The next time you are heading out of L.A. for Ventura or Santa Barbara take the coastal route. Highway 1, also known as Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) or just Coast Highway, passes through the famous Malibu colony but more importantly directly along side some of the best coastal scenery in all of Southern California.
As you travel, glance toward the sea on occasion and you’ll notice large kelp forests hugging the shoreline at many places. Beneath these canopies are excellent dive sites, reefs with abundant marine life.
To the northwest of Malibu and below Oxnard is the small beach at Deer Creek Road in Ventura County. Here the kelp forest is particularly close to shore. The diving at this location is quite rewarding. Most divers choose to spend their time at nearby Leo Carrillo State Beach so this site sees fewer visitors in spite of the fact that it is in plain sight and just a stone’s throw from the highway as you travel.
To access the small sandy beach you’ll park along the south side of the highway. There are only 27 steps to the entry point. The surf hits as a sharp shore break so it is best to avoid this location with any more than a two-foot surf lest you get dropped hard on exit. Watch for the rocks in the surf.
The bottom slopes steeply just beyond the surf zone leading to a sand-and rock-strewn sea floor. Although you’ll likely find some cool stuff in this area, like good-sized halibut, it is best to head to the outer fringes of the kelp forest to avoid the frequent strong surge in the shallows. There is a kelp-free channel right off the beach leading to the outer edges of the forest a little over 100 yards out. The best bottom profile is to the left with a fair amount of ledges and crevices but to the right is also very good.
It is in the crevices that you’ll find the most interesting animals including California spiny lobster. Bug hunters here should be pleased. While only a few are big enough to be of legal size, you should be able to find dinner for the evening. Remember to hunt only in season and respect fish and game regulations.
The kelp forest is beautiful, lush and healthy. Although the water clarity here is not always the best, averaging 15 to 20 feet, the slight haze adds a dramatic effect as the sunlight filters through the kelp and water column.
Even if you are not into lobster hunting you will find a lot of interesting critters. Nudibranchs are common, especially the brilliant purple-blue and neon orange-fringed Spanish shawl. Other species to look for include the hermissenda and Hilton’s nudibranchs. Chestnut cowries shine along the rocks. Big Norris top snails dot the kelp stalks as they feed on their veggie diet. Wavy turbans are exceptionally large here, and sea hares are extremely common. On my most recent dive they were beyond counting.
There are plenty of photo opportunities, especially in macro mode, but getting through the surf with a camera can be a challenge.
In the water column you will find the usual fare of kelp forest fish including señoritas, bright orange garibaldi, opaleye and a variety of kinds of perch. Calico bass are present here but are small, so leave your speargun behind unless you are hunting halibut.
Deer Creek is a very worthwhile dive site to explore and, if the surf is low, quite easy. So the next time you are heading up and down Highway 1 and you see the kelp just a stone’s throw from the pavement, stop and check it out.
Location: At intersection of Highway 1 and Deer Creek Road in eastern Ventura County.
Access and Entry: Park along highway. 27 steps to sand beach entry.
Skill Level: All those experienced at beach diving.
Depths: To 35 feet.
Visibility: Fair, 15 feet average, better during offshore winds.
Hunting: Fair to poor. Occasional halibut and some lobster in season.
Photography: Good macro, fair wide-angle in kelp forest
Hazards: Surf. Avoid if larger than two-foot surf is present.