Controversy and debate are nothing new to real estate development along the California coastline. When developers purchased the Treasure Island property back in 1986, plans were ambitious to create a massive luxury real estate development. But the City of Laguna Beach had a different idea. Eventually, a compromise was formed that benefited all those parties concerned—the city, the resort developers and, most importantly, the public wanting access to this picturesque shoreline. Thus the Montage Resort and Spa complex was born with the public access portion known as Treasure Island Park.
Treasure Island is not an island at all but rather the location gains its name from a mobile home park that used to occupy the area. That park had taken its name from the film “Treasure Island” that was filmed here in 1934. As you could imagine, the beach is here is exceptionally beautiful. Rocky points extend into the sea with an especially long peninsula on the northwest end of the small bay. All this area is excellent for beach diving.
To reach the public access area, turn toward the sea on Wesley Drive off South Coast Highway and swing immediately to your left, which will bring you to the underground parking structure. The kiosk to pay for parking and restrooms are on the south end of the lot. The walkway along the bluff to the north is an excellent way to thoroughly scope out shore access, the dive site and conditions.
There are two main locations to access the shoreline and enter the water. There are the stairs at the north end of the walkway (a bit of a hike) and the ramp that is closest to the parking structure. Most divers choose to enter here. Both spots are reasonably well protected from the prevailing northwest weather and both have excellent diving very close by.
At the bottom of the ramp is a sand beach and reef immediately to the right. During high and low tide this reef breaks the surface in a swirl of white water even when calm. While you do not want to venture across the shallow rocks, don’t miss the mini-wall around the edge of the reef. As you follow the reef around to the right, keep your eye on the sand flats as you will almost certainly encounter bat rays, often quite large. Smaller rays and guitarfish also often hug the reef.
As you round the corner heading northwest, the reef will open up into a series of cracks and crevices that are fascinating to explore. Some of the crevices are quite deep and long and will rocket you through in the surge. Look under overhangs for lobster and moray eels. The reefs on the far side are especially noted for their large number of juvenile fish including sheephead, garibaldi, señoritas and blacksmith. Reef structures and boulders in shallow water continue out into the cove. Look for numerous and unusually friendly barred sand bass in this area.
The second section for diving is down the stairs into the cove often referred to as Goff Cove for the rock to the northwest known as Goff Island (again, not an island but a very large rock attached to the mainland by a sand spit.) A reef peninsula extends out from Goff Rock that is quite extraordinary. As you swim outward and around the corner, you will come across mini-walls, overhangs and caves. Lobster and moray eels are prolific. Gardens of gorgonians will greet you as will huge garibaldi. A harbor seal will frequently escort you. Nudibranchs are especially plentiful and in a wide variety. It is not unusual to encounter two or three octopi on one dive. Reef fish include rockfish, painted greenlings and island kelpfish. In this author’s opinion this is one of the top marine biodiversity sites in all of Orange County.
Many divers prefer to enter off the stairs, dive the reefs off Goff Rock then set a compass course for the reef to the southeast and exiting at the ramp. This plan is excellent for a grand tour of the area but best left to those with good underwater navigational skills.
Conditions off the point at Goff Rock, in the cove, and on the reef to the southeast are generally very good, some of the best in Laguna Beach. Visibility averages 15 to 20 feet and days of 30 feet are not unusual. The only area for concern is the surge can be tough off the point and near the shallows of the southeast reef. A light current down the coast has been known to sometimes haunt the area but, generally, is not a cause for concern.
Since its opening in 2003 Treasure Island Park has gained an understandably increased popularity with local divers. Excellent access, great facilities and a fantastic marine habitat make this a place to plan your next shore dive for Laguna Beach.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Parking at Wesley Dr. and South Coast Hwy. Shore access along bluff path to ramp and stairs.
Access and Entry: Stairs or ramp to sand beach surf entry.
Skill Level: All with beach diving experience.
Depths: 10 to 30 feet.
Visibility: Good, averaging 15 to 20 feet.
Photography: Very good for macro with nudibranchs, reef fish, lobster and eels.
Hunting: Good for lobster, little else.
Facilities: Excellent. Pay parking, restrooms, and showers at shore access points.
Conditions: (949) 494-6573.