It’s that time of year when the California Coast is set aglow in a natural phenomenon called bioluminescence: a process by which organisms produce and emit light. From familiar animals like fireflies to more obscure creatures like fungi and marine vertebrates/invertebrates, this process is not uncommon in the animal kingdom. However, that doesn’t make it any less special. (Photos by Scrips Oceanography)

Like to see this natural process in action? Well, you’re in luck! In California each year, bioluminescence occurs, causing the crashing waves and agitated water to glow a bright blue, illuminating the surrounding ocean. Imagine a wave that glows like a glow stick! When agitated, tiny organisms give off this bioluminescent glow, meaning surfing, swimming, or any movement in the water will cause a light show. But a verbal description simply doesn’t do it justice. Check out these wild photos!

When can you see bioluminescence in California? 

Bioluminescent events commonly follow “red tides” caused by large algae blooms. So, the spring to late summer months, common times for blooms, are when to look for these events(“Bioluminescent Waves at California Beaches”). Because they can be unpredictable, use social media to monitor events and check with local aquariums to gain some helpful insights. Although more commonly found at warmer beaches along the Southern Coast (Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Diego, and Santa Monica), they can also be seen north of San Francisco in Point Reyes and Tomales Bay (“Bioluminescent Waves at California Beaches”).

bioluminessence kayak tours on tomales bay

What is the best time to see bioluminescence?

For the best results, find a dark section of the coastline and get out before the moon rises; experts suggest arriving two hours after sunset(Jaffe). Using a flashlight’s red beam will ensure your eyes stay adjusted to the darkness (Jaffe).

What about northern California?

In Marin County’s Tomales Bay, bioluminescence occurs on dark, moonless nights from spring through fall(Emerson). It can also be seen in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Diego, Santa Monica Bay, & Point Reyes usually about two hours after sunset. The greater the amount of water disturbance, the greater the amount of bioluminescence visible in the water. So, bring your friends, family, or anyone else who wants to check this glow-in-the-dark experience off of their bucket list: the more the merrier!

Taking a kayak tour is a great way to experience bioluminescence. We can highly recommend Environmental Travelling Companions (ETC) tours coming up this August 12th, September 9th, October 7th, or November 4th. ETC launches form Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park, Inverness, CA.

Book Your ETC Bioluminescence Kayak Tours On Tomales Bay Here

it is also possible to go out on your own, but what if you don't have a Kayak? We are here to help with our Takeaway Kayak Rentals. We encourage you to call the shop at 415-524-8492 to ask any questions and make reservations. We are open seven days a week and the crew here at 101 is committed to getting you out on the road as fast as possible.RSVP's are a must so call or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions 

General Tips to Prepare for a Takeaway Kayak Rental. 

First, take a look at your car and see if it is well-equipped for your trip. For example, having roof racks is a great asset when transporting boards and boats. No roof racks of your own? No problem! We provide straps, foam blocks, and any other equipment you might need to take your crafts out to the water, whether close by or a trek away.

Second, Kayaks are a ton of fun, but their size and weight can make transportation difficult. While some can fit on top of one another nicely, we advise against overloading your car. For example, a double kayak weighs 70 lbs, and if you are renting two double kayaks, consider that adding both on top of your car without crossbars can cause damage or dents to your roof or sunroof.

bioluminessence kayak tours on tomales bay what to wear

For large groups, try to spread out the load and use multiple cars to avoid any damage to your vehicles. While double kayaks nest nicely together, single kayaks do not. So, if you’re considering adding two single kayaks to the roof of your car, prepare for the possibility of using two vehicles for transport.

Finally, keep in mind that the rental process will take at least 20 minutes from the front counter to having the boats secured on your vehicle, so plan ahead. We close at 6 pm and our last load-up is at 5 pm.

How to load.

  • Always use proper cam traps, not ratchet straps
  • Secure the bow and stern lines to your vehicle
  • Utilize flags on loads extending over your bumper
  • Use multiple people to load safely.
  • Get a loading lesson from a 101 Surf Sports Team member

Large Groups Should also...

  • Select a group leader
  • Hold a safety meeting prior to launching
  • Book in advance to ensure rental availability
  • Rent a U-Haul if your current vehicle isn’t suitable for transportation.

Safety Plans are a must. 

  • Create a float plan
  • identify emergency contacts
  • Waterproof everything!
  • Have proper lighting
  • Wear PFD’s
  • Have a phone or radio in a waterproof case/bag
  • KNOW THE TIDE - Plan ahead. 

What Not to Do

  • Showing up at the shop just before close 
  • Dress inappropriately - it's going to be cold.
  • Not being ready to be wet. 
  • Going out in windy conditions
  • Not using the Trip Planner (It’s AWESOME) Plan. Plan. Plan. 

What to wear/bring

For Dry Bags using anything smaller than 10 liters is not a good use of space and packing capability. A 5-liter bag is big enough(when rolled down and sealed) for a cell phone, car keys, and maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so consider getting a couple of sizes out of our dry bag collection from Cascade Designs;

See out Seal Line Baja Dry Bags Here 

Phone Cases are a must. Adding flotation to the case is also key for any overboard mishaps. Water Proof Phone cases come in all shapes and sizes, so take into consideration how easy it is to place and remove your phone from a waterproof case. We highly suggest looking at the Seal Line eCase. Medium cases fit most phones and larger cases allow for more space for electronics and keys. Over the years we have found the Seal lines eCases to be the most reliable solution with no plastic parts and long-term durability.  

See the Seal Line eCase Waterproof Storage Here

Want to kayak camp on Tomales Bay? Permits for camping on beaches can be had here. 

Article Citations

“Bioluminescent Waves at California Beaches.” California Beaches, 7 Dec. 2021,

Jaffe, Matt. “Here's How to Experience Bioluminescence in California.” Welcome to the Visit California Homepage, 2021,

Emerson. “The Glowing Blue Waves at Tomales Bay in Northern California Are a Strange Natural Phenomenon.” OnlyInYourState®, 25 Apr. 2020,

“Tomales Bay Camping – Blue Waters Kayaking, Point Reyes California.” Blue Waters Kayaking,