Along Highway One about 150 miles south of San Francisco there is a place California divers flock to in droves, where kelp forests, rocky reefs and spectacular coves abound. This diving Mecca is called the Monterey Peninsula, a place rich in history and culture, and rich in great dive sites. It is a cold water scuba divers paradise.The city of Monterey is where we start our journey, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel " Cannery Row." Cannery Row is the waterfront area of town where old fish canneries once did business, replaced today by gift shops and fancy restaurants. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, a state of the art facility, sits at one end and Fisherman’s Wharf at the other with it’s full boat basin. In between is a plethora of great dive sites, all very accessible and remarkably beautiful.
The first site you reach is San Carlos Beach, better known to us regulars as Breakwater Cove. Here the Coast Guard jetty wall separates the boats from a nice sand and kelp forest teeming with life. This particular site is one of the most popular sites for diver training in all of California. On an average weekend day there is around 200-300 divers either fun diving or taking classes for some level of certification. Steps lead down to the inviting water where an extensive kelp bed is within easy reach. There is an abundance of fish, crab and nudibranchs to be found underwater as playful otters float in the kelp canopy above.
Curious seals and sea lions are often seen cruising by, and larger mammals like whales and dolphins can be spotted offshore. Along the jetty wall octopus and eels are found living in the rock structure. A large anchor lies in shallow water providing an interesting diversion. Depth here maxs out at about 50 feet, and visibility is usually very good. On the south end of this beach is a large pipe underwater left over from the cannery days. For the more advanced diver, a long swim along this pipe leads to a field of white metridium anemones that is breath taking to view.
At Fisherman’s Wharf, next to San Carlos Beach, is where the dive boats are berthed. Here you can hop a ride on a 2 or 3 tank day trip to a number of offshore dive sites. The boats frequent such spots as Eric’s Pinnacle, Mono Lobo Wall and Hopkins Reef, each providing a unique dive experience. Weekend, weekdays, and even the occasional night dives are on the schedule. Prices are reasonable and the crews are friendly, giving each diver the guidance and assistance they need.
There are several great beach diving locations further south along Cannery Row, all with easy access to the ocean. Macabee beach, where you can gear up, walk a short distance down the street, through a cross walk and into the water while being watched by diners in the neighboring restaurant. Diving here is as exciting as Breakwater, with many underwater relics of the past on the bottom. Lover’s Point is a short drive down the road, with it’s nice beach and shallow reef. Coral Street is yet another site with interesting bottom topography, usually less crowded than other spots.
Heading south just a few short miles is the town of Carmel, a culture filled town of shops, galleries, restaurants and great golfing. Here you will also find access to great diving along a gorgeous coastline. Just south of town is one of my personal favorite beach dives, Monastery Beach. Named for the adjacent old monastery across the highway, this is an advanced divers paradise. Entries and exits are tougher here do to, there is a steep drop off with powerful surf, but very rewarding for those who are able. A couple hundred yards off shore a finger of the Monterey submarine trench is reachable, providing spectacular deep diving opportunities. Kelp beds on either end of the beach harbor a myriad of creatures. Cold water coral grows sporadically here and I’ve even seen lobsters living among the boulders that make up the reef.
Right next door to Monastery Beach is the entrance to Pt. Lobos State Park, a great place to visit and even better place to dive. This is a marine preserve and only a limited number of divers may dive each day, so reservations are required. Large lingcod, seals and otters frequent this wild spot. There is a small boat ramp to launch inflatables or kayaks making the varied sites easier to reach. Two coves, Whalers and Bluefish, are part of the park and each has underwater sights you’ll never forget. Visibility is usually better here than anywhere in the area.
Accommodations are numerous in this region and there is something to fit every taste. Even without diving there is a lot to do and see, much more than a short article can tell. In Monterey, there’s a dive shop on every corner, or so it seems. This is a city that loves it’s diving and it’s divers. Do yourself a favor and visit the Monterey Peninsula soon. Diving is a year round event and just the experience of being here will send you home refreshed. Come see what California diving is all about, you won’t regret it.