Sometimes I seek out challenging sites with access to exposed reefs, deeper water and large animals. At other times I prefer to experience a relaxing dive, with an easy entry and exit, and plenty of colorful critters to photograph. Monterey County offers a great variety of dive sites, so there are plenty of sites to choose from depending on my mood and conditions. One of the most relaxing sites is San Carlos Beach.
San Carlos Beach may be found at the end of Cannery Row in Monterey. This lovely beach was once the site of the San Carlos Canning Company that was located on the beach near the Breakwater. The cannery was built in 1927 and was owned by a group of boat owners and fishermen, what we would today call a cooperative, in defiance of the larger, corporate canneries. The cannery closed in the late 1940s after most of Monterey’s sardines were put in cans, and the facility became home to the National Automotive Fibers Company. The old warehouse caught fire on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1956 and the San Carlos facility and the adjacent E.B Gross Canning Company burnt to the ground.
Today divers access the beach through the San Carlos Beach Park. Most divers swim on the surface a short distance to the kelp bed and submerge there. The dive is on a rock and sand patch reef, and the rocky reef supports the thickest bed of giant kelp left in Monterey. The kelp, in turn, supports a large number of kelp-eating invertebrates and fish that like to eat those invertebrates, or simply to hide in the kelp. Look for fuzzy bryozoans on the kelp along with a number of snails like the blue-ring top snail. The rocks are covered with an assortment of colorful sponges and tunicates.
The sand bottom is also full of life. You will find blackeye gobies along with plenty of sand dabs on the sand. If you are lucky you might come across a California halibut, turbot or sole. There are also patches of tube-dwelling anemones. Their stalks stick out of the sand and support a large number of long tentacles that move gracefully in the mild surge.
From the rocky reef some divers follow a pipe out to sea. This pipe begins near the end of Reeside Avenue and points towards the field of metridium anemones that may be found at about 65 feet of water. It is a long swim to get to the anemones, but divers can use the pipe as an aid for navigation. It is hard to get lost if you follow the pipe out and back. Near the offshore end of the pipe are larger rock piles that are fun to explore. These are home to more encrusting invertebrates and fish-eating anemones. These rock piles are also good spots to find nudibranchs. Most of them are yellow dorids, but on a recent dive there were a number of horned nudibranchs. This pipe was once used to transport sardines from fishing boats to the San Carlos Canneries.
This site is very near the Coast Guard Breakwater where hundreds of California sea lions rest during the day. If you are lucky they take an interest in you and check you out very closely. One thing you will not have a hard time finding are sea nettles. They have accumulated in the bay by the thousands this year. They have a mild sting so you should keep them away from your exposed lips.
A number of warmer water animals from Southern California have found their way up north during the past seven years. Divers report numerous sightings of small, female sheephead, some garibaldi, and even a few California spiny lobsters. I suspect the latter won’t last long here since sea otters really enjoy a tasty lobster dinner, and were observed gnawing away at small lobsters.
So if you are looking for a relaxing dive with lots of critters, San Carlos Beach is made just for you. There are plenty of facilities nearby, including Breakwater Scuba. And it is only a short walk to good restaurants and the Monterey Bay Aquarium should a non-diver be part of your group.
Skill Level: Beginner or better.
Location: San Carlos Beach may be found at the intersection of Reeside Avenue and Cannery Row, between Monterey Bay Inn and The Breakwater.
Access: Park in the fee lot between The Breakwater and Reeside Avenue. It is a short walk via stone stairs to a narrow, sandy beach. This lots fills up on summer weekends, so plan on arriving before 9 am.
Facilities: Restrooms are available at the end of Reeside Ave. Breakwater Scuba is located on Cannery Row near Reeside.
Entry and Exit: Enter off the sand beach. This is one of the most protected entries in Monterey.
Depth: 15 to 65 feet
Visibility: 10 to 30 feet
Photography: Great macro photography for nudibranchs, other invertebrates, and small fish.
Hunting: None for divers. San Carlos Beach is within Ed Ricketts State Marine Conservation Area, only finfish may be taken with hook and line, no spearfishing is permitted.