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The diving in California is varied and spectacular, but if there’s one thing that defines this state’s dive experience it’s the massive, looming kelp forests.

Diving in California

Quick facts

The diving in California is varied and spectacular, but if there’s one thing that defines this state’s dive experience it’s the massive, looming kelp forests that rival the state’s redwoods. Under ideal conditions, this marine algae can live for 20 years, reach lengths of 45 metres/150 feet and grow 60 centimetres/two feet a day. (That’s not a misprint.) There is nothing to compare with descending down through the massive fronds that rise from the depths to a verdant surface canopy. Sunbeams filter through, and everywhere you look there’s life: Sea otters nestle on the surface, bright orange Garibaldi show no fear, giant black sea bass are as big as VWs, and bat rays cruise the sandy edges. Imagine the most spectacular forest you can and pretend you’re a bird. It’s a bit like that. Even better, nearly everywhere you go in California you’ll find a PADI dive shop ready and able to make your dreams reality and get you to the best spots, like one of these.

Recommended training

If you’ve always wanted to take scuba diving lessons, experience unparalleled adventure and see the world beneath the waves, this is where it starts. Get your scuba diving certification with the PADI® Open Water Diver course

The PADI Dry Suit Diver course will equip you to make the most of California’s diving year round. PADI Underwater Naturalist Specialty course helps you identify and appreciate the variety of marine life.

When to go

California’s climate consists of warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters, with Southern California being generally warmer than Northern California. The average temperature in Los Angeles is 22.9°C/73.3°F in July and 14.2°C/57.6°F in December; the average temperature in San Francisco is 15.7°C/60.3°F in July and 10.9°C/51.6°F in December. During the summer, water off the southern coast reaches around 20°C/68°F while water off the northern coast averages 11°C/52°F. Water temperatures in the winter average 16.5°C/60°F in Southern California and 10.6°C/51°F in Northern California. Visibility varies depending on the area but averages around 9-24 meters/30-80 feet.

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La Jolla Cove – Get there early, because if there’s one problem with this easily accessible shore dive just north of San Diego, it’s the parking. With that sorted, you’ll have only a few steps between you and some great diving. The entry is from a sandy beach and you’ll immediately pass some interesting rocky reefs on your way out to the kelp beds. Keep an eye out for playful sea lions and leopard sharks. Make sure to slow down at some point and look for the small stuff; the nudibranchs you’ll find here are spectacular.

Catalina Island – Just an hour-long ferry ride from Los Angeles, you’ll find laidback Catalina Island and perhaps the best shore dive in Southern California. Divers can hit the water right from the steps at Casino Point Dive Park to explore rocky reefs, which drop quickly to 30 metres/100 feet. If you don’t like long surface swims and want a world-class kelp diving experience, this is the place. You’ll encounter a wide variety of marine life – everything from nudibranchs to angel sharks and sea lions. There’s a resident pair of enormous black sea bass here too, just don’t forget to breathe when you first see them, as they are BIG.

Monterey Bay - Deep water close to shore makes Monterey an ideal spot for unbridled ocean action, with the chance to spot sea creatures big and small. Many choose to shore dive here, with great opportunities to swim with sea lions at the San Carlos Beach breakwater, and towering kelp forests at Lovers Point. But don’t miss the chance to explore iconic spots such as The Pinnacles, where two rock pinnacles just 30 metres/100 feet from the sea floor, surrounded by dense, fish-filled kelp forests.

Channel Islands National Park - Sometimes called the Galapagos of North America, the Channel Islands are about as wild and uninhabited as it gets. Just a short boat trip from the mainland, the beautiful rocky shorelines are home to sea lions, sea birds, whales and dolphins. Giant kelp forests underpin the islands’ marine ecosystems, and cold and nutrient-rich currents support a staggering variety of marine life. You’ll need more than a day trip to really experience this aquatic playground.

What to see

Off the coast of California you can see humpback whales, great white sharks, and droves of sea lions and dolphins. The fertile waters bring plenty of animals cruising around the shore. Expect to swim through kelp forests with tuna and paddle through the shallows, checking out octopi and starfish.


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California is many things to many people. It’s Hollywood and the Redwoods, and sunny San Diego’s sandy surf beaches. It’s San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It’s the coast highway, and the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. It’s Disneyland and Universal Studios. California is one of those rare places that’s everything you thought it would be and more – much more, especially if you’re a diver. The cool waves of the Pacific crash on the coast of California, wearing away at the sandy coastline. People from all over the world congregate to this beautiful area, where the weather is ideal and the lifestyle is laid back and comfortable.

Found on the western coast of the United States, California has a rich and diverse history. Native Americans roamed these lands for hundreds of years before it was settled by Europeans, who made the land a state in 1850, after many trials and tribulations.

Today, there are big cities to peruse, as well as small towns with unique histories. From the hills to deserts, California is a region of diverse landscapes and fantastic locations.

Other attractions

In California there are plenty of ways to spend your time. You can explore the historical buildings and famous cities along the coastline, soaking in the warm sunshine. Or, you can head inland to the mountains, where vast deserts and incredible National Parks like Yosemite and Sequoia await you.

Getting there

SFO (San Francisco International) and LAX (Los Angeles International) are responsible for the majority of international flights to California. OAK (Oakland International) is located near SFO and is often less expensive to fly to. Airports for domestic flights include BUR (Burbank), LGB (Long Beach), SNA (Orange County) and SAN (San Diego).


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Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.

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