Divers are fortunate to have many highly regarded charter boats operating out of Monterey Bay, but the area also offers interesting beach diving. Looking north and east from the large parking lot at the foot of Wharf #2, you’ll notice a beautiful, wide sandy beach filled with divers, kayakers, sailors and other happy ocean enthusiasts. This beach was originally part of the Del Monte Hotel complex, which was one of the finest resorts in California when it was built in 1880. Today the beach is owned by the State of California and the hotel is part of the US Naval Postgraduate School.
Offshore of Del Monte Beach, divers find a habitat that is unique to the Monterey Bay. The shallow water is mostly sand with extensive beds of sand dollars. As the water deepens a bit the sand gives way to fields of eelgrass. Beginning about 200 yards offshore from Wharf #2 and running parallel to shore is a large shale reef. The shale is attacked by a species of boring clam that rasps away burrows into the soft shale by holding onto the shale with its foot and using its shell as a scraping tool. The clams dramatically change the nature of the ecosystem since their abandoned burrows provide homes to other critters.
Small, unusual fish like the yellowfin fringehead love to hide in abandoned clam burrows. These tiny fish make great photographic subjects since they are so beautifully colored and they are fearless. They are what every photographer dreams of — a photogenic subject that is willing to sit still. Less cooperative, but nonetheless photogenic are the many octopuses. They like to hide, and will often retreat as a photographer approaches.
Some of the offshore areas are rather flat and uninteresting, but areas that stand up from the flat bottom are full of life. One of the more spectacular is called Shale Island (GPS: N 36° 36.531′ W 121° 52.786′). Here divers find a raised plateau, three to five feet off the bottom. The invertebrate life here is outstanding — numerous species of nudibranch, burrowing clams, colorful sponges, colorful shrimp. Swell sharks eggs are often found here.
There are numerous, huge anchors and enormous blocks of concrete strewn about the area along with lengths of gigantic chain links. These were mostly used to anchor oil tankers offshore while they there loaded by the Associated Oil Company. These anchors and associated concrete blocks move around a bit, since the cruise ships that now frequent Monterey regularly hook them. The most recent information I have places anchors at N 36° 36.841′ W 121° 52.925′, N 36° 36.874′ W 121° 52.938′, and N 36° 36.875′ W 121° 53.008′. These are covered with encrusting marine life and offer a colorful dive spot.
Del Monte Beach stands out as the best location in the Monterey Bay for hunting halibut. Throughout most of the year halibut spend time in deep water, and then move inshore to spawn. The timing of this migration varies from year to year, but you can normally find them off Del Monte Beach beginning in late spring through summer. The entire Del Monte beach area is good for hunting halibut and the fish tend to move around in loosely associated groups. Some divers prefer to scuba dive in 20-40 feet of water while others like to free dive just off the surf line. The submerged remains of a pier lie about 200 yards west of the intersection of Park Street with Del Monte Beach, and halibut tend to be herded into shallow water by this structure. Otherwise, divers with boats should hunt off of California State University, Monterey Bay.
If you are looking for a different sightseeing experience, great macro photography or spearfishing for halibut, Del Monte Beach can provide a wonderful dive. Afterwards you can enjoy a nap on the beach, enjoy a game of Frisbee, or dining at one of the restaurants that feature local seafood.
The author wishes to thank Chuck Tribolet for providing GPS coordinates.
Location: In Monterey between Wharf #2 and California State University.
Access and Facilities: Paid parking is available at the foot of Wharf #2, and in the small lot next to Monterey Bay Kayaks. Additional parking may be found near the end of Park Street. Restrooms and restaurants may be found in the Fishermen’s Wharf and Wharf #2. Divers with boats may launch at the Breakwater or Fisherman’s Wharf and head out to the waters off the California State University, Monterey Bay.
Depth: 10 to 40 feet
Visibility: 5 to 15 feet
Skill Level: Novice or better
Hunting: Fine spearfishing for halibut in late spring and summer.
Photography: Good macro photography.
Hazards: Watch for boats.