Best Places to Go Snorkeling in Southern California

Best Places to Go Snorkeling in Southern California

Picture of Gil Zeimer

Gil Zeimer

Gil took a resort course on Grand Cayman in 1981 and has been hooked on diving ever since. He received his PADI certification in 1985 in a reservoir south of Dallas. He’s explored three oceans — from Australia to Micronesia, four Hawaiian Islands, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, California’s Monterey and Channel Islands, Florida’s Keys, Walt Disney World’s Living Seas Exhibit, three Bahamas Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Little Cayman Island, and Aruba.

No matter where you go between Santa Barbara and San Diego, it’s no coincidence that the best diving sites are also great for snorkeling. The latter is also much easier than diving — no need to worry about tanks, weights, buoyancy vests, or regulators because both kids and adults can just pull on a mask, slip on a pair of fins, and jump in.

Compared to diving, you’ll feel some warmth from the sun as you kick along the surface and the water temps are typically higher in Southern California — 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit — but wearing a wetsuit is still recommended so you can stay in the water longer.

You may typically see much of the same amazing array of kelp forests, invertebrates (corals and anemones) sponges, Garibaldi, crustaceans, rockfish and rays, sea lions and harbor seals, and more. 

Here are the best places for snorkeling in Southern California.

Featured Photo: Natalia Sedova via Unsplash.
Aerial view of a coastal town in southern California with clear blue water, boats anchored in the bay, and a marina. Numerous buildings and houses are nestled in the green hills. Palm trees line the waterfront, and a winding road runs along the coastline, offering some of the best snorkeling Southern California has to offer.
Photo: Elias Shankaji

Casino Point, Catalina Island

This resort island features hotels, a movie theater, and an Art Deco cultural center. Just down some stairs from the Catalina Casino is a protected snorkeling area with access to a medley of colorful creatures, including Garibaldi, leopard sharks, rockfish, and bat rays. You can also fish, take an underwater sub expedition to explore Lovers Cove Marine Preserve, motor along the surface on a sea life safari, gaze through a window on a glass bottom boat trip, embark on a flying fish voyage, or scuba dive in 90 feet of water. While snorkeling is inexpensive compared to scuba, round-trip ferries can cost $60 to $76 per person.

A serene underwater scene with clear turquoise water and several strands of brown seaweed floating just beneath the surface. Sunlight penetrates the water, illuminating the seaweed and creating a tranquil, natural atmosphere—perfect for experiencing some of the best snorkeling Southern California offers.
Photo: Courtesy of Unsplash

Channel Islands National Park

Five of the eight islands in this chain (Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa) comprise this park accessible only by boat trips. Visibility can be as high as 100 feet for snorkeling when youre close to shore and protected from winds. Wetsuits are definitely recommended if you jump in the ocean to explore.

A serene beach scene during sunset, typical of Southern California, with gentle waves crashing onto the shore. The sky is a mix of blues and yellows, creating a warm and tranquil ambiance. On the right, houses and trees can be seen on a cliff, along with a lifeguard tower on the sandy beach.
Photo: Vanessa Kay

Crescent Bay, Laguna Beach

A half-moon-shaped beach in northern Laguna Beach along Cliff Drive that offers amazing views of the pricey homes on the hill, with good snorkeling spots amid the kelp forests. On the north side, youll find the best snorkeling out to about 100 feet along the shallow reef. On the south side, its still typically pretty good. In the middle is an underwater valley. Limited parking and restrooms are available.

A black crab with white and red markings climbs on a jagged, rocky surface near a body of water. The sun casts light onto the crab and the textured rocks while the water reflects the surroundings—just another serene scene in Southern California, home to some of the best snorkeling spots.
Photo: jcookfisher via Wikimedia Commons

Crystal Cove State Park, Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach

This is one of Orange Countys largest open spaces with 3.2 miles of beach, natural seashores and a Mediterranean climate with foggy summer mornings and sunny days. Its popular with both snorkelers, surfers, swimmers, and divers. Rent a cottage and stay overnight or make it a day trip. It costs $15 to enter this State Park; parking is $5 an hour or $15 per day in the Los Trancos lot. Restrooms with showers in most buildings are available.

A scenic coastal view in Southern California features a vibrant blue ocean meeting a rugged shoreline under a partly cloudy sky. In the foreground, clusters of purple flowers grow among green foliage, adding color and contrast to the serene seascape—an ideal spot for the best snorkeling in Southern California.
Photo: Courtesy of Unsplash

La Jolla Cove, San Diego

In waters that are typically warm and calm, the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve is one of SoCals most popular snorkeling sites. Among the cove and the caves you may be see lots of sea life including Garibaldi, dolphins, octopi, sea turtles, even thousands of harmless leopard sharks between June and December. There are 14 free parking spaces daily with showers and restrooms on the bluffs.

A serene beach scene with a rocky shoreline and sparse vegetation, typical of southern California. A single tall tree stands out against the blue sky, which features a distinct cloud formation. Green shrubs cover a small hill behind the beach. The sandy area is in the foreground with footprints visible.
Photo: Courtesy of Unsplash

Refugio State Beach, Santa Barbara

Popular because of its small campground, you can swim among sea anemones, sea stars, calico bass, rock cod and more among the shallow reefs and the kelp forests. Public restrooms and showers are available, bring quarters to pay for parking in the large lot along the shore.

A scenic beach in Southern California with gentle waves washing onto the shore. Cliffs adorned with palm trees rise on the right, against a clear blue sky. Known for some of the best snorkeling in Southern California, the reflection of the landscape is visible in the wet sand.
Photo: Vanessa Kay

Shaw’s Cove, Laguna Beach

At the intersection of Cliff Drive and Fairway Street, one block off the Pacific Coast Highway, youll find this gem of a sandy beach. Only 20 feet deep, its great for seeing Garibaldi, gorgonian sea fans, plentiful nudibranchs, and much more, though visibility may be low. Parking is limited; public restrooms.

Close-up of a brown Horn Shark lying on a sandy seabed off the coast of Southern California. The shark has black spots on its body, a prominent dorsal fin, and its eyes are slightly open. Some seaweed and small rocks are visible in the background, showcasing one of the best snorkeling sites in Southern California.
Photo: Ed Bierman

Veterans Park, Redondo Beach

Located in Redondo Beach, one of Los Angeles Countys best sites offers sand, surf, snorkeling, and scuba. With easy entry and exit points, as well as a protected reef, you may see baby horn sharks, octopi, sea, halibut, huge lobsters, scorpionfish, pipefish, even mating squid from mid- to late- winter every few years. Be prepared for a long walk up the stairs to the waters edge. Park at a meter in the lot; public restrooms are available.

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