Driving west from Los Angeles on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), travelers will enjoy breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and long stretches of sandy beachfront punctuated by rocky points and dotted with luxury waterfront homes. There’s a lot of natural beauty to behold, yet many divers may barely notice it as they make their way to the most famous and largest kelp forest in this area, at Leo Carillo State Beach. Or perhaps they’re on their way farther north to catch a dive charter out of Ventura or Santa Barbara. But for divers who are “in the know” this area has just as much beauty below the waterline as it does at the surface. Las Tunas and Corral Beaches are just short drives from the end of the I-10 freeway along the beach in Santa Monica, and offer impressive kelp forests very close to shore. This area is part of the 1,000-acre Corral Canyon State Park, which protects a span of the Santa Monica Mountains between Dan Blocker Beach and Malibu Creek State Park. This is the only canyon on the LA County side of the range that remains undeveloped from the ridge top down to the PCH.
The kelp forest at Corral Beach is home to an impressive population of sizeable perch, opaleye, and barred sand bass. Most of the reefs are low lying you’ll also find some good-sized boulders and an occasional ledge that holds octopus and a few lobsters. The best lobster hunting is to the west in the larger kelp forest. If you’re hunting with a camera, photo opps include Spanish shawl nudibranchs, sheep crabs, and gorgonian sea fans.
The shortest swim to the kelp is off the northwest end of the beach across the highway from the currently abandoned restaurant with the green copper dome (26035 Pacific Coast Highway). There is plenty of parking just off the southbound portion of the highway. Easiest access is the trail with steps on the northwest end of the beach and the kelp and reef below is just 100 yards offshore.
Before heading down to the water take a few minutes to look over the dive site. Depending on the tide there will be rocks here and there in the usually small surf. This location is best dived at high tide but even so you need to be cautious of these slippery rocks either in the surf zone or just beyond.
Protected from the prevailing northwest weather, surf is usually calm here except during times of heavy storms or a wicked south swell. Check appropriate surf and ocean condition reports online before driving to the site. It’s best to avoid this location after a heavy rain, as there is drainage nearby. Water clarity is consistently fair to good, around 10 to 15 feet. Best visibility is right after or during a period of Santa Ana winds, which also help to lay the surf down a bit.
Depending on recent weather conditions and water temperatures kelp here can be thick so use good kelp diving techniques. Make sure your gear is streamlined and be sure to leave a reserve supply of air in case you need to exit the water by dropping under the kelp canopy instead of swimming at the surface.
The next time you’re looking for a dive spot in the Los Angeles area, give the area around Las Tunas and Corral Beaches a try. You’ll be pleased with an easily accessible — and very enjoyable — kelp forest adventure.
Location: In Malibu at 26035 Pacific Coast Highway just across from the abandoned restaurant.
Skill level: All with beach and kelp diving experience.
Diving depths: 15 to 30 feet.
Visibility: Fair, averaging 10 to 15 feet.
Access: Easy beach entry down a short trail with a few steps.
Conditions: For the most part protected but diving here is not recommended during or after a storm or a south swell. Currents are rare.
Hunting: Fair spearfishing for calico bass and halibut. A few lobster.
Photography: Macro good. Wide-angle okay but the visibility can be a deterrent.