Last Updated: January 27, 2023
San Francisco is one of the most popular cities in the US for tourists with nearly 15 million people visiting every single year. This area of California has a lot to offer travelers of all kinds, but what is it like to go scuba diving in San Francisco Bay?
San Francisco Bay itself is not a great location to scuba dive as the water is muddy and shallow and there is not a lot of marine life to explore. Fortunately, there are some fantastic places that you can travel to that are just a short drive from the city where diving is a lot more enjoyable.
Read ahead to find out the best spots to dive around the Bay Area, what to expect when you get out there, and the top dive centers to try out in the region.
Best Scuba Diving Sites Near San Francisco
You might think that diving in San Francisco Bay would be a great opportunity, given how large it is and its proximity to such an adventurous and exciting city, but it is unfortunately far from ideal.
The bay is filled by water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, which bring a lot of mud and sediment down from the Sierra Nevada mountains. This means that it’s not very deep and the water is full of mud, making visibility very poor.
Additionally, being so close to such a large city means that the water quality is low, so there is very little sea life to explore, and there is a lot of traffic to contend with. Because of all of these factors combined, very few people ever scuba dive in the Bay itself. Fortunately, you don’t have to travel far to find some great locations for California diving.
1. Ocean Cove
Ocean Cove is the perfect place for a camping and diving adventure. Perhaps its biggest draw is the Abalone that are fished here, but it has a lot to offer for recreational divers as well.
The main site is slightly north of Stillwater Beach. It’s nice and calm, and it usually has a lot of fish that you will dive alongside.
The floor is mostly covered in rocks and a few boulders, with some eelgrass that will hide all kinds of interesting species, or you can choose to take a long swim out into deeper waters. There is also Cemetery Reef to the south and a few pinnacles and walls around the cove itself.
Overall, Ocean Cove is a relatively easy dive for most people as it is reasonably shallow, and you won’t get tangled up in the kelp that you find in a lot of other sites around the area.
2. Monterey Bay
Most of the best places to dive near San Francisco can be found in and around Monterey Bay, which is only slightly south of the city itself. You can drive to the northern part of the bay in just an hour if you want to hit Santa Cruz, or you can reach the more diver-friendly southern tip of Monterey in around two hours.
As it is so close by, this is where you will probably find yourself if you take a certification course with a dive school from the city, and Monterey Bay has a number of different dive sites to explore. Among the most popular places to visit are Hopkins Marine Sanctuary, Breakwater Cove, Lover’s Point, and Eric’s Pinnacle.
Breakwater Cove is calm and protected and full of colorful corals, making it a good choice for beginners while Eric’s Pinnacle has a little more depth to offer more experienced divers. Boats out from the Marine Station will take you to a protected reef and kelp forest, which is a little bit more advanced. And Lover’s Point is a great option for shore diving.
3. Sea Ranch
Sea Ranch is another spot that is well known for Abalone fishing, and it is just a short walk from Smugglers Cove and Pebble Beach.
There are a few accessible dive locations that you can reach from the Ranch, including Fort Ross and Stillwater Cove. These are both nice, protected shore dives that are good for relatively new divers, or you could travel out to Gerstle Cove, which is just a 10 to 15-minute drive away.
Gerstle Cove is a miniature nature reserve to the north of Salt Point, within the Salt Point State Park, so it has a lot of marine life to enjoy. There are anemones, greenlings, abalone, ling cod, starfish, and more to see – but you will need to park relatively high up and bring your gear down from the road.
4. Farallon Islands
If you want to try something a little more adventurous, there are some pretty thrilling dives to be had around the Farallon Islands. These islands can be found west of San Francisco and there are a couple of companies that run boats out to them on a daily basis.
These islands are in the middle of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, providing protection for seals, sea lions, marine birds, and great white sharks. One of the most popular types of diving in the Gulf of the Farallones is actually cage diving with great whites, which can be done on a day trip from San Francisco itself.
You can do other kinds of recreational diving around the islands as well, but the conditions can be quite challenging. There is little protection from the open ocean and the water is often pretty choppy.
Diving Conditions and Best Time to Dive
When it comes to dive conditions, the San Francisco area is pretty average for California.
During the summer, water temperatures tend to be close to 70°F degrees Fahrenheit, but they can get as low as 57°F in the winter. Individual coves and dive sites will vary, though, so it’s worth checking with a local dive shop before you set out.
In terms of visibility, the average around the California coastline is about 30 feet, but it can be more. In San Francisco Bay itself, you would be lucky to see beyond 15 feet, but around Monterey it can reach 60 feet from September to November.
Late summer is usually the best time to visit, around September or October, as the visibility is good and the water will be relatively warm.
Top San Francisco Area Dive Centers
#1. Scuba Bay Area
The Bay Area School of Diving is the number 1 ranked school in the region, and they offer everything from gear to tours and classes. They teach PADI Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Dive Master, CPR, and First Aid.
During their beach dives, you may enjoy a BBQ and refreshments while exchanging stories with your fellow divers.
#2. Bamboo Reef Diving
Bamboo Reef Diving has been operating since 1961, providing lessons, trips, and equipment all over the Bay Area. They have centers in both San Francisco and Monterey, and they offer classes and experience at a variety of different locations.
In addition to getting certified, you can sharpen your skills, go on individual dive tours or group trips to different reefs and enjoy fun dives with other divers.
#3. Harbor Dive Center
The Harbor Dive Center can be found just north of San Fransisco, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. They take classes and trips out to Monterey and other sites, and they offer almost any course that you could think of.
Among the group diving trips provided, they regularly have shark diving and lobster diving, but you will need to check to see what upcoming trips are on their calendar.
#4. Sonoma Coast Divers
Sonoma Coast Divers is a center that specializes in everything you can do underwater, including abalone diving, freediving, scuba diving, spearfishing, and snorkeling. The center itself can be found in Sonoma, north of the city, but they operate dives all over the area.
They also offer lessons for many levels, diving trips, and after-repair services.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Go Scuba Diving in San Francisco?
Although you won’t find many opportunities to scuba dive around the city itself, there are many different dive locations in the San Francisco area that are just a short drive or a boat ride away, including the popular USAL Beach (Shoreline North to Mendocino).
Where Can You Dive in the Bay Area?
The Bay Area has a few locations that you can dive from, most of which can be found in Monterey Bay, just south of San Francisco city.
Other than that, you can also dive at Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuary, Lake Tahoe, Fanny Shoal and Hurst Shoal.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.