One of the best ways to see the Santa Barbara harbor and bay is under your own power in a kayak. A number of rental and touring companies offer lessons, guided paddles, and good advice for exploring the region.
Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara (117B Harbor Way, 805/899-4046, www.kayaksb.com , Thurs.–Tues. 10 a.m.–6 p.m., $10–20/hour, tours $50–215) has everything you need to paddle the waters of Santa Barbara  and Ventura.
You can rent a sit-on-top or closed-deck sea kayak to take your own ride around the harbor or out into the bay. If you want to hit the Channel Islands, you must take a guided tour. Paddle Sports offers all-day trips around Santa Cruz Island, Anacapa Island, and Santa Barbara Island, as well as more sedate two- to four-hour trips around the harbor and down the Santa Barbara  waterfront.
Most trips are suitable for paddlers of all experience and ability levels, but be sure to tell the staff when you book if you’ve never been in a kayak before. If that’s the case and you prefer to get some experience before you take one of the longer tours, Paddle Sports offers lessons in both sit-on-top and closed-deck kayaking. Whether you choose a lesson or a tour, reservations in advance are recommended, especially for summer weekend days.
The Santa Barbara Sailing Center (133 Harbor Way, 805/350-9090, http://sbsail.com , tours $65) offers a full range of kayaking options, from rentals to tours to classes, plus some great trips for more advanced paddlers. The basic excursion takes you to the Mesa Coast via one of the company’s yachts, then drops you off onto a single- or double-seat sit-on-top kayak.
You might see dolphins, seals, sea lions, or even migrating whales as you paddle along towards your destination: the harbor docks. For something more intense, call the SBSC to arrange a private intermediate or advanced tour.
SBSC also offers sailing excursions aboard the 50-foot Double Dolphin sailing catamaran.