The best thing about owning personal watercraft is how portable they are, and how much fun it is to drop them in the water and go exploring. Like motorcycles, a PWC is unencumbered of anything that frames your view. There’s no windshield or gunwales or large bows to obscure what you can see. The horizon is as limitless as your ability to go anywhere and see anything. It’s a pure form of travel.
When you’ve exhausted all the options around where you live, how about loading your PWC on a trailer and taking a road trip to somewhere new? Sounds great, doesn’t it? We’ve compiled a list of great places to explore via PWC, wondrous new bodies of water to inspire the wanderlust within you.
The Jersey Shore
On the Jersey Shore, Barnegat Bay stretches from Seaside Heights on the north end to Beach Haven to the south. Inside the bay, there are loads of places to go and hang out with like-minded boaters. Martell’s Water’s Edge restaurant in Bayville, N.J., is packed with boaters on weekends, who come for the grub and live music. Then, of course, the Captain’s Inn on Forked River in New Jersey has live bands on the deck and great food. And if you like German hefeweizen, then The Dutchman’s Brauhaus on Bonnett Island is the right call.
Apart from restaurants, you have the full expanse of Barnegat Bay to explore. There are some areas where the water gets a bit skinny, but for the most part, the channel markers are accurate. Shifting sand is not a problem. In fact, most channel markers are permanent steel poles. But you’re on a Jet Ski or WaveRunner, so you have a lot more freedom than the channel markers might suggest—which makes this one of the best PWC destinations in the Northeast.
There is a lot of deep open water in Barnegat Bay, but on weekends, be aware that there are typically a lot of sailboat regattas. Give them some space and a friendly wave as you go by.
No place in the country boasts a greater maritime legacy than Chesapeake Bay. From the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., to the big boat shows in the fall and spring, the area is all about the life aquatic.
In addition to endless opportunities for exploring, there’s an abundance of restaurants and bars with dockage, but watching people hard at play at Red Eye’s Dock Bar on Kent Narrows is a must.
Famous for its weekend festivities and entertainment, Red Eye’s Dock Bar is always happening. The hottest place on the Chesapeake Bay features live music every Thursday through Sunday and one of the best weekday happy hours on the East Coast.
Located on the Eastern Shore in Kent Narrows, Md., Red Eye’s expansive patio is a perfect place to relax. It also makes for a great lunch or dinner stop for the family, before it limits the fun to 21 and over after 8 p.m.
Chesapeake Bay also is tough to beat when it comes to the waterside destinations it encompasses, including Baltimore, downtown Annapolis, Kent Island, Norfolk, Tangiers Island and more. And there’s plenty of ships, naval and commercial, to admire on the way to wherever you’re headed.
Nowhere else comes close to what Florida has to offer a performance boater with a sense of adventure, and Miami is tops on any list.
From your base in Miami, you also could hit Fort Lauderdale for lunch. No problem. Stay in Miami and hit Monty’s in Miami Beach for lunch. A waterfront restaurant, Monty’s has loads of docking space and top-shelf stone crab in season. Take advantage of the protected waters of the Intracoastal Waterway. Along the way, there are countless restaurants and watering holes with plenty of dockage, as well as fuel docks and marinas.
As for weather, Miami usually has a few months—November, December and January—that could be described as “cool,” but without question, boating is a year-round affair.
Lake Lanier, GA
Lake Lanier is about 30 minutes north of Atlanta, and without a doubt, the southern tip is the most happening place. Make Lake Lanier Islands your home base. It’s an 1,100-acre resort with great accommodates for you and your PWC.
With 38,000 surface acres of water, 750 miles of shoreline and 60 miles to run from tip to tip, you won’t run out of places to explore or private coves to call your own. The north end of the lake is the least crowded.
It’s a fascinating place because Georgia’s red clay soil creates beautiful jade-green waters throughout the 60-mile-long lake. Its location affords a longer boating season than more northerly bodies of water, but at the same time, it cools down sooner than, say, anywhere in Florida. This makes it great for early spring boating and, of course, a great place to catch the fall colors by boat.
It’s a manmade lake, so there are some shallow spots at the end of peninsulas and ridges, with rocks hiding in the red clay to do nasty things to your hull. Steer clear of shorelines where ridges dip into the lake.
Lake of the Ozarks
It seems like there are more waterfront dining and eating establishments on Lake of the Ozarks than just about any other lake you’d care to name, and the lake’s Party Cove has become world famous.
Located at mile marker 19, just north of the Highway 54 bridge in Osage Beach, Mo., Dog Days Bar & Grill offers live entertainment, a complete menu and a fully stocked bar. With a boating season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Dog Days definitely makes the most of it, filling its docks and restaurant every weekend. With space for about 120 people at its tiki bar, you can overlook the million-dollar boats on the docks or watch the go-fast boats and cruisers along one of the lake’s main drags.
For pure entertainment, nothing’s more impressive on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks than the Horny Toad. The three-story bar and restaurant has nearly 100 slips in its dock area and offers a full summer concert series.
San Francisco Bay Area
In San Francisco, there is so much to see, much of it touristy. If you haven’t been to Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s worth a visit. While you’re there, get a bowl of the clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. Wash it down with an Anchor Steam beer and you can say you’ve had at least a taste of San Francisco. While you’re there, check out the sea lions that lounge around on Pier 39. Bring your camera because you’ll want to take pictures—and some nose clamps because sea lions, as cute as they are, don’t smell so good.
One of the best times to visit is September, because weather is at its warmest at that time. And that’s important in the Bay area. As Mark Twain so succinctly put it, “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco.” The good weather is at least part of why the delta city of Pittsburg holds its annual seafood festival at that time.
From Pittsburg, it’s just a few miles downriver to Benicia. Located on the north shore of Siusun Bay, Benicia has a public marina and a lively public arts scene. Hungry boaters can dock at the marina and walk to downtown, which features a number of eateries like Sailor Jacks, a casual seafood spot with bayside views.
Created by yet another dammed segment of the Colorado River, Lake Havasu is Mecca for West Coast boaters. So, what is it about this expanse of blue water in the middle of desert that, on any given weekend, makes it the place to be?
First, Lake Havasu has a long boating season. And though it can get chilly in the winter, Lake Havasu boasts year-round boating weather. Sure, it’s ugly-hot in the summer, but the occasional plunge into high-70-, low-80-degree water makes it bearable. Regardless of when you go, you’ve got to go to Turtle Beach bar, a place where the drinks are so smooth you can easily hurt yourself. Designated drivers, please.
There are few bars in the country where you can pull your boat up on the sand, walk up and get a cool drink and some food. But that’s precisely why the Turtle Beach Bar—formerly the Naked Turtle—is the hottest place on Lake Havasu.
The outdoor tiki-theme bar is on the point of the Nautical Beachfront Resort and, next to the London Bridge, is the most famous landmark on the Arizona lake. There’s nothing like beaching your PWC and people watching on the cove.
The casual atmosphere is reflected in the bar’s design. The white-sand floors (there are wooden pathways) and mist nozzles keep patrons cooled off. It opens Presidents’ Day weekend and usually closes the first week of December.
If you’re up for a little day trip, you can head north on the river above where Interstate 40 bridges the river between California and Arizona and settle in at Pirate Cove Resort and Marina. If you want to spend the day and the night, you can stay in one of the waterfront bungalows and relax under the umbrellas lining the shore. Gas up at the marina and head back to Havasu when the mood strikes.
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