Divers who enjoy hunting their own seafood from South Orange County waters should consider a trip to Corona Del Mar State Beach. While this beach is part of the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area, spearfishing of finfish as well as hand grabbing lobster and urchin hunting is allowed. And it is also an appealing dive for sightseeing or practicing underwater photography.
Spearfishers will find hunting the barred sand bass — relatives of the coveted calico, or “kelp” bass — the most rewarding. Some are quite large and there seems to be no shortage. Keep an eye out when crossing the nearby sand flats, too, as you may find the occasional halibut.
Lobster hunters will find legal-sized bugs in moderate supply. Remember to follow all fish and game regulations including the proper season, this year beginning September 28 and running through March 19, 2014. Night diving is an option but keep in mind the park closes at 10:00 p.m.
The last time I visited here my main goal was sightseeing and photography and there was no shortage of material. My favorite was the large bright yellow lemon nudibranchs on the rocks. We spotted several lemons along with the many vibrant orange and purple-blue Spanish shawl nudibranchs. Other shell-less molluscs (slugs) here are the nudibranch-eating navanax and the passive, vegetarian sea hare.
Like most of South Orange County reefs, colorful orange garibaldis are very common. Schooling fish here include opaleye, jack mackerel, and blacksmith. Small sheephead patrol the reef and painted greenlings, island kelpfish and ghost gobies give you more material for challenging macro photography.
Attracting the marine life is the thick and healthy kelp forest and excellent reef structure, most of it to the southeast. As you face the ocean head to the farthest buoy to the left, out about 100 yards. These buoys mark the boundary for personal watercraft. Descend and head left and southeast toward the major section of the kelp forest. There are a number of low-lying reefs but if you continue down the coast and offshore you will come across a couple of major pinnacles, the largest of which rises from a 28-foot bottom to nearly eight feet from the surface. Big boulders, small caves, and deep crevices surround this pinnacle. This entire portion of the reef is probably the size of a small house with mini-walls and overhangs. Decorating the rock faces are sponges, anemones, stars, and small stands of gorgonian. Kelp is healthy here.
The farther you head southeast, the thicker the kelp, so venture into this area only if you and your buddy are trained and equipped for kelp diving.
Save enough air on your dive to spend time in the shallows. Although you’ll likely encounter surge here, you may see rays and leopard sharks lounging on the sand, especially during the summer and early fall. Follow the reef ridges that run in toward shore along the southeast side of the beach.
Access to the shoreline is easy. Located just to the southeast of the outside of the Newport Harbor breakwater, the beach is well protected from prevailing northwest weather. Waves are usually small. Surf entries are easy across a gently sloping sand bottom, but avoid this area when a southerly swell is running.
Off Ocean Blvd. in Newport Beach, it is a short drive down Breakers Drive to a parking lot right on the beach (Actual address is 3001-3099 E. Shore Ave., Newport Beach). Facilities are excellent with restrooms and showers. Access to the park carries a hefty entrance fee of $15 per car.
Inspiration Point overlook on Ocean Blvd. has limited free street parking and a paved path that leads to the beach at the point of water entry. It is long and steep but it’s free. Even if you choose to park on the beach you should come to this overlook first to check conditions from the bluff view. Bring binoculars.
Corona Del Mar State Beach is a popular beach, especially on summer weekends. Arrive in the early a.m. to get the best parking spots. The beach opens at 6 a.m.
In spite of the entrance fee, this is one of my favorite dives off South Orange County. With the popularity of nearby Laguna Beach, this spot gets less diver pressure and here you can hunt seafood if desired.
Location: Car access to beach at the intersection of Ocean Blvd. and Breakers Drive in Newport Beach. Check out conditions first at Inspiration Point at the intersection Ocean Blvd. and Narcissus Ave.
Access and entry: Easy walk across sand to sandy beach surf entry. Alternate access is from Inspiration Point overlooking site from the bluffs above.
Skill level: All.
Depths: Shallow to 30 feet.
Visibility: Averages 15 to 20 feet.
Snorkeling: Good on shallow reefs when calm.
Photography: Good for both macro and wide-angle.
Hunting: Fair to good for barred sand bass and occasional halibut on the sand. Lobster hunting is fair to good also. Taking of rock scallops is prohibited.
Facilities: Excellent with restrooms and showers.
Conditions: (949) 494-6573.