Places to Scuba Dive in California

Beyond the glitz and glamour of California’s busy cities lies a calm, quiet place – the underwater world. For both novice and seasoned scuba divers, the underwater wonders off California’s shores beckon. These coastal havens, complemented by the awe-inspiring beauty of the shoreline, promise unforgettable adventures above and below the water’s surface.

While California’s best scuba diving sites are primarily in the southern region, spanning from San Diego to San Francisco, the area around Los Angeles many prime locations. This stretch of coastline showcases the state’s beauty, making it perfect for beach lovers and divers alike.

Dive into some amazing spots in California to scuba dive for your next adventure.

Channel Islands National Park

Sea Lions at Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Katharine Moore

This unique archipelago off the coast of Santa Barbara are sometimes referred to as “the Galapagos of North America” for its exceptionally rich biodiversity and many endemic animals and plants. A series of rugged and rocky islands, they’re surrounded by vast kelp forests in clear nutrient-rich waters. It’s the perfect habitat for a variety of sea animals.

Channel Islands National Park protects five of the eight islands and makes for a phenomenal day or weekend trip from the Los Angeles area. Wildlife you may encounter includes whales, dolphins, sharks, sea lions and countless bird an fish species.

Santa Catalina Island

Scuba diver at Catalina Island.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Brent Barnes.

Also known as Catalina Island or simply as Catalina, this beautiful rocky island lies only 22 miles to the southwest of Los Angeles. This is one of the absolute best scuba diving spots in California for multiple reasons. First, kelp forests surround the island, providing a safe refuge for lots of animals, from garibaldi and leopard sharks to seals and octopuses.

Moreover, Ship Rock, situated two miles from the island, offers better visibility and has kelp forests of epic proportions. Other highlights include a number of shipwrecks and schools of flying fish and yellowfin tuna. The Avalon Underwater Dive Park is another one, the first non-profit underwater park in America.

Point Lobos State Marine Conservation Area

California coastline.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ken Wolter

One of the most popular coastal dive sites in California—also popular just for hiking and wildlife watching—is Point Lobos near Carmel-by-the-Sea. Traffic and visitation is strictly controlled, though. There’s a limit to the number of divers that are allowed in these waters per day, a measure that’s absolutely necessary to protect the fragile ecosystem. This pristine dive site offers epic wildlife watching, including harbor seals, sea lions and leopard sharks.

Southeast Farallon Island State Marine Reserve

Scuba divers with a turtle
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Rich Carey

One of the most amazing scuba diving spots in California, if not in the entire world, in terms of wildlife, the Farallon Islands’ waters teem with life. It’s an internationally recognized biodiversity and ecotourism hotspot. Off the coast of San Francisco, this group of islands features scenic sea stacks, which are incredible fun to explore.

Wildlife is present in sheer abundance and includes everything from humpback whales and even killer whales to sea lions, puffins and great white sharks. In fact, if you’re up for a thrill, the Farallon Islands are among the world’s best places to cage dive with great whites.

Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve

La Jolla Cove in California
Image Credit: Shutterstock / kan_khampanya

The premier attraction at Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve, named in honor of the area’s Native American heritage, is La Jolla Cove. Located just north of San Diego, this beautiful little bay is one of the best shore diving spots in California. You enter from the beach and will soon be among rocky reefs and kelp forests. Keep your eyes peeled for leopard sharks, lobsters, octopuses and sea lions, in addition to countless other marine creatures.

Wreck Alley

An underwater wreck.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Wonderful Nature

Wreck Alley is definitely the best dive site near San Diego, a series of shipwrecks that’s pretty easy to get to. The four wrecks lie only a couple of miles from the mainland. Over time, they’ve become artificial reefs that are home to large populations of marine life, from invertebrates to fish. During a dive, you’ll most likely come across giant anemones, moray eels, baitfish and lingcod. These wrecks are awesome to explore and you should set aside an entire weekend to do so.

Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve

A scuba diver.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Adrien Ledeul

Located in Carmel Bay, this exceptional marine reserve features a remarkable underwater rock formation known as The Pinnacles. This is one of the best scuba diving spots in California because of this unique natural attraction. Other awesome features are its dense kelp forests, surfgrass, marine life, and its accessibility and relatively calm waters.

Naples State Marine Conservation Area

Scuba diver going underwater.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund

Off the Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County, Naples State Marine Conservation Area protects Naples Reef. This is one of the “wilder” scuba diving spots in California and, therefore, only recommend for experienced divers. The rewards are plentiful, though, including solitude, marine animals such as seals, sea otters and sea lions, and various rock formations like pinnacles, ledges and arches.

Laguna Beach

Sea Anemone at Laguna Beach.
Image credit: Shutterstock / Kirk Wester

The Laguna Beach area is home to two neighboring marine protected areas, the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve and Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area. Both are excellent scuba diving spots in California, protecting marine life by prohibiting the removal of wild animals from inside their boundaries. Divers can explore a number of coves and a rather beautiful outer reef home to lots of reef fish.

Veteran’s Park, Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach Pier
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Tilted Hat Productions

Perhaps the most convenient dive site from Los Angeles is Veteran’s Park in Redondo Beach. The park itself has a pleasant lawn, shady trees and playgrounds. In the water, you’ll find a wide variety of wildlife, including octopuses, California halibut, giant crabs, bat rays and a couple of shark species.


Beach equipment on a beach
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Sven Hansche

There is no question that these ten scuba diving spots in California are the ones you’ll want to focus on when visiting this famous state. They’re all amazing for wildlife watching and many of them feature beautiful underwater rock formations.

Bram Reusen

Author: Bram Reusen


Bram Reusen is fluent in both English & Dutch, and his writings include news articles, equipment manuals, and more.

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