Diving in Southern California - Bluewater Dive Travel

Southern California

Scuba Diving California Seal
diving in southern california
majestic kelp forest
Nudibranch in Southern California



Book Now Button


Diving in Southern California can be a surprisingly rich experience offering a lot of diversity in marine life and leading you through its majestic kelp forests. Besides being a beautiful place to enjoy some gorgeous sunsets, the coastline of California features many exciting destinations for scuba divers. Marine life enthusiasts and underwater photographers can see seals, large schools of fish and nudibranchs, just to name a few. You can even meet dolphins or humpback whales!



Marine Life - Best Dive Sites - Conditions and Difficulty Level

How to Get There - Practical Information



Nutrient-rich Pacific waters boast exquisite marine life diversity and natural features, attracting underwater photographers from across the globe, particularly to explore the Channel Islands, ranging from 15-50 miles off the mainland. The most popular islands for diving are Catalina, San Clemente, Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, and San Miguel. 

Except for Catalina Island, the only way to dive the Channel Islands is via boat. Most divers choose 1 or 2-day trips, doing 3-4 dives per day. Vessels out of Ventura and Santa Barbara travel to Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands, while boats out of San Pedro and Long Beach visit Catalina, San Clemente, and Santa Barbara Islands. Boats out of Santa Barbara or Ventura will sometimes also visit these destinations on 2-3 day trips.

Additionally, Southern California boasts over 50 State and Federal Marine Protected Areas, from Point Conception to the Mexican border. Some of these Underwater Parks were established as recently as 2012, and already the ecosystems within are reflective of the protection, naturally thriving. Altogether, the state of California boasts over 100 Marine Protected Areas. 

 Diving in Southern California 



There is something to see all year round in Southern California, but when you are especially interested in big fish like whales, then you must pay closer attention to their migrating pattern. The best season to see bigger animals starts from spring through late fall. Except gray whales tend to pass through from mid-December to mid- April.



Scuba Diving in Southern California can be done via shore or by boat. Boats leave out of Mission Bay in San Diego, Long Beach, San Pedro, Oxnard or Santa Barbara - and boat diving generally offers much better conditions underwater than shore diving.

One-day trips visit Anacapa Island, Catalina Island, the Oil Rigs, or the San Diego kelp forests. Multi-day liveaboard trips will visit the outer island like Santa Barbara or San Clemente Islands.


The underwater life in California is one of the richest in the world having thousands of species of fish to see. You have dive sites for macro lovers where many invertebrates live and you can see a variety of reef fish. During the night time, different crustaceans like crabs and shrimps like to come out, and squid spawning events offer an incredible night diving experience. Sea mammals, like seals and sea otters, sometimes like to pose in front of your camera. Not just underwater, but even from the boat, you can find yourself surrounded by playful dolphins. And the biggest sea mammals like the killer, humpback and gray whales are not missing from the list either. Diving in California might not be the first scuba destination that comes to mind when thinking about colorful marine life, but it definitely will not disappoint. 

List of some of the marine life you can see when diving in California:

  • Harbor Seal
  • California Sea Lions  
  • Dolphins  
  • Humpback Whales
  • Wolf Eel
  • Giant Black Sea Bass
  • Large Schools of Fish
  • Pacific Seahorse
  • Torpedo Rays
  • Angel Shark
  • Leopard Shark
  • Nudibranchs
  • Different Molluscs
  • Different Crustaceans
  • Sponges and anemones


Conditions for scuba diving in Southern California are good all year round. The best time to dive is during fall when visibility is the best as it is not as windy as during spring. The average water temperatures go up to 68 F (20 C ) during the summer and during the winter staying between 57 to 59 F ( 14 to 15 C ).

The destination offers dive sites for all levels. There are some sites more suitable for experienced divers with stronger current and deeper depths but you can also find other shallower sites for beginner divers. 



Based on our travel experts' knowledge of the area, we have picked out some of the best dive sites to visit in Southern California.

La Jolla Cove - Most of Southern California's best dive sites are from the boat but if you prefer shore dives, then this is the spot to go for. This shore dive gives you all the best parts of diving in California- the kelp forests and almost all the marine life in California. 

Oil Rigs of Orange County - Attractive to all types of divers and one of the easiest wall dive you can do. A unique dive where man-made rigs have turned into huge colorful reefs rich with marine life. You can see sea lions, rockfish, garibaldi, sheepshead, opaleye and a lot of other fish.

Casino Point, Catalina Island - Dive site that shows you a little bit of everything, including even two deep wrecks! The place to dive through the magical kelp forest, sand planks, pinnacles and rich in marine life. Here you can meet octopus, moray eels, giant kelpfish, and bat rays. All the reasons why we cannot leave it out of our top picks. 

Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island - Best dive site for experienced divers. Covered with California purple hydrocoral, filled with fish and the divers can go between huge underwater mountains. Sounds great, doesn't it? You can see torpedo rays, scorpionfish, moray eels, shrimp, crabs, and many reef fish.

Sea Lion Rookery, Santa Barbara Island - As you can guess from the name, it is a great place for close encounters with sea lions.  Sometimes you can even swim with a big group of them! The dives are in shallow clear water.

Coral Reef, Anacapa Island - Great place for macro and wide-angle photography fans and one of the favorite places for brittle stars, which you can spot plenty. Be aware that the current can sometimes be strong at Coral Reef.

Wyckoff Ledge, San Miguel - Love nudibranchs? Then this is the spot, plus you can see some wolf eels and rare Mosshead Warbonnets. It is also a great wall dive offering options for both, deep and shallow dives. 



The main airport in Southern California is Los Angeles International (LAX), which also covers a lot of domestic travel. Another city near great diving, San Diego, has San Diego Airport which has both international and domestic flights. You will need a car to get to the various boat docks.


Besides visiting us in our Culver City location, there are various things to do in Southern California!  If you are out on the islands, take a day and explore Catalina Island, take a nice scenic walk, or just grab some lunch at one of the fine restaurants on the island.  If you are land-based, take a bike ride along "the strand" through Santa Monica and Venice beaches.  Take a hike to the Hollywood sign and view the surrounding mountains along the Runyon Canyon trail.  Or go explore Hollywood Boulevard and Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park. 


  • Currency: US Dollar
  • Language: English

  • Main Airport Code: LAX
  • Time Zone: UTC-8
  • Electricity: 120 V 60 Hz

Interested in going diving in Southern California? Contact us for booking or more information.


Reviews (4)


Im a scuba dive instructor, I live in California, Catalina Island is the dive spot I go the most, it has very beautiful kelp forest, water is cold but you can see lots of seals and Giant Sea bass, the down side of the dive spot is the water temperature and strong current, little bit hard for beginners and people who want start to learn scuba dive, we wearing 7mm wetsuit in summer and dry suit in winter time, unfortunately I have never got a chance to dive overboard, I do want to try somewhere else especially with warm water and take some pictures, tell my experience to my students, hopefully I’m lucky enough to earn this chance.

Visited on 10/2020 - Submitted on 03/11/2021
  • Top Reviewer
Fountain Valley, CA
United States

I live in SoCal and could write a book about diving here. I'll try to just hit the high points.

The diversity includes shore diving, wreck diving, oil rig diving, offshore islands, kelp forests, and aquarium diving. Between San Diego and Santa Barbara there are at least 100 shore diving sites offering different topography, marine plants, and marine animals. Most are easily accessible and the local dive shops can give directions, conditions, and tips on diving individual sites. In the San Diego area, about 2 miles offshore from Mission Beach, is Wreck Alley. Several ships have been intentionally sunk in depths well within sport diving limits. The best of these is the Yukon, a 350+ foot Canadian naval destroyer.

Farther north, offshore from Long Beach, there are 3 oil rigs that allow diving with prior consent. It's easiest to dive these on an arranged trip aboard a charter boat. It's a live drop off and pick up, since boats are not allowed to tie up on the rigs. You can expect to see large schools of bait fish, invertebrates like sea stars and strawberry anemones, sea lions, and a lot of other marine life. Whales are sometimes seen in this area. At any given time there are around 20 charter boats operating in southern California. They mostly take divers to the offshore Channel Islands.

In the south these are comprised of Catalina, San Clemente, Santa Barbara, and San Nicolas. The northern islands are Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. All of these usually offer great viability, and excellent opportunities for photographers and hunter/gatherers. One example of marine life found around the islands is the Giant Black Sea Bass which can weigh hundreds of pounds. They are making a wonderful comeback after having been hunted to near extinction. They have been protected for many years now and scuba divers are spotting them more frequently.

One of the highlights of diving SoCal is the kelp forests along the coast and around the islands. It's somewhat surreal diving amongst the fronds reaching from the bottom to the surface. Giant kelp is one of the fastest growing organisms on earth, up to 2 feet a day. The forests provide an excellent refuge for fish and invertebrates.

Another novel dive is at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. For a fee, you can scuba dive in their largest tank surrounded by a myriad of sea creatures. It's a fun and thrilling experience. I have been a hunter/gatherer for many years and opportunities for game are plentiful: lobsters, crabs, scallops, mussels, clams, urchins, and many different types of edible fish. Abalone in Southern California have been under a moratorium for many years to allow rejuvenation of the species following a number of factors which severely depleted the population. The marine animals run the gamut from Blue and Grey whales to macro subjects like nudibranchs and seahorses.

The topside attractions are nearly endless: gorgeous beaches, world-famous zoos, theme parks, concert venues, museums, movie studios, some of the country's best restaurants, over a dozen professional sports teams, theater, symphony, etc.

Bottom line: Southern California is a diving vacation destination that rivals all others. This should really be considered a bucket list place that everyone should visit more than once.

Visited on 04/2020 - Submitted on 04/19/2020
Seattle, WA
United States

Having grown up in Southern California and dived in over a dozen countries around the world, I can say with confidence that Southern California is still my favorite place to dive. The dive community is tight knit, encouraging, and kind. The diving is second to none. No where else in the world can you find beautiful blue water, good visibility, sun, and towering kelp forests quite like you can in SoCal. Diving at Anacapa on a good day can be like diving through natural cathedrals where golden light pierces through the kelp canopy. The diversity of marine life in Southern California is special due to the cold California current coming from the north and a warm California countercurrent coming from the south. Bright orange garibaldi, huge sunflower sea stars, seals, sea lions, and countless species of fish all live under the same kelpy roof. There are a lot of great dive boat operations that do day trips out to the Channel Islands. For the price, it's a great deal. There are also some beach diving spots, but you have to be careful about surf and the occasional current. Conditions can be excellent in California or rough. You have to be aware of storms, wind, swell, current, and visibility. But some dives, particularly the oil rig dives and catalina, you can see viz past 100 ft! A lot of local knowledge goes into diving in southern california, so I recommend contacting a shop, boat, or bluewater before you get in the water for your first time here.

Visited on 01/2020 - Submitted on 01/29/2020
Portland, OR
United States

My dive partner and I decided to head out to Catalina for a day of diving and libations. Getting there was easy, from the San Pedro ports we caught the Catalina Express ($70) at 7 a.m., in Catalina by 8. We went over to the dive shop to pick up some of the rental gear we needed. I needed everything, my buddy just needed a suit.

The boat was pretty big and we thought it would be a full group, but surprisingly there was only about 10 of us, which made for a great, spacious couple of dives.

Both dives were unguided, we directed our own dives, with a little advice from the crew.
We did a couple of boat dives, one called Lava Rock and the other called Blue Car. The water temp was pretty nice, we dove in 5mm wet suits and wore hoods. Opted not to take gloves.

The first dive was OK, lots of Garibaldi of course, some lobsters and other smaller fish, but we didn't see any of the big black sea bass we were hoping to find. The kelp forest is amazing. Being a novice diver it was cool to see the forest and it was a simple dive, but an experienced diver might be a little bored here.

The second dive was further down and was pretty spectacular. The colors and water visibility were excellent, we saw more Garibaldi, more lobsters and even some small sharks that were up in the sandy area. Harmless, but cool to see.

Topside was relaxed, standard things like sodas, sandwiches, cookies and chips were tasty and the crew was great.

Visited on 07/2014 - Submitted on 08/14/2014


Sign up for the mailing list today