San Francisco Bay south of Dumbarton Bridge, I guess we call it the South Bay (not sure there's another official name, I can't find it anywhere), is a fantastic place to paddle if you can figure out the tides. It's very calm here and it has a lot of wildlife due to all the nature reserves. The Alviso slough and nearby Coyote Creek are sheltered and great for beginners. The water could look dirty due to the mud, but there's fresh bay water coming in and out every day.
On January 4th, 2017, I got up early and got on the water. The tide was low so I had to push off about 100 feet before I could paddle. It was on the tail end of a storm so in the morning a heavy fog bank settled all over the bay. It was impossible to see any landmarks so I had to use a compass to see that the direction from Cooley Landing to Alviso was directly east (which is kind of counterintuitive because we're in the south bay). But once I set the course, I saw three buoys on the east side of the bay leading towards the Alviso slough. It was easy picking from there. Plus I saw a harbor seal in the bay which was a treat! As you paddle into the confluence of Alviso slough and Coyote Creek, the two sloughs separates at the power lines. Coyote Creek is the one on the north side and Alviso slough is on the south side. The slough is a fun place to hangout and look at wildlife also, on my paddle I saw retail hawks, blue herons, great egrets, and various other winter shorebirds.
Conditions: 5 knot N/NW wind, mid-50's, low tide and incoming flood tide of 0.5 knots.
Hazards: Low tides of course can be a hazard because it's so shallow in the south bay, if you get on the water at the wrong time, you could be wading through mud for hours or waiting for a couple of hours for the tides to go up. There isn't a lot of boat traffic usually but Alviso boat ramp service a lot of south bay fishing and hunting boats. Just after I landed, a fully rigged hunting boat with camouflage tule weed was going 30mph in the slough, I'm glad I didn't meet this guy on the water.
Put-in: Cooley Landing is a beautiful place on the bay. There's an orange wooden building that's dedicated for the East Palo Alto environmental education. The orange color is a great landmark. There are two parking lots and a porti-pottie as well. Kayaks and SUPs can land on the south side of the point, there's a small trail leading to the parking lot. If you can go to the south side, scrambling up the rocks by the point is also an option but be very careful. Some of the rocks have steel rebars, it wouldn't be fun falling onto one of those. Low tide is of course a problem there as well, anything less than 3-4 feet will present you with a long push off in the mud. Alternatively you can also land in the Baylands Nature Reserve. There's a large dock, water spigot and porta potty there and plenty of parking. It's a mile from Cooley Landing and just north of Hook's Point. The Palo Alto Airport is a good landmark for that take-out. My friend Gary Leong told me that some years ago some idiot engineers from Tesla tried to take off from the airport during heavy fog and flew into the power lines along the coast. But fortunately for paddlers, we can follow the power lines during fog and be able to spot the coast.
Take-out: Alviso Boat Ramp is a great place for all kinds of boats. There are low and high docks as well as a ramp. There's a water spigot and bathrooms. Watch out for the green lawn next to the water spigot, it's for pets not for boards.