Each year, more than 65,000 amateur and professional divers visit the Monterey Bay Sanctuary for the unique beauty of its underwater canyons and its lush kelp forests. The waters of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are also rich in nutrients to support the many marine wildlife that lives within its waters.
Although temperatures can sometimes reach up to 60 degrees, they are usually only closer to 50 degrees. Divers are also drawn to its crystal clear waters, making the depths of the ocean visible from 10 to 30 feet. Because of this, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has been rated as the best beach in the United States for scuba diving by Suba Diving magazine.
Check out these popular diving spots in Monterey.
1. Lovers Point Park and Beach
Back before Pacific Grove was a Methodist retreat camp, Lovers Point Park and Beach used to be called “Lovers of Jesus Point”. As early as the 1800s, the beach at Lovers Point has been a popular spot for locals to go boating, swimming, and surfing. In the most recent years, it has since become a popular spot for picnics because of its scenic location. The park itself faces east which makes it one of the only places on the West Coast where you can watch the sunrise over the ocean.
Lovers Point Park and Beach have been one of Pacific Grove’s most popular recreation spots for over a century. It is a great launching spot for kayakers to get out on Monterey bay, and its waves are huge and reliable making it a favorite for surfers.
The park is a whopping 4.4 acres and very well maintained, making it a favorite place for locals and tourists alike to have picnics, after-dive barbeque, and other general outdoor activities. The rocks found at the point also make for a fun activity for people to climb on to get a scenic view of Monterey Bay.
There are a lot of protected dive sites in Monterey Bay and Lovers Point lies in the middle of the peninsula. It’s one of the few places where octopuses are frequently found during the daytime. They can be found in between rocks, on kelp holdfasts, or even swimming in the water. The most common octopus that you can spot at Lovers Point is the red octopus that is predominant in Northern California. It only grows to about 10 inches from tentacle tip to tentacle tip.
What Makes It Great
Lovers Point is a great spot for scuba diving for the reason that one can enter on either side of the point.
The water at the east side of the point can be reached through two stone staircases. It is well protected from the swell making it popular for beginner divers. The rocky ledges are covered with eelgrass and is only 4-8 feet away from a flat rock and sand bottom. The algae covering the bottom of its waters are also a great hiding spot for invertebrates like hermit crabs and cancer crabs. Flatworms and various other soft-bodied marine gastropod mollusks also frequent the eelgrass.
The sand bottom drops steadily when venturing offshore to the left part of the beach, slowly revealing a scattered group of rock formations that reach up to 10 feet from the 30 to 40-foot bottom. Plenty of colorful invertebrates can be found on these pinnacles and dense colonies of anemones carpet the rocks with red, purple, and orange hues. If you continue swimming towards the breakwater, you can also find many bat rays digging for clams in the sand.
The west side of the point is more exposed to ocean swell so normally it is rougher and more surgery than the east side. if you decide to enter the west side of the point, you should be careful when passing through because the rock and sand bottom drops from 20 to 70 feet over 300 yards. Making Lovers Point recommended only to experienced divers.
Its various rock formations also contain a treasure trove of small fishes, colorful sponges, and other marine wildlife thus making it a nature photographer’s heaven. An assortment of fish like the ornamented snub nose sculpins, gobies, rockfish, cabezon, and lingcod just to name a few.
2. Point Lobos State Reserve
Point Lobos is known as the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world. It is also often called the crown jewel of the state park system. That’s why Point Lobos was featured as the Top Pick for scuba diving in California. Its diving waters remain unmatched on the California coast.
Aside from diving activities, it is also a great hiking and picnic spot for its amazing scenery and the wildlife that lives within the reserve. Gray whales can also be seen migrating during the winter.
The ocean located in Point Lobos is home to various marine wildlife like sea lions, seals, otters, and orcas. Whale watching is common from December to April when large gray whales migrate and pass the Point Lobos area.
The Point Lobos State Reserve is also home to various land animals such as foxes, wild dogs, marsupials, mountain lions, and other mammals. The reserve also has a lot of hiking trails for beginner and experienced hikers.
What Makes It Great
The reefs and wildlife found at Point Lobos State Reserve are similar to those found at Monastery beach. The entries and exits are also easier because the boat ramp is naturally protected by Whaler’s Cove. Sometimes even the resident harbor seals accompany lucky divers when making their dive.
The underwater of Point Lobos, however, is the most exhilarating part of the reserve. Since it is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, its aquatic life remains one of the most varied and undisturbed in the world. The marine wildlife diversity makes it perfect for underwater photographers and scuba divers who want to see the incredible array of life on the sea.
3. Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach is located between Monterey and Carmel Bays. Its name was originally given to a rocky cove and beach strand that was a prominent coastal segment of the Rancho Pescadero Mexican land. When the owner of the land died, it passed on to several other owners before landing in the hands of Chinese immigrants who then formed fishing settlements along Carmel Bay.
Pebble Beach is bordered by Carmel-by-the-Sea to the south, Pacific Grove to the north, the City of Monterey to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
What Makes It Great
It is considered an easy entry shore dive because of the two bands of boulders that run parallel to the shore, which is home to interesting marine life while being a fun 10 to 50-feet dive.
Its waters are predictably very calm making it great for beginner divers.
About 100 feet from the shore, the bottom drops from 30 to 50 feet in a massive wall that runs nearly 100 yards. Much of the wall has short caves, undercuts, and shallow depressions. These nooks and crannies in the wall are home to an assortment of some of the most photogenic marine wildlife found in the Monterey Bay area.
An assortment of invertebrates and fishes can be found littering and swimming all over the wall, so it’s a good idea to bring along a flashlight to see the different kinds of marine life hiding deep in the cracks. Sculpins, gobies, cabezon, lingcod, and rockfish can be found underneath the ledges. Large wolf eel also makes its home in one of the larger cracks in the walls, just look for a pile of empty shells, and follow the trail up to find the wolf eel’s den.
4. Monastery Beach
Monastery Beach is a popular spot among advanced diving enthusiasts due to its more challenging entrance and exits. First-time divers are recommended to only dive here on calm days and accompanied by another experienced diver.
Just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea right along Highway 1, Monastery beach is officially the southern end of the Carmel River State Beach. While mapping the Californian coastline around Monterey and Carmel bays, the Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno was accompanied by three priests. A monastery overlooking the beach was then founded by the descendants of these priests, naming it after thier patroness the Lady of Mount Carmel. To this day, it is still called Monastery because of this.
What Makes It Great
The entry to Monastery Beach is composed of steep beaches with loose, coarse sand and plunging breakers. It requires a lot of skill and confidence to navigate through the unstable and rough footing of the entry. But even through this challenging diving condition, the beauty of Monastery Beach makes it well worth it. Its deep waters are home to a cornucopia of interesting marine critters.
Entering on the north side of the Monastery beach allows the offshore kelp bed to dampen the swell. This is also a good way to avoid the largest break near the center. If you submerge just before you get to the wash rock and down to the trench, you will find boulders upon boulders sticking out of a sandy
5. Mono-Lobo Wall
If you truly want to get away from it all and experience true ocean wilderness, you can find it just south of Monterey. Once you start to see rugged granite cliffs, then you know you’ve arrived at your destination. Located at the southern end of Carmel Bay, just outside of Point Lobos, lies the rocky reefs of the Mono Lobo.
It belongs to the greater Point Lobos State Marine Reserve so fishing is prohibited. What you can take, though, is a lot of pictures.
What Makes It Great
You can head towards the outer reaches of the kelp forests if the swell is up to avoid the surge. Once there, you can see a wide array of various rock formations that you can’t miss. The deeper reefs are located further from the cove and offer a more vertical relief for that true sense of three-dimensional space. The pinnacles peak around 50 feet and reach depths over a hundred feet. Colorful anemones that cover the spires rise up from the boulder fields, exposing other sponges and tunicates filled with fish-eating anemones.
The best way to access the Mono Lobo Wall is either by kayak, a small boat, or through commercial charters. Kayak diving is the most flexible and easy way to dive due to its unrestricted access from Monastery Beach.
6. Hopkins Deep Reef
Most of the rocks found in Hopkins Deep Reef are covered with giant Metridiums. They look like patches of giant cauliflower when viewed from a distance. Their white color makes them easy to spot from afar, even in poor visibility. However, they are a bit tougher to photograph because their reflective nature makes them easy to overexpose.
The various invertebrates found in Hopkins Deep are just as outstanding, making it a great place for divers and photographers alike to observe and take pictures. The reef is also popular among Spanish shawls, one of the most striking types of nudibranchs, since you can almost always find one there.
The rocks in Hopkins Deep are not cracked and textured. They are smooth and polished. This makes for an open area to spot little crabs and shrimp, and even octopuses. Small fishes like lingcod, rockfish, sculpins, and greenlings are also abundant here.
What Makes It Great
Hopkins Deep Reef is well protected by the Monterey Peninsula. It is outstandingly deep that it is only accessible by boat. It’s one of the few deep reefs that remain divable even when the wind and swell pick up.
The reef consists of a sand bottom that gently slopes beginning around 50 feet to about 90 feet. The large granite outcroppings found in Hopkins Deep are about 60 to 80 feet large, making the bottom shallower and rockier the closer it gets to shore.
The dive site becomes a steady sand bottom 90 to 100 feet east of the main shore, but there is not much marine wildlife here as compared to the inshore reef.
7. Otter Cove
It’s no secret that California’s Central Valley is unforgivably hot during spring and summer time. As the hot air rises, it, in turn, drives the upwelling that brings life-giving nutrients to inshore reefs found here. This is the reason why Monterey’s marine life remains abundant and rich in nutrients. However, Otter Cove remains at an optimal temperature throughout the changing seasons. Despite this, Otter Cove is a very underutilized site due to the other popular dive sites that surround it.
The rocks near the shore are covered with kelp and eelgrass. There is a large open area in the cove that is only 10-15 feet deep and covered in lush kelp forests and coralline algae, but once you venture past the tidal zone, the bottom drops off slowly over several hundred yards.
Nudibranchs, sea stars, tunicates, and other invertebrates can be found here. Only a few fish can be found here, mostly juvenile surfperch and rockfish. The large open area is the perfect place for snorkelers because of the calm and shallow waters.
What Makes It Great
Otter Cove is mostly shallow near the shore. The deeper parts great for diving can be found along with the kelp forests at a distance. It is best to swim around the edge of the kelp before descending to the far side of the cove.
It’s also a great site for kayak diving as it gives more activities to enjoy. You can see a vast forest of kelp that extends seemingly forever when you look out the ocean. The water in Otter Cove is about 50 feet deep, making it a home to a lot of large fish, eels, and anemones.
Square-sided granite blocks make for pretty walls that you can see after swimming 20 to 25 deep in the water. At about 300 yards from the entry, the bottom drops away suddenly to 50 feet so make sure to stay alert when venturing this part of the cove.
The cove is appropriately named because large a large population of sea otters frequently forage in this area. Otters have thick fur coats to keep them warm. There are only about 3,000 otters existing today along California’s Central Coast.
Otters can be found in the cove wrapped up in kelp, napping, or grooming their fur. They can sometimes be seen underwater digging up clams and abalone shells from the sand. Other times, the otters may go near people and rest on a diver’s mat, which can be hard to convince them to leave.
8. Point Pinos
Point Pinos is located at the very top of Monterey Bay. Its entry into the ocean is a bit tricky to navigate, so it is recommended to dive from a boat. On calmer days, the beach at Point Pinos makes for the best beach dives across all of Monterey Bay.
It is appropriately named by Able Du Petit-Thouars in 1837 after the huge forest of pine trees overlooking the beach. It defines the southern point of Monterey Bay. This point is also notorious for being treacherous and unforgiving to boats where a lighthouse was erected there in 1854. But even with a lighthouse, many ships still find themselves on the jagged rocks just offshore the coast.
The east side of the point is strewn with boulders, making it easy to twist an ankle while exploring the rocks. Its rocky shallows are also difficult to navigate at low tide so it is best to traverse them with caution. The best time to dive here is during high tide as it is one of the most interesting shallow reefs in the Monterey Bay area.
On the days when Point Pinos is safe to dive at, divers will not be disappointed by its beauty. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the bottom topography and variety of marine life found in Point Pinos. It has a large population of lingcod, rockfish, and cabezon. Schools of blue rockfish and bait fish move through kelp bed forests, making for a spectacular view.
9. McAbee Beach
All the dive spots have a long and rich history, and McAbee Beach is no exemption. When John B. McAbee purchased the land surrounding what is now McAbee beach, he initially wanted to set up a seaside resort along what would later be Cannery Row. He put up a few tents and purchased a few small boats that visitors can rent. It became popular during summer weekends when it is packed with both locals and tourists, but it was not enough to sustain the costs of the business. After a while, John leased the property to the Monterey Chinese community after their original enclave burned to the ground.
One of the most famous events that happened at McAbee Beach was the sinking of the SS Gipsy. The captain of the ship had mistakenly hit rocks offshore because he thought that was the entrance to the Monterey Harbor. He died a slow death in the rocks and surf of the beach.
McAbee is Monterey’s tiniest beach at just under one-quarter of an acre. But every inch of the tiny beach remains popular amongst kayakers and scuba divers due to its calm waters. Sea otters are also common on the beach but they are usually very shy and try to hide away from divers.
Beginner divers, as well as experienced divers, will find enjoyment in McAbee’s rich marine life. The rocks found on the deeper side of the beach are covered with an assortment of brightly colored sponges and anemones. Dorids, nudibranchs, blue rockfish, and kelpfish can also be found swimming about.
The south side of the beach is a breeze to enter due to its small surf. Swim a short distance and you will be in 20 feet of water. The bottom mainly consists of rock and sand. As you go deeper, rocks and boulders predominate the floor of the beach.
The offshore bed of giant kelp makes for the perfect place to dive. Kelp provides food and shelter for invertebrates and young fishes, as well as otters. However, one must take time to investigate if the kelp is safe before descending further as bryozoan growth cover many of the kelp during the late season.