The Californian coastline stretches from north to south for about 750 miles. This beautiful coast has some amazing beaches, some strange and mysterious caves and even some islands. All this provides excellent scope for snorkellers to explore the waters. So long as the weather looks good, you are sure to have an excellent time.
The Golden State is considered America’s second-best region for underwater excursions. There is a wide variety of aquatic life, which is what attracts snorkellers to this state in particular. Regardless of whether you are looking to snorkel in the Northern, Central or Southern part of the state, there are snorkelling spots that are sure to catch your attention. If you live in the state of California, you should try to catch all these spots. They make for great family activities, the kids really do enjoy snorkelling.
With all the amazing snorkelling opportunities available in the Golden State, we thought to populate a list of the 17 best snorkelling spots in California. We’re sure that you would find something on our list, that would sound appealing. If you are having difficulty picking, you may want to choose the spot closest to where you are based. Otherwise, we suggest you go eenie meeni minie mo, pack up your snorkelling gear and dive into the waters.
There is a suggestion with regards to the best times to snorkel in California, which you should take into consideration, considering how cold the water can get during the winter. Hence, do have a read of that extract towards the end of this article.
Hence, without further adieu, let’s dive into our list of the 17 best snorkelling spots in California.
1. La Jolla Cove
Snorkelling the La Jolla Cove is a must when you are visiting La Jolla. It is undoubtedly an experience that every Californian should seek to experience at least once in their life. After all, if you live within the state, you really cannot make excuses.
With a wide variety of marine life, the sea creatures at La Jolla Cove makes it one of the best places to go snorkelling in San Diego. The protected cove is home to numerous fish and mammal species and you will have a unique opportunity to witness a rare and up-close look at the incredible marine life.
You could expect to see sea urchins, sea turtles which are a favourite amongst kids, octopuses, dolphins, garibaldi and leopard sharks. La Jolla Cove has a rich biodiversity of species, which makes it one of the most worthwhile places to go snorkelling, which is why it is placed first on our list.
2. Scorpion Anchorage
If you are a snorkeller, you simply do not want to miss a visit to the Channel Island National Park. Situated off the Southern Californian coast, the Channel Islands are beaming with marine life and is considered a hotspot for snorkellers who are looking to catch the best views of the regional aquatic life.
Scorpion Anchorage, which is situated on Santa Cruz Island is probably the most popular spot amongst all the other snorkelling spots within the Channel Islands, to witness the amazing marine life of the region.
Santa Cruz is the largest island within the Channel Islands and is praised for the beautifully large sea caves, considered the largest in the world. If you are a little bit more experienced, you are sure to have a great time exploring these sea caves. However, it is a bit beyond reach for beginner snorkellers who are only looking to get their feet wet.
From crabs to sea hares, seals and stingrays, there is a host of unique marine life that is sure to leave you feeling rewarded for exploring the waters at Scorpion Anchorage.
3. Diver’s Cove
If you aren’t about the crowd of people and prefer more of a secluded spot, the Diver’s Cove at Laguna beach should probably be the pick for you. The seclusion means, the waters are unspoilt and rarely touched, which makes it great for snorkellers looking to catch the natural beauty of the marine life in the region.
Considered one of the best snorkelling spots in California, the spot is perfect for beginners
who are not looking to swim to depths to catch the aquatic life in action. You would be able to see the interactions of sea life at as little as 10 feet from the shore.
You would be able to catch sea stars, garibaldi, rockfish, eelgrass, sea urchins, perch and other unique marine life, native to the region.
Located in close proximity to Laguna Beach, you are not too far away from the town, which provides this spot with a great balance of seclusion and excitement.
4. Catalina Island
The small rocky island of Catalina, located in the cost of Southern California, is probably one of the best snorkelling spots in the Golden State. There is something for everyone here. Regardless of whether you are a beginner or an advanced snorkeller, you are sure to find the waters welcoming.
Lover’s Cove is one of the favourite spots on Catalina Island because the waters are usually calm and the marine life is rich in abundance. It was voted the ‘World’s Healthiest Marine Environment’ by Scuba Diving magazine, which is why the spot is so alluring to snorkellers.
The shores of the Lover’s Cove at Catalina Island is rather rocky, hence you have to be careful when trekking within this destination. Snorkelling at Catalina Island will not disappoint you. With a host of marine life, you are sure to find your snorkelling excursion worthwhile.
5. Emerald Bay
If you are spending any time in South Lake Tahoe, or are in close proximity, then you should definitely find some time to head down to Emerald Bay State Park. The snorkelling spot located at Emerald Bay offers some spectacular views and some pleasant and cool waters with so much to explore and witness.
The rich marine life is only part of the reason why snorkellers are so drawn to this destination. There are some amazing and unique, underwater geological features, which makes exploring the waters, that much more fun.
There is even a sunken forest towards the west side of the bay, which is a group of pine trees that had plunged into the waters during a landslide and are now sitting upright. There are also two sunken wooden barges which makes it that much more exciting to explore the waters. You are sure to have a specular time!
6. McAbee Beach
Named after John B. McAbee who set up a seaside resort in the area in the 1890s, McAbee beach is a great spot for snorkellers and divers looking to explore the waters.
Located in Monterey, California, McAbee is for certain a popular spot amongst snorkellers. This is because you don’t have to swim very far to reach the deeper waters. The sandy bottom disappears into a deep rocky surface, which is beaming with marine life.
You are sure to catch some beautiful and brightly coloured invertebrates. The waters have a rich biodiversity of marine life and you are sure to encounter, blue rockfish, kelpfish and various other small fish species.
Cannery Row is not too far off from the snorkelling spot, and you can surely mix some great shopping and dining into your snorkelling excursion.
7. San Carlos Beach
Located at close proximity to McAbee beach, within the iconic Cannery Row, you would find San Carlos Beach right next to the Coast Guard Pier.
San Carlos Beach is another popular destination for snorkelling in the Monterey area. Whether you are visiting the area or live in close proximity to it, snorkelling at San Carlos Beach should for certain be on your list of the things to do.
The waters are calm at San Carlos Beach, which makes this spot perfect for beginners. If it’s your first time snorkelling, you don’t really have to worry for the water is calm and easy to swim.
There is an abundance of sea life at San Carlos Beach, which means you have a good chance of encountering and interacting with sea life, including sand dollars and rock cod. If you are lucky and are snorkelling in the right season, you may even catch some friendly seals.
8. Caspar Bay
Caspar Bay is also known as Caspar Cove. The west-northwest side of the beach is perfectly calm and shallow for snorkelling. Though this is great for beginners, the better snorkelling spots actually are found within the north wall of the beach.
There is a great mix of both animal and plant life, which is why Caspar Bay is such a spectacular spot for snorkellers. You will spot some amazing marine plant life including red coralline algae, sea stars and anemones.
When it comes to marine animal life, the spot does not disappoint. Snorkelling at Caspar Bay, you may catch lingcod, cabezon and rockfish amongst the various other fish species that dwell in the waters.
The waters at this spot is for sure enchanting and welcoming, making it one of the most popular destinations for snorkellers in California.
9. Glass Beach
Located in Northern California, Glass Beach is one of the most unique beaches of California. The waters at Glass Beach does tend to get very cold, hence if you are snorkelling here, you should make sure to pack the right gear with you.
If you love rocks and pebbles, this excursion surely will excite you. Besides the beautiful marine life that dwells within the waters, you should be able to spot beautiful colourful rocks and pebbles which adorn the waters of this beach. Not just the waters, you would find these beautiful rocks and pebbles on the shores of the beach too. That being the case, you have to ensure that you don’t simply pick up a pebble or two and pocket it. Taking these away from the natural ecosystem is prohibited. This is done so to preserve the beauty of the beach. If you do not listen, you could be looking to paying a hefty fine.
When it comes to sea life that you may witness on your snorkelling trip, lingcod, sea urchins, small octopuses and rock cod are well abundant in the waters. You are sure to have a delightful time, exploring the depths of these beautiful waters.
10. Santa Barbara
Refugio State Beach and Tajiguas, which are about 18 miles north of the city of Santa Barbara offer some amazing spots for snorkellers.
Not only will you witness some spectacular variety of marine life, but you will also come across shallow reefs and kelp forests, which are beaming with sea life. The waters are clear and are also a great spot for spearfishing.
The beaches at Santa Barbara leaves so much to explore that you won’t be able to cover the whole area in one day. It’s an absolute treat when you can just pull over off Highway 101 and dive into the waters with your snorkelling gear.
Snorkelling is highly accessible in Santa Barbara. On your dive, you may encounter sea stars, rock cod, calico bass, sea anemones and you may even spot a sheephead or two.
11. Lake Tahoe
When you consider snorkelling, you don’t always have to stick to the coast and the sea, there are some beautiful lakes that are excellent spots for snorkellers too. Lake Tahoe is probably our favourite lake to go snorkelling in California.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the waters at Lake Tahoe is clean, clear and beautifully blue. Lake Tahoe is the largest Alpine Lake in America and is one of the deepest. The lake is split between California and Nevada, and though there are some amazing spots within the California side, Sand Harbor which is located towards the Nevada side takes the prize for snorkelling. Now we know that this article is on the 17 best snorkelling spots in California. Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe is on the fence, hence we do hope you understand us including it in our list. After all, we just had to!
There are some beautiful granite boulders that come out of the waters at Sand Harbor, and the waters are crystal clear. You could kayak to greater depths and carry your snorkelling gear with you.
Though the lake is a great spot year-round, you may want to sidestep the summer months unless you are willing to battle the crowds of people.
12. Big Sur
Located south of Highway 1, Big Sur is a great location to go snorkelling in. The coastline is absolutely beautiful and you can pick your snorkelling spot off the highway.
If you are looking for privacy, then this is yet another spot that is a must-visit for you. This is a very secluded spot, which means you will be snorkelling in a spot where very few people have swum before. There is a bit of hiking involved in getting to the beach, however, the hike is well worth the effort when you consider the beautiful blue waters of Big Sur.
You would in actuality take your snorkelling experience to a whole new level when you explore Big Sur. Hence be sure to not miss this spot.
13. Carmel River Beach
This is considered one of the most favourite spots for snorkellers in the world. The waters make you think that you are in Hawaii. On a calm day, you could find yourself snorkelling the beautiful waters.
Stewert’s Point is located south of Carmel Beach. Stewart’s Point has some amazing rock formations and inlets which you can explore. Carmel River Beach is a little south of Stewart’s point, which merges into each other. The north end of Carmel River beach is an excellent spot for snorkellers. The white sands of the beautiful beach and the calm and clear water makes it an ideal spot to catch marine life in action. However, as a word of advice, you do want to steer clear of the middle of the beach, which tends to produce bigger waves. Obviously, it goes without saying, if the waters are too rough, you should look to snorkel some other day.
If you do snorkel Carmel River Beach, you are sure to catch sea urchins, mussels, sand dollars, rock cod and an abundance of kelp.
14. Smugglers Cove
Located in the community of Sea Ranch in California, Smugglers Cove is a beautiful destination that is great for snorkelling.
There are some beautiful rocks at the cove, which makes snorkelling in this spot even more exciting. What more, you shouldn’t be surprised if you catch dolphins playing around as you snorkel the waters.
You are sure to catch some amazing marine life, and the spot caters for snorkellers of all skill levels.
15. Gerstle Cove
Located in Salt Point State Park, Gerstle Cove is considered protected waters thanks to the work of the Gerstle Cove State Marine Reserve. Fishing is prohibited on location, which makes it double the more exciting for snorkellers.
The spot is not just abundant but is beaming with marine life. The beach however is rocky, hence you should watch your footing when visiting. There are some rare larger waves that crash onto the shores, leaving behind tide pools available for you to explore when the tides have gone down and the waters are calmer.
The park also provides for hiking and mountain biking. You can snorkel by day and camp by night and hike in the morning. This surely provides an excursion for the whole family to enjoy!
16. Crescent Bay
Given the name for its crescent-like shape, Crescent Bay is located not too far from Laguna beach. There are great snorkelling spots on both the north side and the south side of the bay.
There are some extensive kelp forests which make exploring the water even more exciting. The marine life is rich and you are sure to not be left disappointed. The best features of the waters are found on the north end of the bay. There are tide pools that match the underwater topography making it a unique spot for snorkellers.
The reef extends to about 100 feet from the shore. There is even a small underwater valley located in the middle of the reef; all exciting features that are sure to draw snorkellers to this spot.
You would be able to catch rockfish, sea urchins, perch, sandbass, eelgrass and big sea stars swimming in the waters at Crescent Bay. You may even be lucky enough to spot a leopard shark or a ray in the waters.
17. Klamath River
Yet another amazing freshwater snorkelling spot in California, the Klamath River is massive and flows for 257 miles around Oregon and through Northern California.
A very popular spot for fishing and kayaking, it is a treasured destination by snorkellers. Blue Creek, located along the Klamath River is an excellent spot for snorkellers. The waters are clear and the bottom is rocky.
The marine life is beautiful with a host of different fish including steelhead and spring chinook salmon. It is for certain a freshwater spot that is worth exploring in California.
When to Go Snorkelling in California
Though the weather is favourable year-round, snorkelling in California isn’t pleasant at all times of the year. This is because the water in the Pacific Ocean can become rather chilly which makes it unfavourable for the winter months.
The water in South California is warm at 21-24C. However, during the winter, the temperatures can drop to about 15C which makes it unfavourable for snorkelling. Added to this, the waves are usually rougher during the winter months.
The waters in North California are cooler and snorkelling is best enjoyed during the summer months. Regardless of which time of the year you go snorkelling, due to the chilly waters of the region, it is recommended that you wear a wet suit.
Snorkelling in The Golden State
As you may have noticed from reading this word to word, there are some amazing snorkelling spots in the Golden State. If you work to tick off each of these spots one by one, you would find yourself with a whole lot of ground to cover.
From freshwater spots to beautiful coastlines and bays, there is surely a lot of underwater exploring to be had in California. With the weather favourable and the waters calm enjoy, you should be able to enjoy an amazing time exploring the depths of the waters and swimming amongst the marine life.
We wanted to provide you with a well-rounded list that would keep you occupied for a while. Surely to state, if you start snorkelling, it would take you quite some time to cover all the various spots in California alone.
Whether you are a beginner or a snorkelling junky, we hope our list of the 17 best snorkelling spots fulfils your thirst for exploring the waters.
Remember to pack the right gear for your excursion!