Amongst the numerous areas that are particularly famous for diving and snorkeling in the United States – and keep in mind literally every state has something worth visiting! – California is one of the top places to visit! With countless diving areas and almost 3,500 miles of coastline, there’s plenty of underwater world to explore. But in our minds, snorkeling and scuba diving in Monterey Bay offers up the best of California!
The bay, located in the Pacific Ocean, is known as one of the richest biological habitats in the country, and is teeming with sea life. As such, divers, snorkelers and swimmers alike get to witness one of the most productive ecosystems on our planet.
Below we explain exactly why you should go diving and snorkeling in Monterey Bay. We show you what makes this region unique, what you will see when snorkeling and diving, the best dive sites in Monterey Bay, whale watching in the bay and more!
Snorkeling and Diving in Monterey Bay: What Makes it Unique
This special bay hosts a tremendous number of different marine species, including many types of sharks, fish, elephant seals, sea otters, harbor seals and bottlenose dolphins. You can even see gray and humpback whales!
Monterey Bay is also very rich in smaller creatures such as squids, mollusks, nudibranchs, shrimps and crabs. The protagonist of the area is most definitely the kelp forest though. This was formed by numerous varieties of kelp that grow here, some of which can grow as tall as trees, offering a spectacular and very unique scenery to its visitors. It also offers shelter and protection to the animals that call it their home.
The Bay also hosts one of the largest underwater canyons worldwide, the Monterey Canyon, which is actually considered a full continental slope by geologists and biologists alike.
Several zones of the bay are marine protected areas, including the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area, the Lovers Point State Marine Reserve and the Soquel Canyon Marine Conservation Area. They all contribute largely to the protection of ocean wildlife and the development and defense of the marine ecosystem.
Snorkeling in Monterey Bay
You don’t need to be an experienced diver, or even to go deeper than the surface, to enjoy the beauty of Monterey Bay.
Numerous operators offer snorkeling trips in different areas of the bay, allowing swimmers to experience the splendor of the marine habitat with just a mask, snorkel and pair of fins.
On a clear day, with good sea and weather conditions, snorkelers can explore the kelp forest and play with harbor seals while catching a glimpse of the bay from a new and electrifying point of view.
In the area of Carmel and the Point Lobos State Reserve, the sighting of harbor seals, sea lions and sea otters is near to guaranteed, while for a unique snorkeling location that not many people do, head to Big Sur. A little hiking will be required to reach the beach, but it is definitely worth the trouble!
Scuba Diving in Monterey Bay
The top watersport in Monterey Bay could be nothing else but scuba diving! Its Marine Sanctuary attracts around 65,000 divers from all over the world each year, looking to explore its unique kelp forests, nutrient-rich waters and incredible biodiversity.
Due to the coastal upwelling, the marine layer is particularly cold so an adequate exposure suit is necessary for scuba diving in particular. Water temperature here never goes over 65 degrees F in the warmest season, and it can be as low as 55 degrees F in winter.
Among the most beautiful dive sites in this area, here are our top five dive sites in Monterey Bay:
The Best Dive Sites in Monterey Bay
1. Breakwater (San Carlos Beach)
This is probably the top dive site in the area and certainly the most popular, and is often buzzing with students and beginner divers. Its magnificent wall is the place to be when looking for macro, while sea lions will often playfully swim with you at the end of it.
2. Metridium Fields
A huge pipe takes divers to this reef covered in metridiums. Large anemones that look like cauliflower florets create the perfect habitat for Atlantic sea nettles and bell-shaped transparent jellyfish – which, thankfully, have a sting that’s not really harmful.
3. North Monastery Beach
This dive site is located on the edge of the Carmel Submarine Canyon, and hosts a tremendous kelp forest. Due to its condition, the difficult entry and exit, and the depth of its waters, it is recommended for advanced divers. Here you can meet oceanic sunfish and take beautiful pictures of the underwater vegetation.
4. Monastery Middle Reef
Located a little out of South Monastery Beach, this dive site requires a quite long surface swim, but it is entirely worth it. Divers will get to explore submerged pinnacles covered in huge anemones, metridiums and kelp, and will easily encounter angel sharks, cod and jellyfish.
5. Point Lobos State Reserve
This dive site offers easier access to and from the water, making it a much more enjoyable dive spot even for beginner divers. Encounters with harbor seals are far from being rare here!
Whale Watching in Monterey Bay
Another activity that is extremely popular in the bay is whale watching. Some of the best whale watching vessels in the country, if not worldwide, leave from Monterey Bay and provide an excellent service for people who want to tick off a close encounter with these giants of the sea from their bucket list.
An average whale watching tour lasts approx. 3 hours and can be done in the morning or in the afternoon. The boats are comfortable and spacious, and offer premium viewing from the upper deck with limited availability, or general viewing from the main deck.
Thanks to their size, these boats are normally very stable, offering a great opportunity for an adventure out at sea for people that easily get seasick. The sighting of whales and sea lions makes it all worthwhile, and is a valuable experience that will forever live in your memories.
What Else is There to do in Monterey Bay?
Monterey Bay has a lot to offer visitors, whether you’re looking to explore the sea, sunbathe, or enjoy some fine dining.
For non-divers and non-snorkelers, Monterey Bay has some epic outdoor adventures: you can hike to a natural hot spring in Big Sur’s National Forest or camp at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park’s camping site.
You can venture with your mountain bike at Fort Old Public Lands or go rock climbing at Pinnacles National Park, or again, just soak in the magnificent view that the Veteran’s Memorial Park has to offer.
If water is more of your thing, you can explore the McWay Waterfalls, or experience the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary with kayak, paddleboard, or even with a surfboard. This area is a true paradise for scuba divers, kayakers, snorkelers, sailors, surfers and fishermen alike.
Last but not least, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a non-profit organization aiming to protect and safeguard the delicate balance of the ocean in this tremendously bio diverse area, is another attraction you don’t want to miss. This aquarium guarantees close encounters with sea otters, African penguins, squids, sharks and jellies, but it also provides educational tools and inspiration for younger generations.
The abundance of marine life in the bay also means fine seafood dining is easy to come across in Monterey Bay. Several local restaurants are renowned for their fish and seafood specialties, offering great catch of the day options of extremely good quality, fresh from the ocean.
However for us, the most exciting and appealing activity in Monterey Bay remains snorkeling and scuba diving. That’s the main reason we alway come back!