“Wow! What is all that?” exclaimed the out-of-state diver as he gazed across the vast biological soup extending to Point La Jolla. Kelp—one of the largest and healthiest forests in the state. It rolled in the swell. Birds rested on the massive surface clumps. Below the boat, you could see that the individual strands made up twisted vine-like strands buoyed to the sky, supported by grape-like air bladders with a single long leaf attached.
Depending on the season, current climate mode and storms, this forest can reach over two miles in length and a mile wide. Two square miles of thick, lush kelp—Yee-Haa, let’s go diving!
As big as this kelp patch is, it is often over shadowed by its bigger brother just to the south, the Point Loma kelp forest. When most of the charter boats head for the “local kelp,” it is Point Loma to which they set their courses.
There are two reasons for this. First, Point Loma offers more dive sites with dramatic bottom structures—the ridges and valley of 3 Fingers, the drop-off of Sea Cliff, and massive boulders and overhangs of New Hope Rock. Conditions also are a bit better at Point Loma with slightly clearer water.
But with all the boats heading to Point Loma, La Jolla will have the advantages that come with fewer visitors, namely, more and bigger game.
The south end of the kelp forest (hence the name “Baja”), roughly off Bird Rock, has some very nice bottom structure. Ridges have been thrust up in a wrinkling of the earth’s crust. Here and there are rock overhangs and bottom fractures with crevices and small caves. The bottom profile rarely varies more than 10 feet, but lobster don’t need much room, just a dark hole in which to crawl.
While not overwhelmingly abundant, there are enough lobster here to keep you busy. Also, you will have to look long and hard for the big bug—but they are there. Tip: Most of the “holes” here have a back door. Get your buddy to help you covering the crustacean’s escape route for a successful grab.
As you might expect with such a large, thick kelp forest, fish life is abundant. Spearfishing is not spectacular, but good. Sheephead are abundant with an occasional big male being spotted. Calico bass are present but better hunting for this fish can be found down at Point Loma. The barred sand bass are some of the biggest you’ll find anywhere. White sea bass and yellowtail also are occasionally seen in the area, depending on the season (best in spring through summer and fall).
Between the rocky ridges are sand channels. It would look like good halibut territory, but rarely are they spotted. What is present in the sand channels, but not meant for the spear, are bat rays, guitarfish and sometimes a black sea bass.
This is not the best sightseer dive. Visibility averages 15 to 20 feet. It can be surgy and the color on the reef is limited. Leave your camera behind.
It is possible to beach dive this area but not recommended. A swim of at least 300 yards is required to reach the kelp and 30 feet of water. Access is at Bird Rock Avenue.
The best rock piles are in 40 to 60 feet of water. Much of the La Jolla kelp forest is flat rock bottom, so an experienced boat skipper is very helpful in putting you on just the right spot.
Currents are rarely a problem here. What can be a problem, however, is the thick kelp. Use proper kelp diving techniques. Allow enough air to return to the boat under the canopy. Should you become entangled, don’t turn your body to untangle; that will just lead to further entrapment. Think of yourself as a fork going into spaghetti. You turn the fork and the spaghetti sticks to the fork. If you stick the fork in, and pull it straight out, nothing sticks. If you get into the thick of the kelp “spaghetti,” just slowly back out the way you came.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Off La Jolla, south of Point La Jolla, roughly directly out from Bird Rock. GPS coordinates N32°48.373′, W117°16.725′. (Use GPS coordinates for reference only and not as your sole source of navigation.)
Access and Entry: Boat strongly recommended. Stairs to rocks at foot of Bird Rock Ave. Tough surf entry and long swim.
Depths: 30 to 60 feet
Visibility: Fair to poor, averaging 15 feet.
Skill Level: All.
Photography: Poor, some macro material.
Hunting: Fair to good. Fair amount of lobster. Spearfishing good for barred sand bass, fair for sheephead. For skilled hunters, white sea bass and yellowtail in the right seasons.
Hazards: Thick kelp.