The Best Boat Rides for Families in Los Angeles

Hop on the WaterBus in the Marina. Photo courtesy of Visit Marina del Rey
Hop on the WaterBus in the Marina. Photo courtesy of Visit Marina del Rey

There are so many great places in Los Angeles to get out on the water with your family. From the many harbors and marinas to the vast Pacific Ocean (and even local lakes and reservoirs), the opportunities for boating in Southern California are endless. However, not all boating experiences are family-friendly, so we’ve highlighted the best boating options by vessel type and setting. So whether you want to whale watch, take a trip to a local island, or just swan around a lake, these are the best boat rides in LA for kids of all ages.

Best Boat Rides for Kids in LA in the Harbors

1. Gondola Rides in Long Beach's Alamitos Bay

You don’t need to go all the way to Italy to experience a gondola ride! Gondola Getaway operates out of the Naples area of Long Beach and has been in operation for almost 40 years. The company takes a team of gondoliers to train in Venice, bringing that authentic experience back to Southern California. Pack a picnic to munch on while you’re gently transported through the charming Alamitos Bay and around Naples Island. Gondola rides are also available in Oxnard through Gondola Paradiso.

2. Kayaking in Huntington Harbour

Huntington Harbour is one of Southern California’s most scenic locations, a combination of natural beauty and man-made channels. There’s no better way to explore its vast waterways than on a kayaking trip through these gentle waters. Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented hourly and if you’re looking for something a little less strenuous, Duffy Boats can be rented in two-hour blocks.

3. Duffy Boats in Newport Beach’s Back Bay

Even further south is Newport Beach’s Back Bay, which also has many options for a boating adventure. The most basic option, and best for those with small children, is the Balboa Island Ferry. This voyage is not much more than a minor thrill at best— it’s truly a short ride at only 800 feet. On the plus side, you won’t need to worry about seasickness or being stuck on a long ride if your kiddo has a meltdown. If you’re looking for more time on the water, rent a Duffy Boat by the hour and explore the vast network of canals that make up the harbor.

4. Hop on the WaterBus in Marina Del Rey

The popular scenic ride sets sail from eight stops in the Marina, including Burton Chace Park, Mother’s Beach, and Fisherman’s Village. It costs $1 per ride one-way and operates Fridays from 5pm to 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays (and summer holidays) from noon to 8pm. Bikes and strollers are allowed on board, so anytime you're visiting the Marina, be sure to pack the whole crew up for a quick ride.

Catalina Express

For a day or weekend trip, Catalina is 22 miles and a world away. Photo courtesy of Catalina Express

Best Boat Rides in LA for Kids on the Ocean

5. Visit Catalina on the Catalina Express

The Catalina Express is a great open ocean boat ride and a must-do for every Southern California family. The ferry takes you on a 22 mile, hour-long trip from the Southern California coast to Avalon on Catalina Island with departure points in Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. Kids love the modern watercraft that speeds across the San Pedro Bay and then once at Avalon, there are endless activities and opportunities for exploration on Catalina Island. Spend the day, a weekend, or the whole week!

6. Hop on the Long Beach AquaLink

The AquaLink takes riders on a scenic trip from Alamitos Bay to the Aquarium of the Pacific, all for free! It operates Friday through Sunday from 11:30am - 7pm through August 1. Plus, the 40-minute ride each way is the perfect length for kids—long enough to feel like a real boat ride but not so long that you have to worry about a tantrum or boredom. And did we mention it's free? (It bears repeating!)

7. Get a Closer Look with the Channel Islands Charter

The Catalina Express is one of LA’s most famous boat rides, but it mostly serves a utilitarian purpose, shuttling riders back and forth from the island. If you want to get a closer look at the spectacular chain of islands that dots the Southern California coast, the Channel Islands Charter has a range of boat rental options, from four-hour trips to days-long voyages. This boat ride is definitely on our bucket list of adventures for California families.

8. Take a Whale Watching Cruise

Southern Californians are lucky to live right along the migratory path of Pacific gray whales, with tens of thousands passing through our waters each winter and spring. There are many different whale watching cruise operators up and down the coast, from Dana Point to Oxnard and everywhere in between. 

Paddle Swan Boats out in the ocean. Photo courtesy of Ventura Harbor Village

Best Paddle Boat Rides in LA for Kids

9. Ventura Harbor Village

Head north on the 101 and pay a visit to the Ventura Harbor Village. There, you can shop and dine in a quaint, walkable coastal setting. If you’re looking for a bit more laid-back boating experience, Ventura Boat Rentals gives your kids the chance to explore the harbor in a swan boat, duck boat, and even a dragon boat! (Electric boats and kayaks are also available to rent, but for kids, nothing compares with the dragons or birds!)

10. Swan Around in Swan Boats in Echo Park

One of the most visually appealing boat rides in Los Angeles is on the Swan Boats at Echo Park Lake. Enjoy the warm weather, the vibrant street scenes of Echo Park, and the incredible skyline view of DTLA. Not close to Central LA? Wheel Fun Rentals also operates swan boats in Long Beach’s Rainbow Lagoon and at Lake Balboa for Valley denizens.  

An Unexpected Los Angeles Boat Ride

11. Kayak the Los Angeles River

Yes, we’re serious—you can actually kayak in the LA River. It may have once been a laughable idea, but LA River Kayaks has offered a guided kayaking excursion along the more natural parts of the river around Elysian Valley since 2007. And yes, it sort of started as a joke. Choose between the standard, mile-long trip or the advanced 2.5-mile trip. A kayaking trip on the Los Angeles River is a great chance to learn more about the river and its history.

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