When California approved a network that would connect many of its marine protected areas in 2012, it simultaneously created a playground for diving enthusiasts. From Great White sharks to coral reefs, kelp forests to sea lions, the California coast has some incredible sights to offer divers. Take a lot at some of the best spots to SCUBA dive and get your adventure started!

kelp forest scuba california
Source: Flickr / NOAA’s National Ocean Service

1. Naples Reef, Long Beach

Located in Naples State Marine Conservation Area, Naples Reef is part of a protected underwater park in the Santa Barbara Channel. Explore the 30-foot, anemone-covered underwater walls, thick kelp forest, and even a shipwreck. Marine life is plentiful in Naples Reef, so you will have a chance to see yellowtail, sea lions, lobsters, and much more. Due to its prolific sea life, this area is also an important research field for marine biologists. Check it out for yourself and see why!

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2.  Southeast Farallon Islands State Marine Reserve, San Francisco

While not technically in San Francisco, the Farallon Islands are about 32 miles off the coast of it. They’re also part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary which is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. This sanctuary plays home to thousands of seals and sea lions, and, in the summer months, Great White sharks make their way through the reserve as part of their migratory pattern. Expect to see some big sharks from August to January. Take a cage diving tour with Great White Adventures if you’re looking to experience a close-up encounter with one of these giant sharks.

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3. Point Lobos State National Reserve, Carmel Bay

You’ve probably seen pictures of Carmel Bay, the iconic stretch of California where the highway snakes along a beautiful stretch of the coast and jaw dropping cliffs line the waterfront. What you may not know is that there’s an underwater world that many have come to recognize as offering some of the greatest diving in the world. Head to Point Lobos and enter the reserve through Whalers Cover where you’ll encounter thick kelp forests and colorful plant life. Minicaves and overhangs provide lots of darkness, so be sure to bring a flashlight!

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scuba california
Source: Flickr / Scott Cunningham

4. Lover’s Point, Pacific Grove

With typically excellent visibility, you won’t have to dive very deep to see everything at Lover’s Point. Dense kelp and critters can be seen from a few feet in, and calm waters make things even easier to view. Starfish, abalone, and large crabs are among the ocean life you may see here, as well as many tiny jellyfish. The water temperature hovers around 55 degrees and there are many easy entry spots.

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5. Old Marineland, Rancho Palos Verdes

For the expert diver, Old Marineland will be an incredible experience. Beginners and even intermediate divers should not attempt diving in this area. Old Marineland is perhaps one of the best reefs in Southern California. Because of upwellings that bring rich, cool waters, there are many invertebrates on the rocks. Two dive sites exist here: the “point” to the west and the “cove” to the east. There is an extremely challenging hike from the parking lot to the entry, so be advised. While on your dive, though, you may see octopus, sculpins, scorpionfish, and maybe even a torpedo ray. For the expert, this dive is definitely worth the hike!

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6. Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands

Perhaps some of the most unique diving spots lie in the Channel Islands. Part of that 160-mile network is Santa Cruz Island, and it has a treat in store for those who are looking for something exciting. About 60 feet into the water is where you’ll find Peacock, a 100-foot long shipwreck from WWII. Today, the ship, originally intended to be a minesweeper during the war, is now covered in brightly colored coral and plant life. Divers will enjoy kelp forests, sea caves, and rock walls as well as whales, dolphins, and plentiful marine life.

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