California stands out for its miles of beautiful coast and excellent surfing. However, many people don?t know that the state also offers plenty of places for great snorkeling. From north to south, California is chock-full of sites to explore the local waters.
Check out the following list of five of the best places to snorkel in California.
1. La Jolla
La Jolla offers some of the best snorkeling on the planet, with La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park rated one of the 10 best snorkeling places in the world. The park and reserve offer a combined 6,000 acres of tidelands and ocean bottom to explore. In the reserve, the ocean floor drops 500 feet into the La Jolla Underwater Canyon.
Snorkelers in La Jolla enjoy views of a variety of sea creatures, including urchins, sea turtles, dolphins, and shovel nose guitar fish. From June to December, the area welcomes California?s biggest gathering of leopard sharks, as pregnant sharks flock to the beaches near La Jolla Cove for their young to develop. La Jolla Cove also features seven sea caves, including Clam Cave, which snorkelers can swim through when the tide is right.
Finally, snorkelers can check out an underwater graveyard located some 100 yards from the La Jolla Cove Bridge Club. Situated 35 feet underwater, the graveyard (known as ?Tombstones?) features several markers in remembrance of deceased spear fishermen and members of the ?Bottom Scratchers,? North American?s first diving and spearfishing club. To this day, markers are still placed to honor free divers from the region.
2. Channel Islands National Park
One of the most beautiful, biodiverse areas in California, Channel Islands National Park is located off the coast of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Five of the eight Channel Islands are protected as part of Channel Islands National Park, and some of the best areas are near Anacapa and east of the Santa Cruz islands.
Snorkelers need a wetsuit to enter the chilly waters, which have a temperature of just 52 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the astounding views are worth it. This area requires strong swimming skills to withstand the strong currents and waves. This also means a dry snorkel is necessary.
The Channel Islands offer some of the best snorkeling and diving in California, with a mix of both tropical and cold-water experiences. The area offers a visibility of approximately 50 feet. Snorkelers can expect to see a diverse array of wildlife, from sea lion and seals to dolphins and whales.
3. Catalina Island
Located 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, Catalina Island is surrounded by clear waters teeming with marine life. With 80 feet of visibility, the waters give snorkelers the opportunity to see such marine life as horn sharks, giant sea bass, eels, and even yellowtail tuna. One of the best sites on the island is Lover?s Cove, a protected bay with abundant sea life and dense kelp forests.
Another great spot is Casino Point Dive Park near Avalon, the biggest town on the island. In addition to plants such as giant kelp, this underwater park features shipwrecks and abundant sea life, including sea urchins, spiny lobsters, sea cucumbers, tree fish, and sometimes octopus.
4. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe offers a unique freshwater snorkeling experience. One of the best spots for snorkeling is at Sand Harbor, which features a 2,500-foot beach and teal waters. Snorkelers can observe the massive boulders on the lake floor. Sand Harbor even boasts a bay dedicated to snorkeling and scuba diving.
Another great spot for snorkeling is the West Shore?s Emerald Bay. The Bay is home to an underwater forest of pine trees that fell into the water during a landslide. Snorkelers also get the opportunity to see a pair of old wooden barges that steamers used to transport cargo across the lake.
Snorkelers should also check out D.L. Bliss State Park, which offers 75 feet of visibility through beautiful blue waters. Popular snorkeling spots in the park include Rubicon Point and the cliff-jumping area, where snorkelers can explore a rock wall with a depth of more than 800 feet.
5. Laguna Beach
One of the best snorkeling spots in Southern California, Laguna Beach is home to Heisler Park Ecological Reserve. The location features crystal-clear waters perfect for snorkeling. One of the highlights of this area is Shaw?s Cove, a small beach offering snorkelers views of beautiful reef structures and diverse marine life.
Visitors can sign up for a two-hour tour that takes them out to Seal Rock for a snorkeling experience that offers views of more reef structures and rich kelp forests. In the right conditions, snorkelers may get to swim alongside California sea lions.
The above five areas offer a great introduction to California?s abundant snorkeling offerings. Before exploring these areas, be sure to research the best times of year to venture out into the waters, as each season offers a unique experience as marine life migrates throughout the year. Also, be sure to check out beaches and coves nearby the above areas. You may find hidden spots full of underwater treasures that will keep you coming back each year.