Best Scuba Diving in San Diego

Last Updated: February 14, 2023

Southern California conjures images of the sun, the waves, and the stars. But now it’s time to include scuba as another “s” in that list.

San Diego has world-class scuba diving opportunities, making it the ideal starting point to explore all the offshore attractions.

Read on for all you need to know about fantastic diving spots in San Diego Bay, what memorable dives you can enjoy, and some diving centers to help sharpen your skills.

Best 5 San Diego Dive Sites

1. La Jolla Cove

la jolla cove san diego

La Jolla Cove, a shore dive, is one of the best kelp forests in San Diego. Two flights of stairs lead down to a little sandy beach at the foot of a hill, where the entrance is located. Diving close to a buoy that is approximately 50 meters (165 feet) from land is advisable.

If you’re unsure where to go down, position yourself parallel to the San Andreas fault, which is indicated by a sizable fissure in the slope. Swim down into the kelp forest and away from the coast.

Lobsters along the rocky bottom are concealed in groups of three to dozens in step-like formations, and an octopus is probably the moving rock amid the sea stars.

If the water is murky and visibility is only a foot or two, you may unintentionally come face-to-face with a 6 ft sevengill shark or a less terrifying 3 ft horn shark based on the time of year. As you swim back into the shallows, watch out for curious harbor seals and sea lions that can nip at your fins or camera.

You might be able to dive even if other nearby locations are too harsh because the Cove is somewhat sheltered.

WATCH VIDEO: La Jolla Cove Scuba Dive

2. Wreck Alley

A few miles off the shore of Mission Beach, which is situated midway between La Jolla and Point Loma, is Wreck Alley, an artificial reef. Although there are eight ships and other buildings in the Alley, the two most well-known ones are the 165-foot Coast Guard cutter Ruby E and the Canadian destroyer HCMS Yukon.

The Yukon was sunk the night before schedule due to higher-than-anticipated waves. This makes it lay on its port side at a depth of 100 feet (30 meters), making it unsuitable for novice wreck divers.

However, it has many exit and entry holes created primarily to provide safe access for wreck-certified divers. It’s great that there is much to investigate around the 366-foot (112 m) vessel outside because surges and currents are frequent.

There are several holes to peer into both the forward and aft gun turrets, which are both in good condition. Every surface is covered in anemones, including vibrant corynactis and poufy metridiums.

The Ruby E, which was deliberately sunk in 1989, is a more straightforward dive. It is a smaller, shallower (60 to 85 feet/18 to 26 m) wreck with an open bridge and wheelhouse that is appropriate for beginners. The engines still in place when it sunk are seen through a huge hole where the engine hatches had stood.

Any deeper puncture carries a little increase in risk. This aging structure is filled with jagged metal edges and is currently covered in strawberry anemones. Its decks are decorated with greenlings, blacksmiths, gobies, surf perch, and California scorpionfish.

WATCH VIDEO: Diving the HCMS Yukon

3. La Jolla Shores

la jolla shores san diego

La Jolla Shores is a well-known mile-long beach that is located north of the center of La Jolla. It’s the perfect starting location for scuba divers to investigate La Jolla Canyon.

Descent and follow the sloping sand beyond the break. Keep an eye out for stingrays, guitarfish, and perhaps angel sharks in the sand. You could encounter hundreds of leopard sharks, most female, if you go between late July and September since they congregate here yearly to incubate their offspring.

The drop-edge, which descends 600 ft into the canyon, will soon come into view. The rim and the wall are lined with rocks, sea glass, hard coral, and strands of kelp. Here, crabs, octopus, and sheepshead live alongside pipefish, blennies, and a fantastic array of nudibranchs.

Although it’s usually simple to enter the small beach, the waves might become too harsh in the winter.

4. Point Loma

La Jolla is situated on a peninsula that projects into the Pacific, protecting its diving opportunities from the chilly open ocean. The Point Loma kelp beds receive no similar protection south of La Jolla. However, because of the increased nutrients brought on by the cooler water and sea exposure, the places closer to the equator sustain a wider variety of marine species.

In the towering kelp forests at Point Loma dive site, only a short boat ride from land, you may find bass, kelpfish, treefish, the omnipresent Garibaldi, and a fantastic array of nudibranchs. Crabs, moray eels, lobsters, and even more creatures are hidden by the stony reef that runs down the seafloor. Sponge, tunicate, and gorgonian diversity add color.

Dives typically begin at around 45 ft and end at about 120 ft. Even midday dives might turn gloomy because of the depth and the abundance of kelp. A diving flashlight should be brought along.

WATCH VIDEO: Point Loma Kelp Beds

5. Islas Coronados

sea lions at coronado islands

Islas Coronados or The Coronado Islands are located twenty miles from San Diego (over an hour boat ride) in Mexican territorial waters. So you need to have a passport, eventhough you won’t cross any border check points.

However, don’t let the boat ride deter you, swimming among the harbor seals and sea lions that call this place home will make it worth the trip. Observing the behavior of these beasts, since the sea lion population on the island is one of the liveliest, and having a sea lion pup tickle his whiskers on your glove is a great experience.

You will also find here rocky reefs and caverns as well as a kelp forest. The favorite spots to dive on the Coronado Islands are Lobster Shack, Keyhole and Middle Grounds.

Recommended Read: Best Scuba Diving in Monterey

Diving Conditions and Best Time to Dive in San Diego Bay

The best time for diving in San Diego would be between August and October, when the visibility is best and the seas are calm.

Water temperature ranges from 59 F to 72 F (15 to 22 C) on the surface and decrease with the depth to maximum 56 F (13 C). At these depths you will at the very least need a hood, 7-mm wetsuit and gloves for exposure protection; dry suits are more suitable year-round.

It is not recommended to dive during the winter because of rough underwater currents, that can be a challenging to even the most experienced divers.

Top Dive Shops in San Diego

– Ocean Enterprises

In addition to a fantastic range of top-of-the-line scuba and snorkeling gear, a full-service maintenance department, the best selection of rental equipment, and a staff of qualified instructors, Ocean Enterprises take great pleasure in their mission statement, 100% customer satisfaction rate, and strong dedication to providing exceptional service.

– San Diego Divers

San Diego Divers is an NAUI Premier Diving Center that offers dive instruction for recreational and technical divers, from beginner level to instructors.

San Diego Divers, with more than 25 years of experience, aim to serve the local diving community by providing top-notch scuba training and reliable service for all your scuba diving requirements.

They offer specialized training in mixed gas diving, exploring wrecks, using scooters, and developing photography and video abilities.

– Scuba San Diego

Since 1968, Scuba San Diego has operated locally. They provide the best snorkeling and scuba diving trips in and around San Diego, and some of Southern California’s most knowledgeable tour guides lead their excursions. Their non-diver Scuba Adventure is a fantastic way to learn about diving and allows you to try it out before enrolling in a scuba certification course.

– La Jolla Dive

A full-service scuba diving operator, La Jolla Dive, offers equipment rental, air fills, scuba training, and scuba trips. They are the closest dive shop to the sea, only two blocks from the La Jolla Marine Reserve.

The instructors at La Jolla Dive, a PADI facility, have 30 years of combined scuba expertise in San Diego.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does San Diego have good scuba diving?

San Diego is one of the top dive destinations in California not only because of its beautiful diving spots, but also for its excellent weather and exciting nightlife. There is much to view, including kelp forests, underwater canyons, and wrecks.

How much does it cost to scuba dive in San Diego?

For beginners, diving in San Diego costs as little as $170. The cost of the fundamental certification, which includes four open-water dives with an instructor, starts at $495 for group sessions. With a single tank dive starting at $100, certified divers may explore the well-known dive sites off the coast of San Diego.

When can you scuba dive in San Diego?

August through October would be ideal for scuba diving in San Diego. These are the best months to discover San Diego’s marine riches for divers because of the calm seas and excellent underwater visibility.

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