Where to go snorkelling in California

When most people think of USA snorkelling destinations, they tend to imagine Florida and not California. They’re missing out! California is home to a huge number of diverse marine life, and snorkeling the waters to get up close and personal with the nature here is easy. Best of all, you won’t have to share the waters with as many other snorkellers as you would in Florida, making for some primo underwater photography.

We’ve gotta mention one thing that stands out amongst the majority of other tropical snorkelling destinations in this list – Californian waters are cold. The warmest waters you’ll find will be around 20℃, so make sure to bring along a wetsuit before you hit up these destinations!


Fish in California:

  • Angel Sharks, Black Sea Bass, Dolphins, Guitarfish, Horn Sharks, Humpback Whales, Leopard Sharks, Sea Lions, Stingrays, Torpedo Rays, Tuna, Turtles, Wolf Eels, and more.

Corals in California:

  • Anemones, Blue Brittle Stars, Cup Corals, Gorgonian Coral, Janolus, Navanaxes, Sponges, and more.

Best places to snorkel in California

Catalina Island

Where: 35km off the coast of Newport Beach
Details: This remote island is a snorkel destination that’s all scenery and no crowds. You’ll have to charter a boat to reach the island, but once there, you can enjoy warmer waters with better visibility (up to 25 metres), more active sea life (including tuna, eels, horn sharks and giant sea bass), and even a bit of coral life.

Information:

  • Those with a high budget can fly over to Catalina Island for unbeatable views,
  • Check out Lover’s Cove near the Avalon harbour for lots of wildlife – this is where the glass bottom boats tour go, so you know that’s where the good stuff is!
  • You’ll find plenty of snorkeling tours and companies to take you to the hotspots.

Channel Islands

Where: Santa Barbara
Details: This Marine Park has five different islands to explore, offering up some of the world’s best snorkelling (according to Gone Snorkelling). There are kelp forests, coves, sea caves, and so much to see and explore in this stunning part of California. With the perfect balance of tropical and cold water snorkelling, the abundance of sea life here is exceptional. Definitely a unique spot worth visiting!

Information:

  • The best spots for snorkelling are around Anacapa Island, eastern Santa Cruz Island, and Santa Barbara Island.
  • The other two islands can be quite windy with high currents,
  • It can be as cold as 11℃ here, so definitely head out with a wetsuit unless you’re used to freezing conditions (or crazy).


Laguna Beach

Where: Orange County
Details: Laguna Beach is famous for many things, and snorkelling is just another one. There are a few different spots to check out here, all with crystal clear waters and something for everyone. Check out the tide pools at Heisler Park Eco Reserve for pristine snorkeling conditions, Fisherman’s Cove for shallow snorkeling that’s great for beginners and kids, and Divers Cove for advanced snorkelers who want to swim amongst rock features in deep waters.

Information:

  • Catch a boat from Heisler Park Eco Reserve to Seal Rock where you can snorkel with sea lions.

Lake Tahoe

Where: Sierra Nevada Mountains
Details: Who said you had to hit the ocean to go snorkelling? Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places in America and well worth a visit whether you’re snorkelling or not. When we say this water is clear, we mean it – you can see the ground even up to 25 metres deep. There are beaches, rocky boulders, private swimming holes, alpine lakes, and even nudist spots! Just be warned, it’s a bit cold for a nudie.

Information:

  • Sand Harbour is a great beach for snorkelling, with loads of amenities, carpark, and a visitor’s centre. Enter from the granite boulders, the sand, or the dedicated diving bay.
  • Lester Beach is a great spot for something a little quieter, with an adjacent camping spot. There are high cliffs do jump from and deep turquoise waters ot explore.
  • Thunderbird Lodge is an old-school mansion with beautiful snorkelling scenery. There are all different blues in the water, sunken tree trunks, huge boulders, and more.
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