Coast Highway Classic: Laguna’s Aliso Beach 

Laguna Beach offers some of the best beach diving in all of southern California. Most diving is immediately north of the main part of town. Countless divers have enjoyed the underwater wonders of Divers Cove, Shaw’s Cove, Crescent Bay, Picnic Beach, and other sites. But seasoned divers know there is more to the south of town. Perhaps the dive site with the easiest beach access is at Aliso Beach Park.

Cruising along southward as you head toward Dana Point, Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) dips down to beach level and the view opens up to the sea briefly. If you pass by too quickly you’ll miss the parking lot and beach. Unless you’re really looking, or pull off into the parking lot, you miss the evidence of offshore reefs and some great diving. The experienced or intermediate diver hitting this site on a calm day will be in for a delightful underwater excursion.

Aliso Point to the south has the best diving. The outer edges of the reef are quite interesting. There are overhangs, some quite deep, and fractures in the huge rock face creating narrow crevices. This is excellent territory to observe lobster and octopus. Fish are plentiful here. There are sheephead and calico as well as sand bass. Out across the sand you’ll find halibut and baby bat rays. The reefs extend for some distance to the south, broken intermittently with small sand patches.

To the north is what was formerly named Treasure Cove. This is now usually accessed from the Montage Resort with limited public parking and ramps and steps to the beach. You can access Treasure Cove from Aliso Beach but you are looking at a half-mile walk along the sand beach. Divers to this area stroll down the stairs and ramp from the resort and dive the reefs to the north.

Just to the south of the Treasure Cove area and to the north of the parking area is Halibut Rock. This is a smaller reef structure but aptly named for the halibut that can often be seen here lounging in the sand near the reef.

Directly out from the restrooms are the remains of an old pier. And to the north are two outfall pipelines that make for good but limited diving. The pipeline just to the right off the restrooms is far out and difficult to find, rising above the sand only occasionally at depths of 50 to 75 feet. Easier to find is the pipeline to the north. The pipe is located about half way between the rest rooms and north edge of the parking lot. Depths start at 30 to 35 feet and drop deeper and farther than you want to go. While the outfall pipelines are certainly interesting the main event is the rocky point to the south.

This is Aliso Point, a.k.a. Camel Point. It is fun but sometimes challenging diving. Offshore the reefs have flat tops. If it is not a calm day waves can surge up on the tall flat reefs and then spill off the sides making for confusing currents, vortexes, and rips. Enter off the sand beach and swim around to the reefs rather than stepping in or out of the water at the point or anywhere near the rocks.

Most of the beach in front of the parking lot has a sharp shore break with waves that build and crash quickly. The surf zone is narrow so it is easy to get through quickly but you must time it carefully.

This entire area is part of Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area. Nothing can be taken or disturbed.

Facilities are excellent with a seasonal snack bar, showers, large parking area ($1 an hour) and rest rooms. There are also seasonal lifeguards. Before suiting up check with them for the latest diving conditions.

The beach park is open until 11 p.m. and there are fire pits available for an after dive warm up. This is a great place to spend the entire day diving and picnicking into the evening.

 

At-A-Glance 

Skill Level: Intermediate or better with beach diving experience.

Location: 31131 Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92652. Diving is to the left as you face out to sea just off the point.

Access: From the parking lot then a short walk across a sand beach.

Entry and Exit: Sand beach surf entry with sharp shore break.

Depth Range: 10 to 50 feet but averaging 35 feet.

Conditions: Good diving when calm but to be avoided in even moderate surf conditions.

Visibility: Averages 15 to 20 feet, best during fall.

Photography: Challenging because of surf entry.

Hunting: Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area. Nothing can be taken.

Cautions: Enter and exit well clear of the rocks and reef in the surf zone where the water surges and swirls.

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