Fall is my favorite time of year to dive California. Schools are back in session and the beaches are empty. The coastal fog and wind all but disappears, the water is the warmest of the year, and visibility among the best. On these clear, calm days, I seek out sites that get little attention from summer divers. One of my favorite fall dives is Point Pinos.
Point Pinos defines the southern point of the Monterey Bay, and was named by Able Du Petit-Thouars in 1837 after its many pine trees. Over the years this point has proven itself to be treacherous to shipping; indeed, many ships have come to rest on the jagged, offshore rocks including the Frank H. Buck on May 3, 1924. The Point Pinos Lighthouse was erected during 1853-4 and is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast.
Shore divers may enter on either side of the point, and will have to navigate through a bit of shallow water to reach deeper water. The inshore bottom consists mostly of wave-cleaned granite boulders. As one gets deeper the rocks are covered with an unusual assortment of tough algae. The conditions here are often so rough that only these hardy plants can survive here. This is somewhat of a unique environment, and I have only seen assortments of algae like this at exposed spots at the Farallons and on the North Coast. Due to the often rough and changeable conditions, this is an advanced shore dive.
As the water gets deeper the bottom evolves into a jumble of huge boulders that form seaward-pointing canyons with steep-sided walls. This is a great place to explore and to seek out small critters hiding among the rocks. The near shore rocks support a thick bed of giant kelp. The bottom falls away in a series of giant steps from 40 feet to well over 100 feet. Divers will find a highly textured bottom with giant granite boulders, caves and valleys.
The rock is honeycombed with many small cracks and holes in 90-110 feet of water, and provides shelter for a diverse population of fish and invertebrates. Here you will find an assortment of colorful sponges, anemones, tiny crabs, and shrimp to delight the most demanding macro photographer. This is a good spot to photograph species of nudibranchs that are relatively uncommon on inshore reefs like the white-lined dirona, a nudibranch that looks like an armadillo with plate-like covering. In over 100 feet of water lies the biggest bed of rock scallops in the bay. Look, but don’t touch; they are in a reserve.
Point Pinos is noted for its large population of lingcod, cabezon and assorted species of rockfish. Larger fish will sulk on the bottom while schools of blue rockfish as well as schools of bait fish will move through the kelp bed, or mill around at its edge.
Divers should note that this site is more comfortably dived from a boat, but on calm days it makes a great beach dive for advanced divers. In addition to the dive, do take some time to explore the historic Point Pinos Lighthouse.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Point Pinos is located at the northern tip of the Monterey Peninsula.
Access and entry: Beach divers may park in one of the turnoffs near one of several entry points. Boats may be launched from the Monterey Breakwater. Monterey’s Charter Boats dive this area.
Depth: 20 to 120 feet
Visibility: Good, 20 to 50 feet.
Skill: Intermediate or better from a boat; only very experienced divers who are familiar with the Monterey area should plan a beach diver here, and only then on the calmest of days.
Photography: Great wide-angle reef shots, and macro for unusual invertebrates.
Hunting: Point Pinos is part of both the Asilomar State Marine Reserve and the Pacific Grove State Marine Gardens Marine Conservation Area. Check California Dept. of Fish and Game Regulations. Basically there is no take southwest of the line drawn from the point to the offshore buoy, and only finfish may be taken northeast of the line.
Hazards: Divers should watch for thick kelp, currents, boat traffic, and large waves; and be observant since conditions can change rather quickly here.