Los Angeles is one of the largest tourist destinations in the U.S. However, dive sites in Los Angeles are often overlooked by divers. Those who aren’t afraid of a little chilly water and waves will discover an underwater world of lush kelp forests and their inquisitive inhabitants.
Although some may prefer the warmer waters of nearby San Diego, L.A. provides the best dive sites for engaging with world-renowned kelp forests. While diving in the kelp forests, you’ll encounter kelp bass, senorita fish, sheephead, opaleye, blacksmith and California’s state marine fish, the garibaldi. Divers will likely see angel sharks, bat rays, banded guitar fish and halibut as well. The best visibility for this area occurs between July and January, and the calmest seas occur between August and October.
Many PADI dive shops in Los Angeles offer training courses and guided tours, making the Pacific Ocean a must-dive while visiting L.A. Check out these five amazing dive sites while in the city of Los Angeles.
Catalina Island, part of the well-known Channel Islands, is one of the most popular diving destinations in California. Kelp forests draw in many divers to Catalina every year, with Garibaldi sightings, the chance to encounter the endangered giant black sea bass, and a variety of Marine Protected Areas.
Many consider Catalina Island to be the best spot in Southern California for diving, with dives for beginner or advanced divers. There are many locations on either side of the island for diving, and divers can expect to see abundant marine life in all forms including kelp forests, giant black sea bass, yellowtail, lobsters, abalone, horn shark, nudibranch, large pelagic species, eels, sheep crab, garibaldi, halibut, leopard sharks, and sea lions. Additionally, you’ll find locations with wrecks, including a plane and sunken ships.
Late summer and fall bring the warmest water and best visibility. Getting to Catalina from L.A. is a little bit of a trek, but you can get there by ferry ride, or helicopter from nearby Orange County cities.
Dive Tips: Be sure to organize gear rentals prior to your dive day. If you’re traveling solo, try contacting local dive shops and joining one of their charters so that you can easily pair up with a buddy.
Location: 23 Miles from Long Beach – 26 miles from San Pedro Harbour
Casino Point, Avalon, Catalina Island
The Casino Point Underwater Park is located next to the world-famous Casino Building. First established in 1962, this park was the first nonprofit underwater park in the country and is known for offering the best shore diving in California. It was designed as a shore diving park with concrete stairs that descend right into the water and is the perfect spot to combine diving with relaxing in the small harbor town of Avalon.
Upon arriving on the ferry from nearby Orange County, the best option is you can hop into a taxi for a quick 5 minute trip to the dive site.
Because of strict local laws prohibiting taking of game or salvaging artifacts, the park has become a home for a large variety of marine life. The 2.5 acres of the park is blooming with marine life like the octopus, small fishes, abalones and moray eels. Plant life of all colors abounds, from the Giant kelp to the smallest algae. The amazing kelp beds inhabiting nudibranchs, yellowtails, lobsters, seaweeds and starfishes.
Dive Tips: Weekends can get crowded with certification courses, so try to dive Casino Point on a week day if possible. Additionally, be sure to pack a lunch or have one buddy stay with your gear while others go and pick up some food at a local restaurant.
Veteran’s Park, Redondo Beach
Ask any diver about night dives in Los Angeles, and Veteran’s Park is sure to top the list. Underwater, the steep sandy slope drops quickly from shore into a deep submarine canyon. “Vets” is known for night dives and is suitable for training courses, as well as for beginner level diving as the mild tides make it easy for the divers, but the rich varieties of octopuses, sea stars, shrimps, stingrays, nudibranchs, sarcastic fringe head, baby horn sharks, scorpionfishes and sand dollars make it an exciting dive for everyone.
This beach dive site has easy parking and shore access, including showers and restrooms.
Dive Tips: Be sure that you and your buddy check the surf report prior to planning a dive at Vets. If the waves are over waist-high the entry/exit for shore diving in California can be far too difficult.
Location: 300 George Freeth Way, Redondo Beach
These dive sites are considered the core of the Channel Islands. Dive Charter boats depart from Ventura Harbor, making car rental a necessity, but the diving is well worth it. These islands blend rich macro life with beautiful kelp forest wide-angle scenes. A couple charter boats also offer 4 dives instead of the typical 3 dives, plus on-board jacuzzis as a bonus.
Located 16.7 miles from Ventura Harbour, Anacapa Island can be accessed by boat and is a part of Channel Islands National Park. It provides over 40 diving sites around its area which remains surrounded with steep sea cliffs. With scattered reefs and lush kelp forests, it becomes easy for the divers to make their way through numerous creatures like abalones, nudibranchs, chestnut cowries, blennies, garibaldis and kelp fishes. You can explore the beautiful coral reef and a unique underwater island covered with starfish, rockfish, cabezons and schools of yellowfish. In addition, it’s important to note that currents can pick up unexpectedly here, so plan your dive accordingly.
Anacapa Island Location: 16.7 miles south-west 183′ from Ventura Harbour.
Santa Cruz Island
The largest of the eight Channel Islands, Santa Cruz Island remains the most topographically diverse island on the list. It contains 77 miles of untouched coastlines and inhabits endemic plants and animals along its water. With mild diving conditions, many underwater caves and caverns provide cave diving opportunities to both the experienced divers and trainees. You can spot a range of whales and dolphins as the water houses their 28 species out of the existing 80. The island also hosts the wreck of USS Peacock, a world war two minesweeper. Sea stars, chestnut cowries, nudibranchs, barnacles and other creatures now cover the wreck. This dive site is ideal for underwater photography.
Dive Tip: Sleep on the Peace or Spectre the night before so that you can sleep in until breakfast is ready!
Santa Cruz Location: 20 Miles South West of Ventura Harbour
Leo Carillo, Malibu
Leo Carillo is one of the most popular beach dives in Los Angeles. The ease of shore entry, beautiful kelp forests, variety of macro life and beautiful drive up the Malibu coastline make a day at Leo well worth it. Parking, restrooms and showers are available.
From Sharks to large Bay Rays to Halibut and other exciting, exotic creatures, this site is one of the most popular destinations for night dives and lobster hunting in Southern California. Leo Carillo actually covers a wide area, including: South Leo, Sequit point and North Leo. Healthy kelp beds are found in all 3 places along with a vast array of marine life.
Schools of perch, large bat rays, soupfin sharks, lobsters, cabezon, sheep crabs, kelpfish, and octopus can be found here. Nudibranchs, gorgonians, blacksmith, large halibut, harbor seals, sea lions, and barred sand bass can be found in the outer reefs past 30ft, after the kelp stops.
Entry is fairly simple with a sandy beach and a few rocky areas. Swim out for a just a minute, the reef starts on your right.
Dive Tip: Be sure to dive with a buddy or hook up with a local dive guide not just for safety, but to make sure you see the best sections of the reef. Also be sure to check the surf forecast prior to dive day, as large surf can create poor dive conditions.
Location: Located 28 miles northwest of Santa Monica
Ready to dive in Los Angeles?
Use the PADI Dive Shop locator to help you book your dives and rent gear.
If you’re looking looking to explore other dive sites in California check out more information here about diving in the Golden State.
Written by Brent Durand, professional writer and photographer.