Best Scuba Diving in San Diego
Did you know that aside from visiting theme parks, zoos, museums, and sports stadiums, you can go scuba diving in San Diego? This is brought to you by its 70 miles (110 kilometers) long coastline with 47.2 square miles (122.2 square kilometers) of surface waters that embodies a part of the Pacific Ocean.
The diving in San Diego is considered as both exciting and extreme. Exciting in the sense that you can explore a unique environment that is dominated by protruding kelps instead of coral reefs, while it is also extreme where you can see some of the smallest inhabitants like nudibranch and big species like sea lions and leopard sharks.
Diving Conditions in San Diego
Similar to other areas in Southern California, especially with its oceanic and mountainous terrain, San Diego has a microclimate that is categorized as semi-arid. This means that San Diego has warm, dry summers and mild winters. With this, the best time to go diving in San Diego is from July to January. These months are considered to be the calmest and offer the best visibility where it could range from 10 - 20 meters (30 - 60 feet).
If there is one parameter that you should need to prepare, then it should be the water temperature as it is predominantly cold ranging from 50 to 56 OF (10 to 13 OC). With this, it is highly recommended you wear a wetsuit with at least 7 millimeters in thickness, a hood, and gloves.
Best Dive Sites in San Diego
1. La Jolla Cove
Location: 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of downtown San Diego
La Jolla is a 7 mile (11 kilometers) long seaside community that curves along the northern coast of San Diego. Considered as San Diego’s prime spot for scuba diving, you can explore 2 popular sites that are distinct from each other.
La Jolla cove is surrounded by cliffs in the central shores of La Jolla is famous for shore diving and exploring a unique underwater habitat dominated by towering algal beds - the kelp.
Your entry is already established where you just need to follow the stairs leading to a sandy beach. You will then swim out for 50 meters (164 feet) towards a surface buoy where you can start your descent. As you descend, you will be greeted by a healthy population of kelp that creates an underwater shade even if sunlight is directly on top of you.
Continuing with your descent, you will see and appreciate the Orange Giribaldi (a type of damselfish) that perfectly contrast with the green leafy branches of the kelp. At the base of the kelp beds are usually piles of rock where marine critters take refuge like crabs and lobsters. Marine mammal interaction could also take place in La Jolla Cove, where many have interacted and played with sea lions. This is also the reason why you will smell an offensive odor as you enter or exit the water due to their feces and bird droppings.
A Visitor from the Abyss: There are several sightings in La Jolla Cove of a 6-foot shark that is known to inhabit the depths of the ocean - the 7 Gill Cow Shark. As you swim along the rocky bottom, you will usually see these rare breeds of sharks swimming in midwater amongst the kelp.
2. La Jolla Shores / La Jolla Canyon
The mile-long beach off the northern shores of La Jolla is your gateway in exploring an underwater canyon that has varied terrain and houses a unique set of marine inhabitants.
You will start diving by following a sloping contour that leads to a sudden drop-off or ledge. As you go deeper, you will maneuver amongst the standing branches of kelps, whereas you cruise along, you can see octopus, lobsters, crabs, pipefish, and nudibranch sitting on top of rocky outcrops. You can also see large inhabitants living within the refuge of the kelps like like guitarfish and angel sharks.
Tip: For added attraction, we highly suggest you go diving in La Jolla shores from July to September where the possibility of a shark interaction is similar to a 100% guarantee. Female leopard sharks congregate in La Jolla shores to incubate their eggs. But don’t look for their eggs when diving as they are kept inside the shark's body and will only release live shark pups that usually measures 7 inches (18 centimeters) long.
3. Wreck Alley
Location: a mile offshore from Mission Beach
Wreck diving is very popular in San Diego where you don’t just explore one shipwreck, but a fleet of 8 ships intentional sunk to become an underwater attraction.
These ships were carefully planned to be sunk in such a way that it will rest in the seafloor that has the highest nutrient level where marine inhabitants can easily thrive and encrust, eventually becoming an artificial reef. Most of the wrecks are marked with a surface buoy, and your entry will only require you to do an anchor line descent.
Sunk July 14, 2000, this 111 meter (366 feet) long Canadian destroyer sank a night before it was planned due to rough seas. It is now resting on its port side at 30 meters (100 feet).
The first remains of HCMS Yukon will come into sight at 20.7 meters (68 feet) deep, which is the highest point of its stern. As you traverse along this former military ship, you will notice that it is partly encrusted with sponges and anemones. You will also see that there are large holes in the wreckage as this was purposely put in place for entrance and exit of wreck divers penetrating the internal structures.
Some wreck divers told us that looking at the big holes is just like watching on a large green video screen. Your average depth for this dive is 23 meters (75 feet) while the deepest is set at 32 meters (105 feet) which is the lowest point of the bow.
This former 50 meter (165 feet) long Coast Guard Cutter is one of the few shipwrecks in Wreck Alley that is resting in an upright position. Resting at 26 meters (85 feet) deep, Ruby E can be visited by newbie divers where you can safely explore the open bridge and the wheelhouse.
As you descend following the anchor line, you will first see its remnants at 18 meters (60 feet) deep. In case you want to see the main engine, you can proceed to a large gaping hole at the stern and have a glimpse of the machine that powered this former anti-submarine ship.
Caution for both HCMS Yukon and Ruby E: Do not penetrate the internal structures of the ship, especially if you have not undergone the specialty certification course on wreck diving.