Best Snorkeling In California – Did you know that the Golden State is America’s second best area for underwater adventure? With countless miles of coastline to explore, snorkeling in California offers a variety of aquatic life along its beautiful beaches, plus beautiful freshwater rivers and lakes to explore. Whether you’re traveling north, central, or south of the state, this guide will help you find the best snorkeling spots in California.
Although the weather is great along the coast for most of the year, that doesn’t mean snorkeling in California is always fun. The Pacific Ocean has slightly colder water, so you’ll need a wetsuit almost year-round, but let’s look at the weather conditions by region.
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In Southern California, the water will be warm, 70 to 75 degrees (21 to 24 C). During the winter months, these temperatures drop to the low 60s/15C range (and sometimes lower). Be prepared for strong tides even in the winter months, which will affect water clarity.
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Northern California is remarkably cold. Come snorkeling during the warm summer months to enjoy the experience in comfort, but still remember to pack that wetsuit.
McAbee Beach is located in Monterey Bay. This area is one of the best places to come when you want to snorkel in Northern California. The beach offers easy access for divers and snorkelers.
A special feature here is the old underwater pipelines. An artificial reef has been created around the pipes and is now teeming with large marine life and fish. After you finish your snorkeling session, you can also go kayaking here.
Gerstle Cove is located below the Salt Point State Park Visitor Center. These waters have been designated protected waters thanks to the Gerstle Cove State Marine Reserve. Since fishing is not allowed here, there is plenty of marine life to enjoy while snorkeling.
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The beach itself is rocky, so families with small children should be careful. Be sure to pack your water shoes to prevent injury! Although part of Salt Point protects the bay, there are sometimes violent waves that crash ashore. During calm periods and when the tide is out, the tide pools are available for you to explore. In addition to snorkeling, the park itself offers many different activities, including hiking trails and even mountain biking. You can also camp at the southern end of the park. A great place for fun for the whole family!
The largest beach found in Carmel is called Carmel River State Beach. It’s one of Northern California’s best snorkeling spots because it looks like a breeze on clear, calm days.
There are interesting rock formations for you to explore along the southern part of the beach. To the right is Monsteri Beach and to the right is Point Lobos. The best feature here is definitely the views that you will never tire of seeing.
Off the coast of Los Angeles you’ll find Catalina Island. It is the only Channel Island with a significant population. To get to the island, you must take one of the daily ferries to the main resort town of Avalon, California.
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Catalina Island is known as one of the best snorkeling spots in California for good reason. You can also see leopard sharks, garibaldi, yellowtail, rock cod and bat rays. The fantastic view of the water is a big plus. There are many deep-water submerged canyons to explore, but these are more suited to divers than snorkelers.
Outside of Avalon, there are many other excellent snorkeling spots around the island, but the two most recommended spots you shouldn’t miss are Avalon Underwater Park and Valentine Cove.
The city of La Jolla is located north of San Diego. This beautiful location offers visitors some of the best snorkeling in Southern California, not only with its stunning beaches, but with typically calm waters, it’s easy for the whole family to participate. There are even a couple of places to rent equipment in La Jolla , but for hygiene reasons we recommend that you bring your own snorkelling equipment.
La Jolla Cove itself has seven individual caves. This sheltered bay has many leopard sharks swimming in the water from June to December. They are fun to watch, harmless and only a few meters long.
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There are also underwater caves that extend 100 to 125 meters from La Jolla Cove Beach Club. You will be able to see the graves that were placed here in memory of spear fishermen who died in these waters in the past.
An incredible group of islands off the coast of Santa Barbara are the Channel Islands, which make up the National Park of the same name. Five of these islands are arguably the best snorkeling spots in Southern California, including Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Incapa. (If you only have time to visit one island or choose Santa Cruz!)
Visibility is even 100 feet and higher at points. You can expect to see marine life such as halibut, white sea bass, yellowtail, sheepshead, batfish and garibaldi in this stunning landscape. If you do some diving here, white lobsters can be seen up close.
Laguna is one of the state’s most popular beaches, but it’s a little-known gem for those looking for the best snorkeling in California. Shaw’s Cove, it’s a nice hidden beach under a few houses in town, a must visit if you’re in the area. Public access is available from the intersection of Cliff Drive and Fairview Road, which is just one block from the California Pacific Coast Highway. You have to climb a long flight of stairs to reach the beach, but the experience that awaits you is worth the effort.
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There are tidal pools that you can explore at low tide. Snorkelers will travel from this beach to seawater with diving equipment (there are diving lessons available if you are interested). At the southern end of the beach is a large flat rock area that you can climb after snorkeling.
Not far from Laguna Beach is another great snorkeling spot in California, Crescent Bay, which gets its name from its sunshine. The beach offers beautiful views of the Gran Laguna houses. Here you can find good snorkeling spots with extensive kelp forests on the southern side and the northern end of the beach. It offers nothing more than occasional trolling in medium to soft sand.
Most of the coast’s best properties are to the north. The tidal pools found here combine with the underwater topography, making it a unique place for snorkeling. The reef continues about 100 feet offshore at one point. In the middle of the reef is a small underwater valley. On both the south and north sides you can also see giant starfish, rockfish, sea urchins, perch, sand bass and eelgrass. There are also occasional leopard sharks or rays in the water.
Lake Tahoe is a stunning blue water lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains that is clean and clear. One of its claims to fame is that it is the largest alpine lake in the United States and the second deepest (after Crater Lake in Oregon). The lake is equally divided between the states of California and Nevada. There are many wonderful places to snorkel on the California side. Almost all offer a wonderful view.
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In high summer, it is a popular destination not only for snorkelers, but also for kayakers. Without a doubt, Lake Tahoe remains one of the world’s best waters for exploring, snorkeling and vacationing in general.
The Klamath River is another great freshwater snorkel in California. This great river actually flows 257 miles through Oregon and through northern California before finding the Pacific Ocean. The river is also very popular with visitors for kayaking and fishing. The best place to snorkel on the Klamath River is Blue Creek. The bottom is rocky and the water hosts many species of fish including steelhead and spring chinook salmon.
Annette is a certified diver, freediver and snorkel expert with over 10 years of experience. He fell in love with the sea when he dived in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then, he has traveled the world to explore our waters. He takes his mask, legs and underwater camera with him wherever he goes. Visiting big cities is not his style, but getting lost in small coastal villages and capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. He is interested in sustainable tourism and marine conservation. By sharing his underwater stories, he hopes to inspire people to protect our oceans.