Unknown to many are the hot-water volcanic vents off Palos Verdes. Is Palos Verdes an active volcano? Not exactly. Actually, not at all. But at White Point you can see something truly unusual in California diving — underwater hot springs.
Many have likely seen the fascinating documentaries on TV about the discovering incredible ecosystems that gather in the deep ocean purely supported by huge underwater volcanic vents. These ecosystems are extremely complex with hundreds of species. While tiny in comparison, a similar eco-system is happening off White Point. Bacteria live and thrive in the warm waters and nutrients bubbling up from deep in the earth’s crust. White fungus in turn feeds on this bacteria and its waste. Underwater, it is near these areas of white fungus that you can find the hot springs. The term “hot” is a bit of an exaggeration. While you can take your glove off and feel the warm water at some of the larger springs, the temperature difference is minor and the vents do very little to change the water temperature in the cove.
White Point has some interesting history. It is the earliest dive site explored along the California coastline. In 1898 Japanese hard-hat divers discovered plentiful abalone and lobster in Issei Cove and along the nearby coastline and began harvesting operations. Those same early Japanese immigrants (Issei means “immigrant”) also discovered the hot springs and a resort was built with a saltwater pool and dance hall. It prospered through the 1920’s until the storms, depression and eventually WWII took its toll and the resort was closed. Ruins of the old resort can still be seen along the shoreline today.
For shore divers, the benefit to these early developments is the road that was built years ago that leads right down to the water’s edge. The Palos Verdes Peninsula has some excellent shore diving, but there is no place to drive right to the water’s edge except here.
White Point and Issei Cove lie within the Royal Palms State Beach (1799 Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro). Follow Western Avenue to its end and as the road veers to the left at its intersection with Paseo del Mar you will find the park. Parking at the bluff portion of the park is metered. Bring a few coins to drop in the meter and take some time to look over the dive site from high above. Entrance to the beach portion is the road down the hill and with admission of $7. The gate closes at 6 p.m. Once down the hill turn to your left to head to White Point, Issei Cove and the main diving area. There are facilities in the park but unfortunately are not at the White Point diving area but to the west in the Royal Palms section. Parking is limited and then it is a short walk to the Issei Cove water entry area. Water entry is over slippery stones and best done at high tide. This can be a tricky water entry and when exiting, do so only in conditions of low surf.
In addition to the underwater hot springs there are interesting reefs and small kelp forests to explore. While the diving here is not as good as other parts of Palos Verdes, it does have its merits. Near shore there are interesting rock structures and boulders, some quite huge with lots of stars, urchins and fish. Within the cove and toward the wash rock to the left of center, there are the big boulders, and valleys and crevices between that make for interesting exploration in depths of 15 to 20 feet depending on the tides. There is a small kelp forest near the wash rock. Better kelp lies to the west off the point and just a short distance outside the cove. Depths here are 25 to 35 feet. You will find señoritas, opaleye, surf perch, garibaldi and calico bass. Some of the calicos are of decent size if you are interested in hunting. Lobster are present under a few of the ledges but they are all small.
White Point is a great and easy way to beach dive the famous reefs of Palos Verdes. And with the added bonus of the submerged hot springs, there is a great opportunity to see something that is truly unusual in California’s underwater world.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: At the end of Western Ave. San Pedro on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Access and Entry: A short drive down to water’s edge and then a short walk to the water entry area. Take time on the bluff above to check out water conditions. Water entry can be tricky over slippery boulders and is best done at high tide.
Depths: 15 to 35 feet.
Visibility: Averages 10 to 15 feet.
Skill: Intermediate with rocky surf entry and exit experience required.
Photography: Good but it is tough to bring camera in and out over rocks.
Hunting: A few fair sized calico bass. Lobsters are here but all are small.
Hazards: Entry and exit can be tough over slippery rocks.
Facilities: None in this section of the park.