I live for late season diving, as this is simply the best time to enjoy Central California’s waters. When the fog and tourists depart, it’s time to get wet. On these fall and winter days the water is warmer than earlier in the year, the visibility better, and the seas calmer. These are days to seek out remote dive sites like Diablo Pinnacles.
The Diablo Pinnacles are a pair of rocks located south of Soberanes Point and offshore from the Granite Canyon Bridge. During the summer months these pinnacles can easily be located by the thick, offshore kelp bed; otherwise, you will need a depth finder and GPS to find them. They can only be dived from a boat.
The flat-topped pinnacles offer a combination of the views that you might expect to see at Canyonlands National Park in Utah and the Badlands of South Dakota. The Diablo Pinnacles jut up from the bottom to about 20 below surface, offering a spectacular wall dive. The depths at the base of the pinnacles range from 90 feet on the inshore side to over 140 feet on the ocean side. The shallow area is a relatively flat rocky plateau that is carved into a maze of steep-sided canyons.
The walls are adorned with brightly colored invertebrates. Large rose anemones and large trees of pink and purple hydrocoral are the most conspicuous. However, you should take time to look for little crabs and snails that hide among the branches of the hydrocoral. Smaller, yet equally colorful critters are also found here in abundance—orange cup corals, chestnut cowries, and gaudy nudibranchs. The colorful Phidiana nudibranch is common here. These red and white nudibranchs feed primarily on hydroids, but they also enjoy a meal of other nudibranchs. Macro photographers will find this area particularly entertaining.
The shallow waters of the pinnacles are scarred with numerous cracks and crevices. These make great hiding places for small fish. Lingcod, cabezon and rockfish are found resting back in cracks. Some of the cracks are so small that the rockfish seem to squeeze into their hiding places. The richly textured bottom makes a great nursery; thus, you will find a lot of small fish here. Take the time (and a dive light) to look in the little cracks and you will treat yourself to sights of other, more colorful fish—sculpins, painted greenlings, and gobys. This a great place for fish portraits.
In the summer months the kelp bed here is particularly thick. There are often schools of fish hiding among the fronds of kelp, and there are a virtual army of invertebrates that live and feed on the kelp. When the visibility is good this is a great place for kelp and reef wide-angle photos.
Because of the proximity to open water, pelagic species such as ocean sunfish and the enormous lion’s mane jellyfish are often seen here. There are often schools of blue rockfish circling the pinnacles. Every now and then you should pry your eyes away from the rocks and look to the open water. You may be surprised by what might be swimming by.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: About 2/3 miles offshore and about 1.5 miles south of Soberanes Point. Those with GPS may find it at 36° 25.957’ N, 121° 55.825’ W.
Access: Boat dive only.
Depths: 20 to 140 feet
Visibility: Very good, 20 to 50 feet
Skill level: Intermediate or better
Photography: Great for both macro and wide-angle. Particularly good for reef scenes and fish portraits.
Hazards: Watch for boat traffic and strong currents.