|While it can hold its challenges, beach diving California can be very rewarding and even easy. There are several advantages to beach diving. First of all it is cheap! For the cost of an air fill and perhaps some quarters for parking you can have a great underwater experience. The schedule is flexible. If you want, you don't have to get up at 0-dark-thirty to catch the boat. Sleep in a bit then hit the beach. Or perhaps you don't have an entire day to commit to diving. With beach diving you can get wet for just a half a day or perhaps just a couple hours. I have known divers that have made a beach dive on a long lunch break. And finally, it is great diving! The coastline holds marine life you might not see elsewhere. On beach dives I have seen molas, dived with dolphins and even had three separate chance encounters with gray whales. Beach diving California is definitely worth it.
Southern California coastline is speckled with excellent beach dive sites from Santa Barbara to San Diego but the focal point seems to be in Laguna Beach. Here you have the largest number of good beach dives in the most concentrated area. And most of them are quite easy. Here we will focus on just four and they are literally just blocks from each other.
PICNIC BEACH (A.K.A. HEISLER PARK)
If you have not been to Picnic Beach in a while it is time to go. The kelp is back and the park has gone through a complete remodel. Thanks to replanting efforts and favorable ocean conditions the reefs are covered with kelp. Having been a preserve for many years these waters teem with friendly fish and lobster. You will find barred sand bass, sheephead, calico bass, opaleye, schools of jack mackerel and more, including the ubiquitous bright orange garibaldi.
For the best diving, head out to the outer edges of the kelp (about 150-200 yards out) and circle around to the left. Water clarity varies but averages about 15 feet. The bottom is quite interesting with rocky ridges and small pinnacles reaching up to 25 feet down from a 35-40 foot bottom.
From the bluff it is easy to observe conditions and how the kelp forest pans out. There is shore access at other of places in the park, but the easiest is at the northwest end of the directly out from the statue right off Cliff Drive. Here there is a ramp that leads down to a sandy beach with generally easy entry. If you want you can wheel your gear down to the sand and there you will find a freshwater shower. At the top of the bluff are restrooms, picnic tables and barbeques. This spot is not only popular with divers but beachgoers as well, so arrive early for your best shot at a parking spot. Parking is metered at $2 an hour with the new-fangled meters taking quarters and credit cards. There is a 4-hour limit.
Right next door, up the coast to the northwest about a block, is Diver's Cove. Again, metered parking is limited so arrive early or dive here during the week or off-season. The dive here should actually be lumped in with the dive at Fisherman's Cove, listed below. Many divers prefer to dive these two as a loop. There are several reef ridges directly out from the point, but it is more interesting to head to the right were there is a wash rock and out from there many cracks and deep crevices to explore. After exploring them head up the coast and exit at Fisherman's.
This is one of the two most protected coves in the area (the other being Shaw's). The point on the right hand side of the small cove offers protection from the prevailing northwest weather.
FISHERMAN'S COVE (A.K.A. BOAT CANYON)
Again, you can dive this also in a reverse loop ending your dive at Diver's Cove. The most popular portion of this dive is a deep hole in the reef known as Mermaid's Grotto. The reef drops suddenly from 15 feet on the top to 25 feet on the bottom. It is a good place to escape from the surge and watch the garibaldi swirl about walls adorned with gorgonian sea fans. Mermaid's Grotto can be found just to the left of the wash rock. Cracks and crevices radiate out from the grotto; one in particular heads directly toward shore that is quite deep.
Parking for Fisherman's Cove is the same as for Diver's Cove. Diver's Cove is to the south of the condos, Fisherman's to the north.
Up the Cliff Drive just a bit is the next cove with public access, Shaw's Cove. Here the parking is more limited but not metered. It is, however, the most popular of all the coves and can get crowded.
This delightful cove has short swims to fascinating dives. Main event for Shaw's is what has come to be known as "The Crevice." This interesting geological feature is a deep cut into the reef that extends from this cove to the one next door, Crescent Bay. Divers need only head seaward with the reef on your right and at about 25 feet deep (depending on the tides) it will make a sudden right hand turn. This is the entrance to the Crevice. Almost immediately you will find yourself in an underwater arch with walls spattered with mustard encrusting sponges. Bright orange garibaldi swirl about. There are a number of large cracks that shoot off the large main crevice that contain lobster, moray eels, octopus and more. Surge will push you about on all but the calmest of days. If you dare venture deeper into the gash, you will get a thrill ride on the pushes of the surge.
Don't spend your entire dive here. Head for the incredible outer reef. Or perhaps spend a completely separate additional dive seaward of the crevice. This is a great spot for gorgonian sea fans, nudibranchs and a whole host of small reef fish.
On your beach diving expedition to Laguna Beach bring more than one tank. With the ease of these dives you might want to visit more than one spot.