Feeling like a tiny speck at the Port of Los Angeles
The Port of Los Angeles is one of my all-time favorite places to paddle. The immense scale and complexity of the shipping operations are amazing and, frankly, a bit overwhelming at times. The water is usually calm, with regular wakes from passing ships, and often mildly windy. It's an industrial area, so often doesn't smell great, but you get used to it. Not much wildlife, but there are seals, sea lions and lots of birds near the tourist zone.
There are three places you can put in:
Be advised that there are restricted zones at the Port, called Controlled Navigation Areas. These zones are mainly for commercial use and require permits.
Cabrillo is okay as a strictly recreational area (which gets very crowded), but if you want to see the big ships and the inner workings of the Port, you'll want to put in at Banning's or Berth 84.
Banning's is by far the quieter put in, but is much farther away from the Battleship Iowa and other points of interest. It's great for watching the container ship operations and for paddling deep into the bowels of the Port. It's a very industrial, not-at-all pretty place to paddle, but I find it endlessly fascinating. One of the most surprising things I have seen is the large number of abandoned, decrepit boats and yachts in the various marinas. FYI, once you paddle east of the Schuyler F. Heim Bridge, you are officially in the Port of Long Beach.
Berth 84 has more to see by way of the "public" part of the Port, but it is also busier. It's safe, but you'll need to be watchful and mindful of the boat traffic.
The Battleship Iowa, cruise ship terminals, and the Vincent Thomas Bridge are a short paddle inland (northward). If you take a longer paddle south, towards the ocean, you will pass the San Pedro Fish Market and Ports O' Call Village. This area is where you will most likely meet some seals and sea lions, who like to pop their heads up to investigate visitors.
Keep going south to the Port entrance and you'll see the Los Angeles Pilot Service on the west side. On the east side you'll see the Coast Guard base and the federal prison on Terminal Island. If you paddle further west, you'll see the S. S. Lane Victory, a WWII-era merchant marine cargo ship.
I highly recommend visiting the Lane Victory, the Iowa, and the maritime museum. In fact, there's a lot to see and do at the Port. If you get to one of the landings at daybreak, you could easily spend 3-4 hours paddling, followed by lunch and an afternoon visiting the museums.
It surprises me that I have never seen another kayaker at the Port, even though it is, in fact, perfectly legal (I've checked with the Port Authority). There is, of course, the safety issue, as there is with all kayaking. If you're an intermediate or advanced kayaker, you should certainly give it a try. Just be safe, be observant, and use common sense!
Be sure to visit these links for more info on the rules, regulations, etc.
safety, weather, etc
Although all boats and ships are under strict speed limits, you need to be observant at all times. You are also required to stay 100ft from all moored ships and stay out of the Controlled Navigation Areas.
The water is usually calm, but can be somewhat windy. Big wakes from slow-moving ships will occur. Still, the protected waters of the Port can be a safe place to paddle and work on your technique. Just always practice common sense and situational awareness.