Here you will find all things to do with my number 1 hobby: Scuba diving. I took up scuba diving in 1996, which may have been a consequence of turning 40 that year. Since then I have beeen fortunate to be able to dive in the Monterey Bay area and more recently around San Diego. I dive with the UCSD scuba club - Seadeucers which means I get to visit the scripps canyon whenever I feel like it, which is a significant plus as this provides the very best local wall diving in the area. You can see photos of the local diving here
I have made a number of trips to warm water locations (note to the uninitiated: San Diego, and California diving in general, can't be considered warm water by any stretch of the imagination!). So far, I have been to two locations in the bahamas chain, and to the southern region of the Egyptian Red Sea, on both shore based and liveaboard trips. The reports for these can be accessed from the sidebar menu.
California Shore Diving Sites
Most of my California Diving is done from the shore; here is a list of sites of which I have personal experience, with a short description of each.
- McAbee Beach, Monterey
- Del Monte Beach, Monterey
- Breakwater Cove
- Monastery Beach, Carmel
- Stewart's Point, Carmel
- Whalers Cove Central Reef, Point Lobos
- Lovers Cove, Pacific Grove
San Diego County
- The Shores, La Jolla
- Marine Room, La Jolla
- Scripps Canyon South Branch, La Jolla
- Scripps Canyon North Branch, La Jolla
- The Yukon, Pacific Beach
- The Kelp Beds, Pacific Beach
- The Cove, La Jolla
- Childrens' Cove, La Jolla
- South Casa Cove, La Jolla
- Divers Cove, Laguna Beach
McAbee Beach, Monterey.
Located on Cannery Row, right next to El Toritos and just a few yards along from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If it's quiet, you can sometimes park in the El Toritos lot, but there is on street parking close by as well as a large parking lot directly across the street. Be discreet about changing, though, as the local residents are easily offended by unwanted sightings of body parts and there is a prohibition on changing in the street immediately next to the beach.
The beach itself is a small area of sand which you can access by walking across a piece of vacant land south of El Toritos. It is an unprepossessing sort of location, but the beach is sheltered by two rocky outcroppings which extend out on each side of the beach.
Maximum depth here is 30 - 35ft, with thin kelp beds a short distance offshore. It is a popular spot for open water classes due to the easy entry and sheltered location.
The rocky outcrops are the most interesting locations here, with a wide variety of nudibranchs, including Hopkins Rose and Hermissendas. If the more exposed sites are blown out, it is sometimes possible to get a dive in here, which is about the most praise I can give it. If even this is a no-go, well its only a few steps to dry diving at the aquarium!
Del Monte Beach, Monterey.
This is the south end of a beach which stretches all the way to Santa Cruz! Located just north of the municipal wharf, where you can park and get breakfast, the diving is shallow, sheltered and pretty mundane. There are a few wrecks, apparently but I have not found them.
Breakwater Cove, Monterey.
The best diving spot in Monterey, the cove stretches to the north of the coast guard pier and offers many excellent dives. Lots of parking is available close by, and air fills can be had from two locations literally just across the street. For photography buffs, this is where Backscatter Photography is located.
The breakwater provides an excellent dive along the huge rocks which form the foundations of the coast guard pier parking lot, and further out the breakwater itself. Entry is easy via concrete stairs to the beach and then a gently sloping sand entry into the water; the usual routine is to surface swim out as far as the end of the car park, then descend and do an out and back along the wall. There is masses of life in the rocks; many inverts including octopus and sea cucumbers, with a good population of nudibranchs, sea hare and gumboot chitons. Large and small crabs are common here, and there are always a good number of fish hanging out in the sparse kelp.
It's a good idea to keep an eye out for fishing hooks as there are always many anglers along the length of the breakwater.
There is a very large colony of sea lions which has taken up residence at the very end of the breakwater, beyond the area where pedestrian traffic is permitted. This leads to some fun and games especially with the juveniles who like to tug on divers fins - no doubt just for the reaction! This is an excellent night dive especially for beginners due to the trivial navigation but even for old hands this is a special dive at night.
The second headline dive here is the metridium fields, which lie in deeper water a hundred yards or so away from the breakwater. (The shore faces east here, so this equates to being north of the pier.) This dive takes you out into the main kelp beds, and involves a surface swim through the kelp fronds.
The metridium fields lie on some rocky reefs in about 60ft of water, and consist of a quite spectacular concentration of large, white metridium anemones. These form the main interest of the dive, but there is lots to see in addition, since the kelp forest is thick and healthy around here and there are many, many things to see in there.
Monastery Beach, Carmel.
Carmel is a few miles south of Monterey and Monastery beach lies at the southern edge of Carmel, just south of where the Carmel river enters the sea. The official name is Carmel River State Beach, but divers have named it after the Carmelite Monastery which stands on a hillside across highway 1, overlooking the beach. The dive site is at the only part of the beach immediately visible from the road, where there is convenient roadside parking.
This dive site has a fearsome, and mostly deserved, reputation for difficult surf entries, with a very steep beach and a short, sharp shore break. This is the only shore dive in the area where you can reasonably expect to get down to 100ft or more, and as a result is a favourite for AOW deep dive training. The best diving, however, is above that depth in the boulder slopes at the north and south extremities of the cove.
The beach is sharply concave, with the surf constrained by the shape to come in aimed more or less at the centre of the curve. This is where the roughest wave action is, so entries should be made at the sides where things are much calmer. The beach slopes very steeply so the best technique to get past the very short shore break is counter to most advice: put air in the BC, wait for a calm patch, and run past the break as fast as possible, then put on the fins afterwards. Getting out is a whole other matter, and the 'monastery crawl' is standard - an undignified but effective method of getting up a steep sand slope which seems determined to throw you back into the sea!
After all that effort, the diving has to be good doesn't it? Sorry to disappoint, but frankly I don't see the attraction. The most I can say is that the diving is OK; sometimes the vis here can be spectacular, but there is little to no kelp and not a great deal of bottom structure either. Given that there is better diving in more relaxed circumstances available just round the corner, I say leave monastery to the he-men who need to pit themselves against the elements.
Stewart's Point Carmel.
This spot is located at the far nothern end of Carmel River State beach, where Ocean View Avenue intersects with Scenic Road, and is reached by driving past the Carmel Mission. Beach access is via a long staircase, and parking on the streets above is limited. The state beach parking lot is a long walk from the dive site, so unless you really enjoy hiking your gear over long distances, don't be tempted to park there.
A rocky headland juts out into the bay at this point, with a thick kelp forest at the tip of it. Entry is usually made from the beach at the left side of the headland, but is it possible to enter via a small cove at the right hand end. The entry point is quite sheltered, so that even if there is a substantial swell coming around the point, it is possible to get in and dive under the incoming waves to get to the kelp.
Once inside the kelp, keep moving south until you reach deeper water so as to keep out of the rocks where the surge can be very annoying, then turn right and swim around the point. A depth of around 50ft will get you right among the best stuff.
This is a classic kelp forest dive, with enormous numbers of fish and the occasional otter, plus some very nice walls covered in strawberry anemones and various invertebrates. This is a very healthy area with every square inch of available surface packed with life - one of my favourite dive spots.
Getting out can be a challenge if you navigate back towards the centre of the beach; make sure to keep well to the left as you come back round the point and exit in the same sheltered area where you entered.
Whalers Cove Central Reef, Point Lobos
Point Lobos is a state park located just south of Carmel on Highway one; it has (in my opinion) the very best shore diving spot in the Monterey area. This place has everything: entry point literally in the parking lot, sheltered entry from a boat ramp, shallow dive with breeding leopard sharks, deep reefs in kelp with easy navigation, plus caves and blow holes to explore - even somewhere to rinse off the gear. The only downside I can think of is that there is a bit of a swim through kelp to get to some of the best places.
Because it is a park, access is controlled and the number of dive teams per day is limited in order to minimise impact on the area; of course, you also have to pay the park entrance fee as well as a reservation fee but the cost is well worth it.
The park service has an online booking system which allows booking ahead up to two months in advance. Weekends fill up very quickly so forward planning is needed if you want to dive here.
The topology of the central reef is quite simple: after getting in the water, swim out towards the cove entrance, using the prominent channel through the kelp; the farther you go, the deeper the dive. After two hundred yards or so, you will be in 60 ft of water, and from the channel, you will drop down onto a sandy bottom between the cove wall on the left and the central reef on the right. From here you can choose to follow the reef on down to whatever depth you choose or simply stick around and explore the walls at that depth.
A good dive plan is to swim down the side of the reef to about 90ft and then return swimming on the top of the reef, for a nice shaped profile.