If you’re looking to escape the craziness of Los Angeles, drive up the Pacific Coast Highway toward Malibu and in less than an hour you’ll arrive at Leo Carrillo State Beach.Located 28 miles northwest of Santa Monica, Leo Carrillo has more than a mile and a half of beach. The park offers several dive sites to explore and is suitable for all skill levels. The kelp forest at Leo Carrillo is absolutely huge, and substantial reefs extend beyond the kelp cover into deeper water down to 50 feet, unusual for a beach dive. There are walls, pinnacles and channels galore to follow toward the depths.
If you are new to this beautiful state park, consider making your first underwater excursion at lifeguard tower number 2. There you’ll find a small cove with a rather small sand beach. The sand extends far offshore with kelp close by to both the right and left. While both sides have excellent diving, along the left side you’ll find abundant mini-walls within 100 yards from shore.
The kelp bed starts in the shallows in less than 15 feet of water. The abundant marine life, proximity to shore and the shallow bottom help make this a great site for snorkeling as well as scuba. The reef runs in ridges almost straight out from the shoreline. Most of the mini-walls and pinnacles start at a depth of about 25 feet.
Resident nudibranchs and golden gorgonian coral provide vivid splashes of color. Ochre sea stars adorn the tops of the reefs help to complete the mosaic on the rocks.
Fish life at Leo Carrillo includes female sheephead, bright orange garibaldi and black perch.
Flitting their way across the reef is an abundance of painting greenlings. Also known as convict fish because of their stripes, they can be aggressive, nipping at divers during mating season.
Octopuses are noteworthy residents of the reefs at Leo Carrillo. They are especially abundant and large. And they can be seen on almost every dive. Sometimes you will find these usually nocturnal creatures lumbering around in the day, but they usually hunker down in holes during daylight hours. To find their lairs, look for an abundance of empty clam and crab shells concentrated in a small area in front of a hole or empty shell.
The most attractive portion of the dive off lifeguard tower number 2 is healthy kelp forest and the associated kelp canopy. The kelp forest is definitely a showcase along the Southern California coast. Remember your kelp diving techniques and leave enough air to return underwater. And be sure you are well versed in the “kelp crawl” so you can move across the top of the canopy if you run low on air and need to do so.
Leo Carrillo State Park features a modest visitors center, tidal pools and hiking trails. And it has ties to Hollywood. Its original owner and namesake once played “Pancho” in the TV series “Cisco Kid” which was popular during the mid-1950s. This stunning stretch of California coastline has been featured in numerous TV shows and major films.
Location: Northwest Los Angeles County, beyond Malibu along Highway 1.
Access and Entry: Day-use only; state park gate closed. Park along shore side of Highway 1 at Sequit Point. A short trail walk and a few steps to lifeguard tower number 2.
Depth: 10 to 50 feet
Skill: Suitable for all skill levels
Hunting: Few lobster. Spearfishing generally considered poor.
Photography: Wide-angle and macro.
Notable Hazards: none.
Ocean Conditions: www.surf-forecast.com