Along California’s North Coast there are basically two types of dive sites. First are the popular sites. These are easy to find, are in every dive guide or magazine overview article, and are prominently identified on road maps using the secret word “cove.” Most of these have diver-friendly facilities.
The other type of site is the uncommon site (AKA secret sites). These are not identified on any map, are hard to find, and have no facilities. In general you must have a friend who shows you the location, or spend time finding sites for yourself. I regularly drive along the coast looking for new sites. Last season I found a few cars parked along the side of the road and followed the trail to the coast. Viola, a new dive site!
Local divers call this spot South Cove because it is south of the large and prominent Fisk Mill Cove. A short and level trail takes you to the bluff face, and there is a short scamper down the bluff trail to the rocky beach. This trail is easy enough for all but the most hopelessly out-of-shape divers.
A rocky point and an offshore reef protects the beach and entry. The area inshore of a line drawn north from the south point of the cove is shallow (10 to 15 feet) and is rocky with jumbles of large boulders. This is a fun spot for new free divers, particularly children, to explore. There is a good collection of marine life: anemones, crabs, sea stars, palm and featherboa kelp. The offshore reef turns this area into a giant tide pool, even in a moderate swell.
There are fair numbers of small (seven to eight inch) abalone here, but you have to work a bit to find them. That means looking under rocks and parting palm kelp. This is a great place to take beginner abalone divers, or divers with limited breath-hold ability. They will need to spend some time, but will likely come home with at least one abalone.
More experienced divers will want to venture past the reef into deeper water (30 to 40 feet). Here you will find a nicely textured rock and sand bottom. Rock walls jut up vertically from sand bottom, much like city walls. In other places they form wide canyons. This area has a thick bed of bull kelp in summer and fall.
The rock walls are dotted with larger-than-average telia anemones. These red and white anemones add color to the reef and are accompanied by colorful puffball and encrusting sponges. There are few fish up here these days. A few perch and sculpins may be found among the kelp fronds.
Those who can free dive to 30 or 40 feet will thoroughly enjoy abalone hunting here. Most of the abs are in clear view, on the rock walls, just off the sand bottom. Most are over eight and a half inches, and many are over nine. Even without the large numbers of abalone, this is a great place to free dive since the vertical walls are colorful and breathtaking.
I have seen few divers haul tanks down the bluff here, but access to deep water after only a 40-yard swim would make this one of the more comfortable beach dives along this part of the coast. Otherwise, it is a fun place to hunt for abalone.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: In Salt Point State Park, Sonoma County.
Access: Divers should park at a little turnout on the west side of Hwy. 1 at SON 42.36, and follow the trail to the bluff and out and down a point of land. Follow the trail to the beach on the inshore side of the rocky point. There are no facilities.
Visibility: Good, 15 to 25 feet.
Depths: 10 to 50 feet.
Skill Level: Beginner or better.
Photography: Good macro photography, good wide-angle photography for reef scenes when the visibility is good.
Hunting: Good abalone hunting, poor spearfishing
Hazards: Watch for big surf and swell, thick kelp in summer and fall.