kayak runs $25/hour while a double is $40/hour. The paddleboards are $25/hour or $50/hour for the Monster paddleboard which holds several people and is proclaimed on the website as a “hoot.”
2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito https://www.seatrek.com/rentals/
LAKE CHABOT, CASTRO VALLEY
We camped here once, and I’ve always wanted to return and go out on the water. This is a pristine and beautiful lake. You can rent rowboats, kayaks, pedal boats, electric motor boats and electric pontoons, ranging from $23/hour for the wee craft to $80/hour for the patio pontoon that holds up to eight people. Budding fishers can also rent rod and reel for a flat $8. If you’d like another adult on the scene, you can do a guided 2.5-hour kayak tour for adults at $45 and children six years and up at $25. These tours include information about the lake’s history dating to the 1700s and its connection to Anthony Chabot, who helped devise the ill-fated hydraulic mining and was known as the “Water King.” You can get a box lunch from Stan’s Coffee on the lake for $10 to take on the tour. The lake itself is 315 acres in a sort of loose W shape: much to oar through!
Note: Swimming is never permitted at this lake because it is a backup drinking water supply source. At the time of this writing, all contact with water is warned against because of toxic algae blooms. Make sure children are old enough to understand not to dip their hands into the water while boating.
17936 Lake Chabot Rd., Castro Valley http://www.lakechabotrecreation.com/
Wherever you choose to go, please check the safety rules at each site. Some places charge for lifejackets while others include them in the rental fee. You’ll want to make sure your family has a game plan in place for what to do in case someone falls into the drink. Hopefully, your kids have already taken swimming lessons and are strong swimmers. The water is a wonderful, welcoming place so long as you treat it with respect.
I’ve only listed a handful of boating options here; a little web research will yield many more. Enjoy your time on the water!