San Diego is one of the most beautiful cities in America, and it offers some great dive locations as well. It’s also one of those places that’s worth it to travel to no matter how far away you live, since there’s no end of activities you can do.

If you live there, congratulations… you’re just that much closer to a slew of wonderful dive spots. The underwater environment is wonderfully diverse, providing safe conditions for divers of varying levels of experience.

Also, since San Diego is such a popular spot for scuba diving, you have access to a community of divers and dive instructors who know what they’re doing.

All things considered, scuba diving in San Diego is an experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Still not convinced? You’d be missing out on a 6,000-acre underwater park with two canyons and a kelp forest.

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Snorkeling in San Diego

If you’re not into diving or carrying oxygen tanks around, snorkeling may be a better option for you.

Visibility in most dive locations is incredibly good, so you can see a lot from the surface.

The fish in La Jolla Cove are so used to visitors that they’ll approach divers, or just stick around and not be scared off by human activity. La Jolla Cave snorkeling is very safe, since there are always plenty of lifeguards around.

Make sure you stay abreast of currents to make sure you don’t get swept out too far, and stay within sight of the at least one lifeguard to ensure that you can get help if you need it. Go in summertime, when the water is most warm and welcoming.

Relevant Information for Scuba Diving San Diego.

The first thing you need to know is positive—San Diego is so warm all year that you usually don’t have to worry about water temperature being too cold… some people don’t even wear a wetsuit!

San Diego is also quite a popular location for diving and snorkeling, which can be either a positive or a negative thing depending on preference. If you’re a beginning diver or snorkeler, you may want to take advantage of guided tours and other instruction from experienced divers, or you may like the easy access to rental equipment that a better-known scuba destination often provides.

On the other hand, if you’ve been diving for a while and prefer doing things on your own, the tourist crowd may be something you’re trying to avoid. All that said, there are ways to shirk the throng, especially since San Diego provides so many great places to dive.

If you visit during a less crowded season and actively look for a spot that you don’t have to share, chances are that you’ll find one. For more tips on snorkeling San Diego, continue reading this section.

Safety Tips for Snorkelers and Divers in San Diego

  • Grab a buddy. Don’t snorkel or scuba dive alone. There’s safety in numbers, and you as a sole individual do not qualify as “numbers.” Nobody likes thinking about the potential for bad things to happen, but it’s integral to your survival. Always stay within sight of your buddy, and devise a communication system for when you are out of earshot of one another (but can still see each other). Choose carefully, and find someone you trust.

  • Stay within sight of the lifeguards. This was already touched upon, but go with the popular saying and continue the rhetoric: if you can see someone, then that someone can more than likely see you. That said, try to stay close enough that your lifeguard isn’t just a speck in the distance to you. If a wave swallows you and the lifeguard is too far away to see where exactly you went down, that doesn’t spell good news for you.

  • Watch out for rocks. Rocks may not look terrifying until you’re about to be dashed against them. But save yourself some stiches and think ahead. Don’t stick too close to anything you don’t want your head to be acquainted with. It’ll thank you when a surge or wave picks you up and sets you down in more water rather than anything solid.

  • Bring a floatation device if you can. Energy isn’t infinite. Exhaustion in the water can lead to drowning, and unfortunately it can set on quickly. Even if you have loads of energy, you should bring a floatation device to be prepared for emergency situations. If you get swept up where no one can see you, it may be a while before you can get help—and you’ll quickly exhaust yourself without a floatation device. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

  • Know your limitations. If you’re a beginner, you may overestimate your energy level and become exhausted sooner than anticipated. New snorkelers should always stay close to shore so they can get back quickly if they are worn out. Don’t go snorkeling if you’re not feeling well, and definitely don’t go if you have a physical injury that prevents you from swimming effectively. Swimming skills are a prerequisite for safe snorkeling.

  • Be aware of shallow waters. This relates closely to “watch out for rocks.” If you’ve ever walked around in a shallow body of water, you’ve probably encountered rough pebbly ground that hurt your feet. Pebbles are things you don’t want to knock into. And if there are tall rocks that jut out from the water in addition to the sand, that’s all the worse.

  • Be familiar with the tides. Try to avert any unpleasant surprises. The last thing you want is to get trapped, so look into tide tables and avoid running (or swimming) into something that could be dangerous for you. Don’t get lazy and skip the preparatory research steps for your underwater excursion. And, however tempting it is, don’t lay it all on your buddy, either. You need to be independently familiar with the tides in case of separation.

  • Look out for your dive buddy. The golden rule is applicable to anything and everything, which is proven by its relevance here: treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you bash your head on a rock and lose consciousness and start to drown, chances are that you’d probably want somebody to help you. Be as concerned with your buddy’s safety as you are with your own. It’s the nice thing to do, and motivating your buddy to show similar attentiveness will keep you even safer.

Scuba Diving San Diego: Additional Tips

  • Check your equipment before going under. This goes for any dive. Whether you carry a dive computer or use less sophisticated technology such as the archaic combination of decompression tables, a dive watch, and a depth gauge, you need to make sure that your equipment is working well before you attempt the dive. If your equipment is malfunctioning, don’t dive. Don’t borrow your buddy’s equipment—deviating from your own equipment will result in less accurate diving data, since there’s no way your computer can determine when you can safely dive again based on the data from another computer that you don’t regularly use.

  • Don’t drink and dive. San Diego is a fun place, and you certainly shouldn’t miss out on bar crawls if they’re your favorite pastime. But don’t dive while intoxicated or a few hours after consuming alcohol. For one thing, you need a clear head to deal with potential problems. For another, certain symptoms of nitrogen narcosis (which can happen during deep dives) mimic alcohol intoxication, and if you’re actually intoxicated, you will likely miss the signs of nitrogen narcosis. Use good judgment.

  • Take relevant travel details into account. If you plan on scuba diving San Diego and you arrived there via plane, you need to ensure that you leave enough time between diving and flying. According to the U.S. Navy, you should wait two hours or more before flying. If it’s 12:01 and your flight leaves at 2, it doesn’t matter how pretty and clear the water looks: you shouldn’t do another dive (unless, of course, you want to contract decompression sickness in the airplane).

  • Set a dive plan before you dive and stick to it during the dive. This is slightly more important for diving than snorkeling, since diving is inherently more risky (with a possibility of decompression sickness during poorly-timed descents and ascents). Don’t risk injury by deviating from that which keeps you healthy and safe. If you planned a no stop dive but stumble across a cool place just when you’re running out of no stop time, document the location and plan another dive down there. Unfortunately San Diego is full of cool places, so you’ll just have to resist temptation.

  • Don’t panic! Not panicking is also useful for snorkeling, obviously, but it’s even more important in scuba diving since scuba diving requires relying on an oxygen tank. If you start hyperventilating, you use more air in your oxygen tank, so you may not be able to stay down as long. Some fancier dive equipment can monitor your oxygen level and inform you how much longer you can stay under at your current rate of consumption, which can be useful if you’re prone to anxiety. Without knowing that information, you’re more or less at the mercy of the water and will have to guess how much time you have left. And that’s never fun.

  • Have fun! Remember that this is San Diego, and San Diego is all about a good time. This covers scuba diving and snorkeling, as well. So, in adhering to the previous point, relax. Stick with dives and snorkeling trips that you’re sure you’re comfortable with, and follow all safety tips so you have fewer things to worry about when you’re underwater. Being underwater is a transformative experience, and it’s one of the best stress-busters out there as long as it’s done right. Do it right, and you’ll have great experiences that you can tell your friends and family about for years to come.

Where Can I Go Scuba Diving In San Diego?

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Underwater Park is one of the coolest things you’ll ever see, with miles of ocean floor, two artificial reefs, and an ecosystem bursting with all types of life.

You can get there from La Jolla Cove, a small beach that calm water reaching up to 40 feet visibility. And the beach itself is excellent for beachcombing, picnicking, or just strolling depending on how active or inactive you’d like to be during your non-dive hours. (Diving takes a lot out of you, so a nice long nap is also a viable option here. No judgment on you for prioritizing sleep.)

In addition to La Jolla Cove, there are La Jolla Caves to the east of the Cove, in the Ecological Reserve.

The caves have pretty cute names, too: White Lady, Little Sister, Shopping Cart, Sea Surprise, Arch Cave, Sunny Jim’s Cave, and Clam’s Cave. Those are a lot more original than, say, North Cave or West Cave (or the slightly more palatable Northwest Cave), and instantly make the area more appealing than places with generic labels.

A rose by any other name is just as sweet… unless its name is Flower #6. Also, one of the caves was named by L. Frank Baum of Wonderful Wizard of Oz fame. That’s cool no matter which way you cut it.

Save Up To 70 % On Your Next Trip To San Diego!

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Best Western San Diego

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Grand Hyatt San Diego Marina

Point Loma

Famous for its kelp beds, Point Loma is available to get to by boat, and humans aren’t the only life forms attracted to the area: sea fans, crabs nudibranchs, and many types of fish live among the kelp.

You’ll see something different every time, with old marine life constantly being replaced by new.

The kelp forest also changes in size throughout the year, truly making each dive there a unique experience. And if you’re into abiotic ecosystem factors, too, check out the beauty of big rock structures (some are more than 15 feet tall!) and sea cliffs that frequent the location.

And if the natural sights aren’t enough for you, head out near the Point Loma Lighthouse to see two train wheels connected by an axle that’s just sitting in a cavern (which is called “the crack” for some unfathomable reason).

Something to note: the Crack can be challenging to dive, so make sure you can handle the currents and pay attention to your surroundings during a dive.

The cavern itself can be dangerous if you don’t keep an eye out for escape routes, so be careful around that area. Make smart choices and adhere to your dive plan, and you’ll have a great time here.

Wreck Alley

Comprising some of the most famous dive sites in San Diego, Wreck Alley is an artificial reef out from Mission Bay, and it has a a lot to offer beginner and advanced divers alike. Just like the name implies, it is home to several shipwrecks that are quite popular with scuba divers today.

These well-known shipwrecks are: the Ruby E, the El Rey, the HMCS Yukon, and—perhaps coolest of all—the NOSC, an abandoned research tower that now acts as an artificial reef, birthing a lively ecosystem from where it sits 60 feet under water.

It may not be a “wreck” per say, but it has just as much of an appeal as the actual shipwrecks do!

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© Copyright Andrew Sallmon

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© Copyright Andrew Sallmon

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© Waterhorse Charters, LLC

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© Waterhorse Charters, LLC

Most of the shipwrecks here can be dived by beginners, so nobody’s missing out on the beauty of old life giving way to new. Shipwrecks can be tragic, particularly those that involved one or more deaths, but looking at what they’ve become after years of sitting under water can help provide closure for the losses with a literal manifestation of the circle of life.

Diving shipwrecks can transcend simple enjoyment and become a transformative, spiritual experience, so be prepared. Feelings make us human.

Coronado Islands, Mexico

If you have a (non-expired) passport lying around and you want to use it, head to the Coronado Islands. An official dive tour can help you get the necessary visa, and you get to frolic with seals. There’s no downside to this experience, even if you don’t yet have a passport and the prospect of seeing the Coronado Islands is what inspires you to take the plunge. The bureaucratic red tape can be a pain, but it’s definitely worth it. Social time with seals is always worth it—no exceptions. You also might run into dolphins, pelicans, whales, sunfish, and sea lions, so prepare to be amazed.

coronado islands

© Waterhorse Charters, LLC

coronado islands

© Waterhorse Charters, LLC

coronado islands

© Waterhorse Charters, LLC

coronado islands

© Waterhorse Charters, LLC

The Coronado Islands feature natural bridges, sea caves, and clear water with high visibility. Snorkeling and diving doesn’t get much better than this, with myriad sea life sandwiched between the coasts of Mexico and San Diego.

If being in two places at once thrills you, then you won’t want to miss the existential opportunity here.

The islands’ stories are as colorful as their appearance, with some accounts claiming that South Island (the largest of the islands) was used as a base of operations for pirate smuggling. Flex your imagination muscle and get in on the fun.

Conclusion

There are plenty of other great places to dive in San Diego besides the ones listed here. La Jolla Cove snorkeling may be a rite of passages for San Diego hydrophiles, but check out some of the lesser-known sites, as well. Explore, have fun, and be safe!

The images in this article are provided by Waterhorse Charters. Get in touch with them to make your trip to San Diego unforgettable. They offer trips to all important dive sites like Wreck Alley, Kelp Beds and Coronado Island.

  • April 24, 2016
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