Bioluminescent Night Kayaking

bioluminescence – (n.) The emission of light by a living organism.

On Sunday Emily and I drove an hour north of San Francisco to Tomales Bay on Point Reyes National Seashore. We had signed up for a night kayaking trip on a recommendation from Chethan and Tara.


We stopped for dinner at the Cowgirl Creamery Cantina in the small town of Point Reyes Station. They had run out of the awesome-sounding sandwiches from the menu, so we settled for salads and cheesy bread. Pretty decent. And their ice cream was fantastic. Worth checking out if you’re in the area.


We met our guides an hour and a half before sunset at Miller Park. There were twelve people in our group plus two guides. We donned waterproof jackets and spray skirts and after a quick lesson in kayaking we set off across the bay.

Emily and I shared a two person kayak. As the sky darkened and our group slowly paddled to the opposite shore, our guides gave us lessons in local history, wildlife and geology.

We rested for 30 minutes on the beach drinking tea and hot chocolate and eating cookies and brownies. When the sky was fully dark we set off again in the kayaks.

The Cool Part

The bioluminescence in this case comes from dinoflagellates, which are a type of unicellular organism. When they’re jostled, they give off a small flash of greenish blue light for a tenth of a second. In bulk, it’s pretty freaking sweet.

The water flashes with blue light as the blade of your paddle passes through. I spent a few minutes mesmerized, staring into the water as it lit up when I flicked it with my fingers (don’t tell Emily, who toiled away with her paddle at the front of the kayak).

I may be an abnormally large sucker for nature, but here are some things I really, actually said:

“This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”
“I feel like I’m in Avatar.”

An image search might give you a vague idea of what it looks like. In our case the light was not nearly as bright as what’s seen in the photos. Some of the photos are time lapse. Others might just be extreme examples. Not sure.

In any case, it was a great experience and I highly recommend it. Our guides from Point Reyes Outdoors did a great job. There are other companies that lead trips and I’m sure they’re great, too. Or if you’re adventurous you could rent a kayak and go out on your own. Apparently the luminescence in Point Reyes is best May through November. And try to go when the moon is new, rather than full. The darker the better.

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