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Explore more: Get outdoors with rentals, tours, and an eye for adventure

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Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is still hanging on as students head back to college campuses for in-person classes. After being masked up and stuffed in a classroom, you'll want to find a place where you can unmask and breathe in that free air. Fortunately, San Luis Obispo County has a lot of wild space, outdoor activities, and exploration opportunities for everyone. Hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, surfing, fishing, rock climbing—the list goes on. And there are plenty of places where you can even rent the gear you need and get a little help figuring out where to go and what to do. Here's a list of places that can help get you started:

PEACEFUL PADDLE Poly Escapes and REI both rent paddlesports equipment by the day(s), which you can pack with you on an excursion to some Sierra Nevada water body, such as Sabrina Lake outside of Bishop. - PHOTOS BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photos By Camillia Lanham
  • PEACEFUL PADDLE Poly Escapes and REI both rent paddlesports equipment by the day(s), which you can pack with you on an excursion to some Sierra Nevada water body, such as Sabrina Lake outside of Bishop.

At Cal Poly

Poly Escapes (Cal Poly Recreation Center, (805) 756-1287, asi.calpoly.edu/experience/poly-escapes)

For Cal Poly students, the best deal around is right on campus with ASI (Associated Students Inc.), which they already pay a fee toward as part of tuition costs. Offering equipment rentals for backpacking, camping, climbing, hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing, and snowboarding, it's a one-stop gear rental shop offering small items like headlamps and stoves to larger things such as tents and stand-up paddleboards. ASI has wetsuits, trekking poles, outdoor climbing shoes, water coolers, snowshoes, and more so Poly students can experiment with that outdoor lifestyle from spring to winter.

Poly Escapes also has a climbing park at the Rec Center—50-foot climbing wall and bouldering wall—for all skill levels, and offers guided hiking and backpacking trips during most quarters. Due to COVID-19, Poly Escapes trips won't be offered during fall 2021.

Close to campus

The Mountain Air (667 Marsh St., suite D, SLO; (805) 543-1676, themountainair.com)

As a locally owned outdoor store, the Mountain Air is unbeatable for knowledgeable service and a super selection of gear that can help you get lost. For gear rentals, though, they specialize in winter sports—specifically for hitting the slopes. Before you leave town for your winter wonderland vacation, find skis, snowboards, boots, and poles that you can rent by the day or days as you're heading out.

TAKE A HIKE Cal Poly students get cheap outdoor equipment rentals from Poly Escapes, and that gear can set you trekking along almost any trail in Big Sur for a day-trip or a night away from campus. - PHOTOS BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photos By Camillia Lanham
  • TAKE A HIKE Cal Poly students get cheap outdoor equipment rentals from Poly Escapes, and that gear can set you trekking along almost any trail in Big Sur for a day-trip or a night away from campus.

REI (313 Madonna Road, suite B, SLO; (805) 329-4670; rei.com)

We all know what REI is, but did you know the famed outdoor store also offers equipment rentals? I didn't until this past summer, when I was desperately searching for a kayak rental in the city of SLO. Turns out, the SLO REI only rents paddleboards, but that's good enough for me. Contact the store for more info. You can also take virtual outdoor classes to learn exactly what to be prepared for as you head into the woods—how to be bear aware, what to pack for winter camping, and wilderness first aid tips. Visit rei.com/events/p/us-ca-san-luis-obispo for more.

The Pad Climbing Gym (888 Ricardo Court, SLO; thepadclimbing.org)

Thinking about trying climbing, but haven't ever tried it? You don't have to have any experience to join The Pad, which offers free climbing shoe rental and 24-hour access for its members. Don't have funds? The Pad has options, including a sliding scale and volunteer memberships.

Along the coast

Almost all of SLO County's coastal cities offer paddlesports rentals and paddling tours, so you can get out on the water and take in the Pacific Ocean from a different point of view. Paddle out for a couple of hours in rented equipment and drop it off at the shore before heading to your next destination.

Morro Bay

A Kayak Shack (10 State Park Road, (805) 772-8796, morrobaykayakrental.com)

Rent a single ($16/hour) or tandem kayak ($24/hour), a canoe ($32/hour), or paddleboard ($16/hour) every day of the week at this quaint little floating shack on the bay. Step off the dock and into Estero Bay, where you can hang with the birds and maybe even the sea otters as you paddle into the estuary or toward the Embarcadero.

FLOATING RENTALS Conveniently located on the water, the Kayak Shack in Morro Bay offers kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards for rent by the hour. - PHOTOS BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photos By Camillia Lanham
  • FLOATING RENTALS Conveniently located on the water, the Kayak Shack in Morro Bay offers kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards for rent by the hour.

Rock Kayak Co. (845 Embarcadero, (805) 772-2906, rockkayak.com)

Offering free lessons with all its rentals, Rock Kayak rents kayaks ($15/hour for single; $25/hour for double) and stand-up paddleboards ($15/hour) right off the Embarcadero. The team of locals can give you tips on places to go and the spots to avoid in Morro Bay.

Estero Adventures (501 Embarcadero, (805) 550-3165)

With electric pontoon boats ($99/hour), kayaks ($20/hour), and fat-tire beach bikes ($20/hour), you can cruise the bay or the Embarcadero with the rentals offered out of the Estero Inn.

Morro Bay Paddlesports (551 Embarcadero, (805) 225-1497, paddlemorrobay.com)

Rent stand-up paddleboards ($30/hour) or kayaks ($20/hour, $30/hour for tandem), take a SUP lesson, or book a SUP or kayak tour of Morro Bay. Certified instructors can teach beginners in flat water or exposed water and they can teach those with some experience how to paddle stroke and SUP surf—call for pricing or to schedule a lesson.

Avila Beach

Avila Beach Paddlesports (3915 Avila Beach Drive, (805) 704-6902, avilabeachpaddlesports.com)

To avoid crowding, Avila Beach Paddlesports requires reservations for its kayak ($35/two hours; $45/two hours for a tandem)and paddleboard ($35/two hours) rentals. Owners husband and wife Vincent and Emily Shay have developed diagrams, maps, and instruction techniques to educate customers about suggested paddling routes, ocean and wind conditions, wildlife viewing, and more.

BIRD'S EYE VIEW A number of paddlesports rental companies in Morro Bay get you settled into the peaceful flat waters of the estuary, where pelicans roost and otters play. - PHOTOS BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • Photos By Camillia Lanham
  • BIRD'S EYE VIEW A number of paddlesports rental companies in Morro Bay get you settled into the peaceful flat waters of the estuary, where pelicans roost and otters play.

Pismo Beach

Central Coast Kayaks (1879 Shell Beach Road, (805) 931-6348, centralcoastkayaks.com)

This is definitely a full-service kayak shop, offering Central Coast tours; camps and classes; guided kayak fishing trips ($175/four hours); and kayak ($25/hour; $40/hour for tandem), fishing kayak ($65/four hours), and paddleboard rentals ($25/hour). Starting at $75, you can take 2 1/2- to 3-hour tours of Morro Bay's calm water sights, a naturalist's voyage close to shore near Shell Beach, or check out caves, arches, and rock gardens that are only accessible from the ocean.

Pismo Beach Dive Shop/Pismo Beach Surfshop (470 Price St., (805) 773-2089, pismobeachsurfshop.com and pismobeachdiveshop.com)

The fully stocked dive shop works with new divers, kayakers, swimmers, and surfers of all ages, offering dive and surf lessons as well as helps design custom itineraries. Here, you can rent surf and boogie boards by the day ($20 and $15, respectively), kayaks by the half day (starting at $50), and paddleboards by the hour ($25). With beach cruisers, electric bikes, surreys, and banana bikes on hand, you can rent wheels, too, or go on a pedaling tour of Pismo, Shell, and Avila Beach. And, if that wasn't enough, the shop also offers kayak tours ($85) and kayak fishing ($150/three hours). Δ

Editor Camillia Lanham is a weekend warrior with no regrets. Send outdoor tips to clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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