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10 Best Snorkeling Spots in California

10 Best Snorkeling Spots in California


  • California is full of beautiful places to snorkel—including many unique locations near San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara.
  • Most of the snorkeling spots on this list feature calm waters, sea life (including sea lions), and stunning underwater landscapes.
  • Most of these locations are easily accessible from major towns or cities, but provide enough seclusion that you can explore them without feeling crowded by tourists. For more advice on planning your California snorkeling adventure, contact Santa Barbara Aquatics for more information and gear recommendations.

Pack your snorkeling gear and get ready for an adventure you’ll never forget in The Golden State! California is known for its clear and diverse waters, which make it one of the world’s best destinations for snorkeling.

The state is home to a number of different ecosystems, ranging from rocky shorelines to sheltered bays, and these environments offer a wide variety of underwater landscapes for snorkelers to explore, as well as plenty of marine life to encounter. Below, you’ll find recommendations straight from our experienced professional divers at Santa Barbara Aquatics, who know all the best spots in California and are happy to share their secrets with you!

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Snorkeling Near San Diego

La Jolla Cove in California

Via Adobe Stock.

#10: La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is known for its crystal clear water and ecologically-protected underwater environment. To get there, take the La Jolla Cove exit off of I-5 and park in the nearby public parking lot. Visibility here reaches up to 30 feet on a clear day—and underwater, you can see a variety of colorful fish, sea anemones, and kelp forests.

#9: San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park

Located just a few miles north of La Jolla Cove, the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park is another popular snorkeling destination for snorkeling. To get there, simply take the La Jolla Cove exit off of I-5 and park in the nearby public parking lot.

The water is clear and has good visibility, making it ideal for snorkeling. Underwater, you'll find rocky reefs, kelp beds, submarine canyons, and sand flats. You might even see whales, which are known to frequent the area!

Snorkeling Near Los Angeles

#8: Lover’s Cove at Catalina Island

Catalina Island is located just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California. To get there, take a ferry from Long Beach or San Pedro. The clear water here is home to abundant marine life including sea urchins, colorful fish, and even seals.

Lovers Cove is located on the east end of Catalina Island and is a protected marine reserve, making it a serene and secluded snorkeling location. You’ll likely spot rockfish, garibaldi, kelp bass, and maybe even an octopus or two!

Casino Point at Catalina Island

Via Adobe Stock.

#7: Casino Point Dive Park at Catalina Island

Casino Point Dive Park is located on the southern end of Catalina Island To get there, take a short boat ride from the city of Avalon. Enter via stairs that wind down into the water to explore a rich underwater garden teeming with sea life and populated by at least a few shipwrecks as well.

#6: Venice Beach

For those who want to snorkel closer to LA proper, Venice Beach is a great option. To get there, take the Venice Beach exit off of I-10 and follow the road to the beach. Often called Southern California’s playground by the sea, you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of other activities besides world-class snorkeling here—sunbathing, restaurants, and shopping on nearby Abbot Kinney Boulevard (to name just a few).

Snorkeling Near Santa Barbara

#5: Leadbetter Beach

C’mon—you knew we were going to include a few Santa Barbara destination on this list, didn’t you? After all, it’s in the name! Leadbetter Beach is located right in Santa Barbara itself—to get there, just take the Leadbetter Beach exit off of Highway 101 and follow the road until you arrive. The warm water offers excellent visibility here and plays host to a number of sea creatures (this is a particularly good spot to see starfish).

Butterfly Beach at Santa Barbara, California

Via Adobe Stock.

#4: Butterfly Beach

Butterfly Beach is a small, secluded beach located in Santa Barbara. It also has its own exit off Highway 101, so you can’t miss it! There’s also free parking, which is a huge plus when you’re traveling in a car full of snorkeling gear.

The average water temperature here is about 65 degrees in the summer, and the sunsets here are absolutely gorgeous. Definitely not a spot you want to miss.

Snorkeling in Other Regions

#3: Point Lobos State Reserve in Caramel

Point Lobos State Reserve is located on the Monterey Peninsula and is known as one of the most picturesque regions in the Caramel area. Boasting one of the most diverse marine habitats in the state, this is far and away one of the most unforgettable snorkeling spots around and also features a museum in the historic Whalers Cabin built in the 1800s by fishermen from China.

#2: Garrapata State Beach

Garrapata State Beach is located in Big Sur and is known for its incredible coastline. To get there, take the Garrapata State Beach exit off of Highway 1. Diverse coastal vegetation awaits you beneath the water’s surface, with sea lions and sea otters aplenty.

Natural Bridges State Park in California

Via Adobe Stock.

#1: Natural Bridges State Beach

An amazing spot (albeit one with a somewhat vanilla name), Natural Bridges State Beach is located in Santa Cruz and is known for its stunning underwater environment. Named for the striking natural rock formations that rise out of the water, it’s also a thriving habitat for starfish, sea anemones, and various fish. To get there, take the Natural Bridges Drive exit off of Highway. The water is calm and offers fantastic visibility, making it ideal for snorkeling.

Start Planning Your California Snorkeling Adventure Today

California has no shortage of breathtaking places to snorkel, but the 10 above are definitely some of our favorites—and we’re sure you’ll love them as well. Learn more about preparing for your California snorkeling getaway by contacting Santa Barbara Aquatics—we’ll be happy to tell you everything you need to know about how to have the time of your life.

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