Monterey offers a great many dive sites that will satisfy all interests and skill levels from the newly certified to advanced. With so many sites to choose from, it is easy to find one to fit your interests and experience. If you are looking for a comfortable beach dive with a lot of marine life, along with all of the amenities, then I urge you to check out San Carlos Beach.
San Carlos Beach was named after the San Carlos Canning Company, a prominent landmark during Monterey’s sardine boom of the early 20th Century. The cannery burned in 1956 and the land was later converted to a park for divers. There are two dive shops, many diver-friendly restaurants, public restrooms and changing areas, plenty of parking, and several top-notch hotels—all within walking distance.
Most divers enter at the foot of the Coast Guard Pier or from the stairs at the San Carlos Beach parking lot, and swim 40 yards or so where the water is 30 to 40 feet deep. There they find a sand and patch reef. This is a good place to find small fish, anemones, and the occasional juvenile halibut or lingcod.
More advanced divers, particularly photographers, should dive along large granite blocks of the breakwater. On the swim out, look for a large anchor and beds of sand dollars. In many areas the rock blocks are covered with a lush carpet of strawberry anemones, which make interesting subjects for macro photography. Numerous fish eating anemones with their bright red bases, as well as the large green anemones, are common near the end of the breakwater.
One of the most beautiful creatures found here are the nudibranchs. Look for dorids like the lemon and clown nudibranch. The generally more colorful and ostentatious group, the aeolids, are also quite common here. The thick-horned aeolid is particularly noticeable with their orange gills and yellow-and-blue-lined face.
At the base of the breakwater stretches a sand bottom. The sand is dotted with sea pens— white, orange and purple tube-dwelling anemones, as well as aggregating anemones. Living among the tube-dwelling anemones can be found the largest California nudibranch—the rainbow nudibranch. These dendronotids are excellent swimmers and feed on and lay eggs on the tube-dwelling anemones. Keep a keen eye for octopuses among the anemones. Divers with a lot of energy may choose to make the long swim directly offshore of Reeside Avenue to a 60-foot area known as Metridium Field. Here you will find a huge patch of the snow-white anemones.
One of the biggest attractions that San Carlos Beach has to offer is its large colony of California sea lions. The last half of the breakwater is not accessible to people and is a favorite haul out of these large and noisy mammals. Divers can get a close up look of the herd as the sea lions sun themselves and an even closer look underwater. While normally shy when on land, the sea lions are at home in the water and lose much of their fear of people and seem to enjoy swimming with divers
San Carlos Beach’s calm, shallow water make it a great place for scuba instruction, while the abundance of marine critters make it a popular place for photographers and sightseers. With all of the amenities nearby, it’s hard to find a more comfortable dive spot
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: At the intersection of Reeside and Cannery Row, between Monterey Bay Inn and the Monterey Harbor.
Access: Park in the fee lot at the foot of the breakwater or in the lot above. It is a short walk via stone stairs to a narrow, sandy beach. Restrooms, freshwater showers, water for boat washing, and a free a lunching ramp are available. Glenn’s Aquarius II Dive Shop is located on the far side of the lower lot; Monterey Bay Dive Center is located on Cannery Roe on the far side of the lower Can Carlos Beach parking lot.
Depths: 15 to 60 feet
Skill Level: All
Visibility: 10 to 30 feet
Hunting: This area is within Ed Ricketts Marine Park; no spearfishing is permitted.
Photography: Great macro for nudibranchs and other invertebrates; great place for sea lion shots.