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4 Best Places in San Francisco for Scuba Diving

Anybody that dives loves the familiar rush of exploring new places. Unfortunately, with limited good diving spots, you need to do a bit of research to find the best places to dive.

Fortunately, however, we have done that work for you! If you are looking for the best places in San Francisco for scuba diving, you are in the right place.

Not only do we provide you with the locations of some of the best and most well-kept secret spots for diving, but we’ll also walk you through what you can expect to see and experience at each location so that you’re not going in blind!

Follow along with us as we recap the best places in San Francisco for diving and what makes them so special.


Farallon Island

This list wouldn’t be complete without the Farallon Island diving sites. This is one of the most well-known and frequented scuba diving sites in San Francisco. It’s not hard to see why, with its pristine waters and high level of approachability, making it a good choice for almost any diver. It is also considered one of the 5 best Places for Scuba Diving in California by our writers.

One thing that you need to know about Farallon Island is that there are actually two frequented dive sites there: Middle Farallon and Southeast Farallon. Each of the sites has its own merit. Let’s break it down:


Middle Farallon

Middle Farallon is an outstanding place to dive. The main draw to the location is the excellent visibility. You can see over 30m in these pristine waters. The average depth of the site is 17 meters.

One thing that you’ll want to know about Middle Farallon is that if you want to dive there, you’ll have to reach it by boat. The good news is that once you get there, you’ll find that it’s one of the most pleasant and approachable dive spots in the area. It’s not too difficult, so almost any diver can tackle it.

You can expect to see krill and several different types of fish once you dip below the surface. The current speed is medium, and water quality is great, which makes this dive a nice, pleasant one for any average skill level diver.


Southeast Farallon

If you’ve had Middle Farallon and now want to jump up to something a little bit more intimidating, you may want to try Southeast Farallon. This part of the island has a little bit harsher conditions but is still not all that different from Middle Farallon.

It is not considered a difficult dive, but visibility is a bit less, with good vision between 10-30 meters. The water quality, however, is still outstanding.

Again, you’ll have to reach Southeast Farallon’s site by boat if you want to dive there. The current speed is low, and there have been sightings of Great White Sharks in the area, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.


Point Lobos

The next location on our list for Scuba diving in San Francisco is Point Lobos. This site is commonly revered as a very special diving site and you will have to make a reservation to dive here. Currently, Parks and Rec officials are allowing 10 team spots per day. Luckily, these are free diving reservations.

In addition to making a reservation up to 2 months in advance, divers will need to present a number of certifications and documents to dive here. Government employees have set strict guidelines for diving in this area that can be found here.

Point Lobos is named as such because of the howling that is often mistaken for wolves but is actually barking sea lions. This makes the area a protected area for conservation, which is the cause for all of the red tape you must comply with when diving here.

Even if the rules are somewhat cumbersome and strict, they are responsible for keeping the area so pristine. There are strict no-take rules which have preserved the sea floor and made this location such a desirable place for divers that want to see truly impressive ecosystems at work.

When you arrive, you will enter the diving area at Whaler’s Cove, which will also be your way to get to Bluefish Cove, a popular attraction. There are a variety of points of interest for you to explore in both Whaler’s Cove and Bluefish Cove.

Though the dive isn’t considered to be the most difficult out there, it can be made slightly difficult for beginners by the very prevalent kelp population, which makes surface swimming very tough. The upside to this is that it also provides great conditions for wildlife.

Insiders and experienced divers recommend that you plan to dive when the tide is on its way out, which makes swimming conditions much easier. They would also caution you to take care when walking down the boat ramp, as it can be slippery and covered with algae.

Once you get into the water, you will want to be careful as the immediate area close to the shore is covered in sharp rocks and is uneven. It drops off very quickly, and you’ll want to make sure that you have a steady footing before switching to swimming fins.

Once you get going, Point Lobos has some of the most beautiful diving in the area. The area is very well-preserved, giving you an idea of what this beautiful area has looked like for hundreds of years. It’s well worth all of the effort to gain entry into Point Labos’ diving areas.


Maintop Island

If you truly want a diverse wildlife experience with plenty of excitement, then Maintop Island might be the way to go! Maintop island is accessible by boat only, so be sure to plan that out ahead of time.

The water quality at Maintop island is outstanding, which lends itself to a “Good” visibility rating. This means that you can see pretty well for ranges of 10-30m, making it a very scenic dive. The average depth in these waters is about 18 meters.

The great thing about Maintop Island is that not only does it have a lot of excitement to offer, but it’s very good for divers of almost any skill level. It’s not very difficult to dive, and the current speed is low at less than 1 knot on average.

When you’re in the water, it’s not unusual to see large animals hunting krill and plankton. Occasionally, you’ll also see whales and sharks that frequent the area.

All of these factors come together to make Maintop Island a very popular destination for those who want to dive in San Francisco. The relative difficulty in reaching the island via boat also makes it not the most crowded spot, which can be enjoyable!

Divers experienced in the San Francisco area diving would compare it to sites like Cordell Bank, Fanny Shoal, and Hurst Shoal.


Isle of Saint James

Our list comes to a close with the Isle of Saint James. The Isle of Saint James is another popular area for scuba diving in San Francisco which is best known not for its wildlife but rather for its corals! Some of the most beautiful rock hydro corals in the world can be found here, which makes it unique in the San Francisco area and a must-see if you are going to dive here.

What’s more, the visibility is considered “Excellent” on the Isle of Saint James, meaning you can get a great view of those corals at almost any time.

One thing to know about this diving location is that it is a bit deeper. The average depth is 25 meters, and the max depth is about 35 meters. So, you should plan for that accordingly.

Other than that, this is a pretty easy dive! The current speed is low at an average of less than 1 knot, visibility is excellent, and there are not any obstacles that would rule out beginner divers.

To reach the Isle of Saint James and dive there, you will have to do so by boat. So, you will have to coordinate transportation, which can be a bit of a hassle if you’re not from the area. Still, you’re not going to want to miss this diving location.

When you’re in the water, you’ll see hydro corals, rockfish, invertebrates, ling cod, and more. This is a great location for photography, as well.

If you’re looking for comparables, many divers in the area say it is similar to Cordell Bank, Fanny Shoal, Hurst Shoal, and Maintop Island. This puts the area in great company as it takes its place amongst the best diving areas in San Francisco.


Let’s Recap

San Francisco is home to some of the most beautiful and pristine diving in the US. However, for those who are new to diving or just passing through the area, it can be tough to get the truth about what the best spots are in the region!

With this breakdown of the best places in San Francisco for scuba diving, you are well-equipped to go enjoy a wonderful dive in one of the many beautiful diving areas that the city has to offer.