Much of the diving activity at San Clemente Island takes place in Pyramid Cove, a large bay at the south end of the island. It’s understandable. The Pyramid Cove has numerous dive sites, but more importantly, it is generally calm and protected from prevailing northwest weather.
But far superior, if you ask me, is a tiny cove to the east beside the oddly shaped rock for which all this area is named—Pyramid Head. Just like
Pyramid Cove, this area is still protected from prevailing northwest weather. The cove is calm much of the year.
The bottom topography is varied and exciting. There is something for everyone. The advanced diver will want to head for the wall just outside the cove. From 60 or 70 feet the rock bottom drops away vertically to a 120-foot sand bottom. And the visibility is so good here, at 60 to 80 feet, sometimes 100, you will get an incredible sense of awe peering out into the deep blue sea. If you choose to head down the wall, you will find wispy pink gorgonians clinging to the rock faces. At the base of the wall, overhangs provide hiding places for lobster and rockfish. Some overhangs go back so far as to be almost considered caverns. Keep a sharp eye out for black sea bass or bat rays hanging out in these deep sections. The outer portions of the cove tend to be swept by currents so use caution. Channels can be found in the rock face that can be used as conduits to move between the deeper sections and shallow reef. Look for interesting fish like big sheephead in these same channels.
This site is also a good beginner spot. Within the cove the bottom is shallow, 20 to 50 feet, calm and protected, perfect for the novice. And there is a lot to see. The bottom is rocks and ledges, some with overhangs. Thick lush kelp is home to schools of opaleye, halfmoons, and blacksmith. On the reefs those looking for color and macro photographers will find corynactus anemones, Spanish shawl nudibranchs, blue-banded gobies, and an unusually large number of zebra gobies. There are bat stars, bright orange-red blood stars, and the more subdued burgundy and gray fragile stars.
A wide variety of subjects, colors, and angles of the reef, as well as the beautiful thick kelp forest make this an excellent site for underwater photographer—or for those that just want to hit the bottom and relax.
Underwater hunting here is only fair. There are lobster but most are small. Rock scallops are sparse and small as well. Spearfishers might find some action with calico bass in kelp or in shallow or, better yet, for the more experienced hunter, yellowtail have been known to cruise the outer edges.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Just east of Pyramid Head (a pyramid-shaped rock) on the southeast end of San Clemente Island (GPS N 32°48.979′, W118°21.140′. Do use GPS as sole source of navigation).
Access: Boat only, keep off Navy-controlled island.
Skill Level: Beginner inside cove, intermediate or better outside.
Visibility: Excellent, 60 to 80 foot average.
Photography: Excellent with lush kelp; lots of reef angles and animals to photograph.
Hunting: Fair; most lobster short, sparse rock scallops. Some calicos to spearfish in kelp. Look for yellowtail cruising edges.
Hazards: Thick kelp in cove. Currents possible outside. Watch depth outside.