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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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