To be admitted to the magical marine world underwater, all you need is a snorkel, a mask and a pair of fins. Snorkeling is much easier than swimming. After you find a spot to snorkel that is sheltered from crashing waves, lie face down in the water with your mask fitted snugly to your face, and breathe through your snorkel. Practice lying quietly without moving. You won't sink! See how easy it is? Let yourself glide gracefully into a land of enchantment, looking down at tiny little fish, beautiful green sea grass and soon a panorama of kelp undulating with the gentle surge of the sea. The ocean bottom is dappled with sunbeams playing tag with the wavelets on the sand.
Just offshore beyond the beautiful San Diego beaches, a variety of small fish will greet you. Some stay close to the ocean bottom and skitter for hiding places when they first see your mask. Others dart frantically back and forth searching for protection. Many are fingerlings, the young of larger fish not yet ready to join their elders in the open waters. Others are bottom dwellers who are heavier than water and must exist on the ocean floor. These fish, such as blennies and gobies, are not brilliantly colored as they depend on camouflage for security.
While snorkeling in San Diego, you may even see lobster. They also inhabit our rock-filled, Southern California waters and are easy to find. You can catch lobster in San Diego from October through March, but you must have a license from the California Department of Fish and Game.
As you enjoy snorkeling in San Diego, you'll start to see kelp in water 6 to 10 feet deep. Even farther out in water 30 feet deep, you'll see some of the best kelp forests in the world. The kelp leaves branch symmetrically right and left from a slender stalk, each with its own gas-filled bladder, which looks like a bulb and supports its weight as well as that of the main stalk. This is the giant kelp which attains a height in our San Diego and Southern California waters of over 100 feet and grows as much as two feet a day. This means some kelp is as tall as six-story office buildings!
Sunlight plays among the golden amber fronds, painting beautiful pictures with its shafts of light through the blue-green of the deeper water. Huge golden-colored snails live on the kelp fronds, each snail with a brilliant red foot. You'll also see larger fish such as calico bass, sheepshead and perch. Most obvious of all are the brilliant orange garibaldi, whose inquisitive nature makes them approach San Diego snorkelers in a role reversal of fish watching people! These fish are protected by law throughout San Diego California.
Below all this, you'll discover a second habitat, with creatures that live in miniature caverns or in the kelp holdfasts. These include many species of starfish, sea urchins, beautifully colored sea anemones, moray eels, tube worms and flatfish such as halibut and rays. While visiting San Diego, snorkeling should be at the top of your list!
To see the creatures living closer to the ocean floor, you need scuba gear and the lessons to go along with the gear if you don't already know how to dive. You'll find many scuba gear and lesson shops in San Diego.
While scuba diving in San Diego, you'll see shellfish like the delectable abalone, limpets, mussels and barnacles, all of which need solid footing on rock to survive. Some mobile shellfish, such as whelks, are predators. They plow through sea-bottom sand like miniature bulldozers attacking and eating any creature that can't move out of their paths fast enough.
Our San Diego County coastline includes many superb spots for underwater exploring, snorkeling and scuba diving. We've listed two favorites.
Established by the State of California and located off the La Jolla coast close to the La Jolla Cove and other famous La Jolla beaches, the Underwater Park and Reserve stretches from just below the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art to the La Jolla Shores beach pier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Far out from shore, a 1200-foot canyon approaches La Jolla, with one branch pointing toward the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and the other directly toward the Scripps Pier. Upwellings from these canyons rich in nutrients make this area especially prolific in sea life, and ideal for snorkeling, scuba diving, and underwater photography.
The north-facing shore from the La Jolla Children's Pool to La Jolla Shores is sheltered from the pounding surf, making it a perfect spot for first time snorkelers. If there are waves that seem too big, postpone your adventure until it is calmer. Lifeguards are usually on duty looking out for people snorkeling in La Jolla Cove, but for inexperienced snorkelers, be sure to test your abilities and gradually increase your range.
Rental equipment for snorkeling and scuba diving is available in several nearby dive shops in La Jolla. The easiest way to reach the Underwater Park and Reserve is to travel down to Coast Boulevard in La Jolla, park anywhere along the street, and enter the beach area from the steps to the north of Ellen Browning Scripps Park.
Because the Underwater Park in La Jolla is a marine life preserve, remember whenever snorkeling or scuba diving here, to remove nothing from the waters when you leave except, of course, the sand between your toes.
Although Del Mar has no coves, it is blessed with days of placid surf. Along the shore, look for rocky outcroppings which extend into deeper water; Torrey Pines State Beach has some excellent rock formations sprinkled about its shoreline. If it's calm the water may be very clear and you'll see many sand dwelling creatures. In shallow water (no more than four to six feet), you'll see sand dabs. A little farther out you'll spot their cousins, flounder and halibut, camouflaged with coloring like sand. Their outline or shape, however, along with their protruding eyes, makes them easy for snorkelers to spot.
Although we recommend La Jolla and Del Mar for snorkeling and scuba diving, you'll find many other suitable spots to explore underwater life, especially on quiet days when the Pacific Ocean lives up to its tranquil reputation.
For a guided La Jolla snorkel tour complete with snorkel rentals, contact one of the following:
La Jolla Kayak, 2199 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores. (858) 459-1114.
For wet suits, snorkeling equipment, swim suits and other snorkel accessories, contact:
Mitch's Surf, 631 Pearl Street, La Jolla. (858) 459-5933.
Clairemont Surf, 6393 Balboa Avenue, San Diego. (858) 292-1153.← Activities Home