The Emerald City is renowned as a kayaker's paradise with endless possibilities. Paddling Lake Union is a must, with its houseboat communities and views of Seattle's skyline. (Leave the water briefly to climb to the top of Gas Works Park, at the north end of Lake Union, for a terrific view of Seattle's skyline.) Paddle through the Ship Canal (connecting Lake Union to Lake Washington and Puget Sound), and you'll enjoy an intimate view of the funky architecture of the Fremont neighborhood. Continue on through the canal and poke around Fisherman's Terminal - the center for Seattle's fishing industry. Portage Bay, which sits between Lake Union and Lake Washington, is also a great place to explore - an eclectic mix of houseboats (million-dollar mansions and barely floating burgs) line the south shore. Cross through the famed Montlake Cut and into Union Bay, lined with wetlands that offer superb birding (especially in spring and fall when birds are migrating). If you'd like to make a night of it, camp on Blake Island, with the Space Needle before you and deer rustling in the woods behind.

Outfitters: Northwest Outdoor Center, (800) 683-0637, www.nwoc.com; Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club, (206) 545-8570, www.aguaverde.com


SAN FRANCISCO
For experienced kayakers, Crissy Field offers a prime launch location into the heart of the City by the Bay (complete with free parking if you get there early enough). But the bay's currents can be unpredictable and strong, so for newcomers an outfitter is the best way to go. Either way, paddling the bay is like seeing a famous postcard from the water - the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, the Embarcadero, the Transamerica Pyramid, Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Alcatraz and Treasure islands, the mob of barking blubber (sea lions) on Pier 39 near Fisher­man's Wharf. San Franciscans thrill to the water. Local kayak outfitters feel the same way - they offer everything from sunset to full-moon paddles; City Kayaks even offers outings to Giants games (bobbing in McCovey Cove, kayakers listen to the game on shower radios and anticipate home-run balls).