We headed out for Laguna Beach on a bright sunny morning with the intent of diving Shaw’s Cove. I love diving Shaw’s Cove. Problem is, so does everybody else.
With no parking available we headed in the direction of nearby Diver’s Cove. To my pleasant surprise there was a parking spot directly in front of the short stairway to the beach. Silly as it might sound, this is how our dive site was chosen this day by availability of parking.
Along this relatively small section of Laguna Beach the coast is a series of small beaches, coves and rocky points. Crescent Bay is attached to Shaw’s Cove down the coast and then to Fisherman’s Cove (a.k.a. Boat Canyon) and then Diver’s Cove. The shore access paths and stairs to Fisherman’s Cove and Diver’s Cove are only steps from each other so it is easy to start your dive at Diver’s Cove, submerge, and proceed underwater around the point, across the reefs and though the kelp, emerging at Fisherman’s Cove. That was our plan; to dive this site in a loop.
Diver’s Cove is protected from the prevailing northwest weather by a small rocky point just to the right as you face out to sea. Consequently I prefer entering at Diver’s and exiting at Fisherman’s. Water entry at Diver’s Cove is generally easy across the sand beach. Fisherman’s is also a sand beach but there is a sharp shore break and shallow reef on the southeast side that you need to avoid.
Diver’s Cove has long been part of a preserve and Fisherman’s Cove was just added in the last few years. These, combined with the recent return of the kelp forests, are key factors in the marine life here exploding.
Kelp is thick and lush but not so dense as to prevent passage. The usual kelp creatures here have increased in size and number since the last time I dived here when there was little kelp. Sheephead always seem to be an indication of the health of a kelp forest ecosystem. Most are still on the small side but more tri-colored males are showing up. Abundant, friendly garibaldis appear to be especially sociable and prolific. There are mini-schools of senoritas passing in and out of the kelp and black perch and opaleye grazing.
Those looking to spy on invertebrates will do best on the outer portions of the reef. Color and photo ops are provided by a variety of nudibranchs, stars, sheep crabs, anemones, and colorful urchins. Mollusks include the sea hare, California cone snail, and chestnut cowries. You’ll also note the large number of rock scallops gazing out from the reef with their shy orange and brown smiles. Remember, these too are protected.
My favorite invertebrates are the stands of gorgonian. Most common is the brown gorgonian, a tough species that can handle heavy surge that occasionally washes through this area.
The reef meets the sand about 30 feet down. Directly out from Diver’s cove is a mini-wall with lots of scallops and barred sand bass. Follow the edge of the reef around to where it turns left northwest up the coast. Again heading along its edge where you can weave in and out of the nearby kelp making your observations and explorations.
Eventually you will come across a large gap in the reef leading toward shore. Follow this a short way in and you will find yourself in Mermaid’s Grotto, a large depression in the reef filled with sand. Cracks branch off but the largest is directly toward shore. The gap is only about 8 feet wide, 25 feet at the bottom and about 10 feet or less a the top. It is an exciting geological feature to explore. On this particular dive we had plenty of air left so we chose to continue along the reef edge heading again northwest.
Beach diving along Laguna Beach is understandably quite popular. Many of the coves are well protected, visibility is good, and marine life is abundant, although parking is limited. When possible, plan to arrive early or dive mid-week, and be open to visiting alternate dive sites.
Location: Access to beach at Diver’s Cove is at 623 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach. Fisherman’s Cove is just a few feet to the right on the other side of the condos.
Skill level: All with beach diving experience.
Diving Depths: 10 to 30 feet.
Visibility: Averages 15 to 20 feet.
Access and entry: Limited parking. Easy beach entry at Divers Cove, a bit more challenging at Fisherman‚äôs
Conditions: Do not dive here when surf is higher than three feet. Can be surgy in shallows.
Hunting: None. This is a Marine Protected Area.
Photography: Good on calm days with a beautiful kelp forest and lots of marine life.
Restrictions: No person shall conduct any class of instruction in scuba diving or skin diving from June fifteenth to September fifteenth before 7 a.m. or after 10 a.m. on any day on public beaches. Divers must be also properly equipped and have a buddy. For exact civil codes visit http://qcode.us/codes/lagunabeach
Special Note: Always be courteous to residents keeping activities quiet, not disrobing in public, blocking driveways, etc.