We found the glassiest water and most perfect kayaking only 2 hours from San Francisco/Sacramento, at Lakeside County Park (1985 Park Dr, Lakeport, CA; 707-262-1618) near Kelseyville in Lake County (from Highway 29 between Lakeport and Kelseyville: take Soda Bay Road east, then Park Drive north to water). Its lovely small beach offers smooth sand for put-in, or use the boat ramps nearby. View an abundance of waterfowl and a primeval mirror-view of Mount Konocti as a backdrop. There are small tree-shaded inlets to explore to the left; open water and vast marshlands to the right. Picnic and other facilities provided. Camp at nearby Clear Lake State Park (707-994-0688/279-2267).
Nearby Anderson Marsh State Historic Park (707-279-2267; 994-0688) offers beautiful bird-filled waterways with spectacular vistas of hillside vineyards; heron rookeries in the treetops are visible from the water. Two put-ins: Anderson Marsh State Historic Park (north); footpath with access for kayaks at end of Lakeview Way, off Old Hwy 53, west from Hwy 53 in Clearlake. OR put in at Shaw's Shady Acres (parking $1.00) at south end of Cache Creek Way, also off Old Hwy 53, west off Hwy 53 in Clearlake. From Shaws Shady Acres, paddle east about 3 miles along Cache Creek to the dam, or head west, then south into the marsh itself and the McVicar Audubon Preserve, or north to loop around Garner Island. Picnic or fish from atop the old bridge footings opposite the footpath put-in.
Rodman Slough north of Lakeport also has smooth channels and great birding; take the Nice-Lucerne Cutoff from either Hwy 29 or Hwy 20 between upper Lakeport and Nice.
Clear Lake State Park in Kelseyville, 707-279-4293; 279-2267
Lake County Visitor Information (firstname.lastname@example.org; www.lakecounty.com
or 800-525-3743) has a very informational boating map of Clear Lake, as well as nearby Highlands Springs and Blue Lakes (other favorite kayaking waters). Ask for their other lodging, dining, and recreational maps and brochures.