There are two ways to dive Sonoma County: you can follow the crowds, or you can venture out on your own. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. At popular spots like Gerstle, Ocean, or Timber Coves, you will find easy access to the water, diver-friendly facilities, and plenty of parking. You will also find plenty of other divers and less game. Out of the way places often require a bit more work getting to and from the water, but you’ll seldom have a hard time finding game, and you may not see another diver.
Kruse Ranch area offers some of the finest near-shore abalone diving in Sonoma County, but you must pay the price. All of the entries are almost a one-half mile hike from Highway 1. Simply take one of the trails from the turnouts, and follow it to the ocean. Although they are long, the trails are drop at a moderate rate, and the path does not involve any climbing. There are numerous entry spots. Pick one that suits the conditions de jour, and your comfort level.
Once in the water it is a short, 20-yard swim to good abalone hunting. The near shore surface is covered with a thick bed of bull kelp during the late spring through fall. This kelp is easy for abalone divers to swim over and through. Beneath the bull kelp is a rock and boulder bottom. Rocks offer hiding places for abalone and are mostly covered with short-stalked algae. There is a conspicuous absence of palm kelp near shore, and abalone may be easily spotted on the rocky bottom.
There are a fair number of abalone here, but no monsters. Most are over 8 inches and few are over 9, but they are very abundant in 10 to 15 feet of water. With some reservation I would say this is a great spot to take beginner abalone divers, due to the shallow water, abundance of abalone, and underwater terrain that makes it easy to find them. However, entries may be tricky if the swell is up, and there is a long walk to the entry point, so divers here should be ocean savvy and physically fit. Beginners should not dive here unless they are with an experienced diver.
Due to the long walk from the road, I’ve never heard of anyone hauling a tank down to the beach; however, it is a comfortable ride from Gerstle Cove if you have your own inflatable. The rocky bottom continues out from the shallows and is marked with large boulders and mini walls. In deeper water the bottom is even more impressive, with large rocks and cracks, rocky outcroppings and swim-throughs.
The textured bottom offers plenty of shelter for abalone, rockfish and lingcod. Large anemones and colorful sponges add color to the scenery, and game hunting gets better as you move offshore towards reefs that are 60 feet deep.
Kruse Ranch is a great place to bring the family. Non-divers and photographers will enjoy the rugged shoreline that is sculpted by wind and waves into an artful display of arches, caves, canyons and textured surfaces. There are numerous places to get out of the wind and enjoy a picnic or nap, while the divers bring home the bacon.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: At the extreme northern boundary of Salt Point State Park, Sonoma County.
Access: Park at one of the turnouts at mile markers SON 44.00, 43.90, or 43.66 along Highway 1. There are many trails to the ocean, almost all are one-half mile long, but not very steep. Once you arrive at the bluff there are numerous ways to scamper/climb a short distance to the water. Choose yours based on the size and direction of swell, as well as your climbing and diving abilities. There are no facilities. Boats may be launched from Gerstle Cove.
Depths: 10 to 80 feet.
Visibility: Fair, 10 to 30 feet.
Photography: Fair macro; better photography may be found elsewhere.
Hunting: Great hunting for 8-to 9-inch abalone. Poor to fair spearfishing for rockfish and lingcod.
Hazards: This part of the coast is exposed to prevailing weather and offers little protection. Dive here on only the calmest of days. Watch for big swell and waves and thick kelp.