Sunny, warm days at the beach are dwindling fast, but there are still ways to enjoy the Pacific, including the sometimes-overlooked option of a small-scale "going to sea."
The following, from south to north, is a sampling of Southern California firms that offer families brief, inexpensive opportunities to go to sea. (It's advisable to take a jacket and sunscreen and prepare ahead if susceptible to seasickness.)
San Diego Harbor Excursion, (619) 234-4111. Leaving from the Embarcadero in Downtown San Diego, daily cruises are narrated aboard double-deck passenger ferryboats on one- and two-hour cruises around the bay. The one-hour cruise is $6.50; the two-hour cruise $9.50. Seniors 55 and over, ages 3-11 and active military personnel pay half fare. Alcoholic beverages and snacks are sold on board. Also a dinner-dancing cruise on weekends and a Sunday champagne brunch are offered.
Bahia Belle, (619) 488-0551. The Bahia Belle is a paddle wheeler that takes passengers on a one-hour evening round trip around Mission Bay from San Diego's Bahia Hotel, 998 W. Mission Bay Drive, to the Catamaran Hotel and Vacation Village, passing Mission Bay and Sea World. A full bar is available and, starting at 8:30 p.m., there's live music. The fare is $5; those under 21 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Departures are every hour on the half hour beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Newport Harbor Showboat Cruise, (714) 673-0240. Cruises depart from the foot of Washington Street on the Bay Front and cruise around the islands of Newport Harbor. A showboat skipper details the history of the harbor and stories about area inhabitants. Boats run hourly from noon to 4 p.m. The 45-minute trip costs $4 for adults, $1 for children 6-12, free for those 5 and under. The 90-minute trip travels around Lido Island and Balboa Island and costs $6 for adults, $1 for children 12 and under. No reservations are required. No food is sold.
Spirit Sailing Cruises, (213) 831-1073, (213) 597-5021. Spirit is an 85-foot, two-masted sailing boat that leaves from the south end of Ports O' Call. There are four afternoon departures of the one-hour, fully narrated cruise on Saturdays and Sundays. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for children 3 to 12 and free for those under 3. Through October, a fifth departure at 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays includes complimentary champagne and costs $7.50 for adults. A cocktail bar is on board. No reservations.
Long Beach Harbor Tour, (213) 775-6111. There are four daily departures aboard the 65-foot, double-deck Shoreliner, which leaves from Shoreline Village, across from the Queen Mary. Passengers may also board near the bow of the Queen Mary. While on this one-hour narrated tour of a real working harbor, you'll pass the Spruce Goose dome, oil islands and the Long Beach skyline. Adult fare is $5.95; children 5-11 pay $3.95; those 4 and under ride free. A snack bar is on board. Purchase tickets one hour before boarding.
Catalina Cruises, (213) 775-6111. There are triple-deck, 700-passenger vessels that depart for Catalina Island from Long Beach and San Pedro. Passengers may return the same day or another day. Round-trip fare for adults is $19.90; for ages 2-11 the cost is $10.60; those under 2 are charged $1.20. Call for a schedule of departures. Parking costs $4.50 for 24 hours at Long Beach, $4 at San Pedro. The cruise takes two hours each way on the 130-foot boat. Snack and cocktail bars are on board. Reservations are required. Evening shoreline cruises operate Thursday-Sunday and cost $9.95 for adults, $7.95 for children 2-11, under 2 free.
Redondo Sportfishing, (213) 372-3566. A 65-foot double-deck excursion boat leaves from the pier in Redondo King Harbor, at 233 N. Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach, every hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and from 6 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. The 40-minute cruise takes you 1 1/2 miles out to a fishing barge (where fishermen disembark) and back again. The cost for adults is $2; children 11 and under pay $1. Advance notice is not necessary except for more than 20.
Marina del Rey Harbor Cruise, (213) 822-1151. Forty-minute narrated cruises aboard the double-deck Marina Belle leave from the red boathouse at Fisherman's Village on Fiji Way, Marina del Rey. The narration covers history of the area and information about boats. Daily departures are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the hour. No Monday or Tuesday cruises after November. Adult fare is $5, children 6-12 pay $4, ages 1-5 $3, younger than 1 free, seniors 60 and older pay $3.50. Food may be carried on board.
Bay Queen Harbor Cruises, (805) 642-7753. Leaving from 1567 Spinnaker Drive, the Bay Queen, a specially built 40-foot cruise boat, takes passengers on a 45-minute cruise of Ventura Harbor and the fashionable Keys area. Cruises depart daily at noon. Cost is $3 for adults, $2 for children 12 and under. In the evening, there are 90-minute cocktail cruises, departing 6:30 p.m. daily for $5 per person.
Sea Landing, (805) 963-3564. Two-hour sailboat rides leave every two hours 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily from the launch ramp of Santa Barbara Harbor. Passengers may see sea lions, harbor seals and occasionally dolphins. Along the shore, there is the Santa Barbara Lighthouse and the Santa Barbara Mission. The cost is $15 per person and must be paid in advance, either by phone using a credit card or in person. Reservations must be made at least a week in advance. The 37-foot catamaran holds six people.