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Scuba Diving in California

Tell anyone you’re going diving in the Caribbean and they’ll probably turn green with envy. Tell them you’re going diving in California and they’ll probably look at you suspiciously. Why would you go scuba diving in California? Well… Why not? It’s not one of the top diving regions of the globe, but it’s certainly an overlooked dive destination you will probably not regret scratching off that bucket list of yours.

California Scuba Diving Info

The coast of California is dotted with numerous dive spots. The Channel Islands alone can provide you with a memorable experience. California diving is diverse. On one dive site, you can swim through a stunning kelp forest, while on others you can explore a historical wreck from dozens of years ago, go down a steep wall, dive around a pinnacle, or discover rocky reefs.

Plus, there’s more life in these waters than you think. Marine life enthusiasts and underwater photographers can spot everything from humpback whales, seals, and dolphins to large schools of fish and critters such as nudibranchs.

When to Visit

Scuba diving in California is possible all year round. The weather conditions are usually mild in Southern California and the Channel Islands. Divers prefer to come during fall or winter because of the great visibility. Between September and November, the east winds bring warm dry air offshore from the desert to the ocean.

Water Temperature

Water along the southern coast of California reaches around 20° C/68° F during summer, while in the north, the ocean temperature hovers at 11° C/52° F. On average, August and early September have the hottest water temperature and January the coldest.


Underwater visibility in California varies depending on the area but it usually ranges between 9 and 24 meters/30-80 feet.

Types of Diving

  • Reef diving
  • Wall diving
  • Drift diving
  • Kelp diving
  • Wreck diving

California Scuba Diving Highlights

Channel Islands

There’s no better place for the best scuba diving experiences you can have in California than the Channel Islands. They comprise two distinct groups: Northern islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa) and the Southern Islands (Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicholas).

The four Northern Islands, along with Santa Barbara, belong to the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. These five islands have been called the “Galapagos of North America” and are home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, of which 150 are endemic to the area. A lot of the area is untouched. Highlights of this region include whales, sharks, sea lions, and huge kelp forests that offer some amazing photographic opportunities.

The Channel Islands are also an important destination for wreck divers. there are many wrecks on the bottom of the sea, many within the National Park, State, or Vandenberg Military base boundaries. Many of them are within recreational diving limits, but not all are open to the public. Historical records suggest there are more than 150 ships and aircraft in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, but only a handful have been discovered.

San Diego Area

Located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is one of the top destinations in Southern California. The region has some of the most spectacular giant kelp forests in the world. If kelp diving is not your thing, then go along the Wreck Alley to explore a collection of ships that have been sunk to create artificial reefs. Marine life is plentiful, and some of the more interesting animals you can spot here include seals, sea lions, grey whales, sharks of all kinds, and even dolphins.

Los Angeles Area

We’ve already established that diving in California is very diverse, but wait, there’s more. Divers visiting the Los Angeles area can also take advantage of a more unique opportunity: diving oil rigs. There are plenty of offshore oil rigs along the Californian coast and, fortunately, three of them can be dived by recreational divers: Eureka, Elly, and Ellen.

Elly and Ellen sit in about 80 meters/260 feet of water while Eureka lies in 231 meters/700 feet of water. These massive constructions suitable for advanced and technical divers blend the man-made and the natural and deliver some of the best multilevel diving in the world. California sheepheads, rockfish, scorpionfish, and even the elusive Mola molas can be spotted here.

Monterey Area

The Monterey Bay Sanctuary attracts numerous local and international divers lured by the beauty of the kelp forests and underwater canyon that can be explored here. The safe diving conditions and good visibility are also a plus. The nutrients in these waters attract an array of marine creatures such as seals, sea lions, otters, abalone, rockfish groupers, and lingcod. ! !

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