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Top 8 Places to Snorkel in California

Sealion swimming in California
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California has miles and miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean. Its known for its surfing conditions, celebrity population, luxury, grandeur, and weather, among some of its best and most well-known characteristics.

California should be added to your bucket list of places to visit.

Surfing may be one of the most popular water sports in the state but there are excellent snorkeling opportunities to take advantage of as well.

Be sure to add snorkeling to your list of activities to do while there. There is a ton to see and experience in the Pacific ocean and with over 800 miles of coastline, there is so much diversity.

Youre bound to find the perfect place to snorkel just offshore, making it super easy and accessible. 

The Best Places to Snorkel in California

Below youll find a list of some of the best snorkeling locations in California broken out between Northern California and Southern California locations.

Contrary to popular belief, the snorkeling locations on this list arent just in the ocean; lakes also have fish species and other underwater life worth exploring. If youre an avid snorkeler, you should try it all if you have the chance.  

Northern California 

Keep reading for the best places to snorkel in Northern California:

Lake Tahoe, California1. Lake Tahoe, California 

For a fantastic freshwater snorkeling experience, consider checking out Lake Tahoe. The lake has some of the clearest, cleanest water in the world, enabling you to see very deep underwater.

Sand Harbor is a vast beach where you can snorkel offshore within a dedicated bay for snorkelers and divers. You can also snorkel at Emerald Bay which has an underwater forest of pine trees!

There are also two submerged wooden barges from old steamers that sunk in the 1900s worth checking out.

The marine life is incredible, but these additional features are almost as interesting to see for yourself. 

Because the water is so clear in Lake Tahoe, you can be looking down at 50 feet and feel like its just below you! Its a fantastic experience.

However, the water can be cold, so make sure you prepare accordingly. 

Snorkeling in Monterey, California2. Monterey, California

Located in the city of Monterey, San Carlos Beach is a great place to snorkel.

Its located in a great spot with tons of things to do besides snorkeling, so it would be a great place to visit and spend your California vacation.

The beach is right near Cannery Row, a street on the water with luxurious hotels, restaurants, and boutique shops.

Snorkel and then grab a bite to eat and reminisce all the unique sea life you saw. San Carlos Beach is calm, adding to its favorable snorkeling conditions.

If you get lucky, youll spot cod, sand dollars, tons of fish, and maybe even a seal. You can snorkel right offshore, making it super accessible and a ton of fun.

McAbee Beach in Monterey is another excellent snorkeling location in the city. You can swim right offshore, and you dont have to go very far before you start seeing underwater life.

Youll spot tons of tiny fish in the clear water. The most remarkable thing about this snorkeling area is the old pipelines that have formed artificial reefs where tons of marine life enjoy hanging out. 

Beach in Carmel, California
3. Carmel, California

Carmel River State Beach in the city of the same name is a great snorkeling spot. On clear, warm days, you feel like you’re in Hawaii or somewhere tropical. Not only is it a beautiful location with amazing views, but it has fantastic snorkeling conditions. 

Point Lobos is another excellent spot. If you also enjoy diving, you can dive in the same places youd snorkel in Carmel.

Carmel is near Monterey, which is also a popular snorkeling spot, but the views along the coast of Carmel are unmatched. It would make for a great place to stay in NorCal. 

4. Gerstle Cove, Sonoma County, California

Located in Salt Point State Park, Gerstle Cove State Marine Preserve is a phenomenal place for snorkeling because its a protected area where hunting and fishing are prohibited.

This area is also great for hiking, walking, and biking if you want to do more than just snorkel. The beaches here are rocky, so be sure to wear water shoes or be prepared. The water is also usually pretty cold, so youll most likely want a wetsuit.  

When its calm, you can also snorkel in the tide pools, where youll find an array of sea life.

Gerstle Cove is a beautiful place with miles of trails and amazing coastal views. Its a must-visit if youre in the area. 

Southern California

Here are the best places to snorkel in Southern California:

Sealion in La Jolla Beach5. La Jolla, San Diego, California

Part of San Diego, La Jolla is an excellent place to check out. Its known for its luxurious homes and stunning views of the coast, especially at the La Jolla Cove, where sea lions tend to spend a lot of time.

This area is a great place to snorkel just off the shore of La Jolla Beach. There are caves at the base of the sandstone cliffs where you can kayak and snorkel in.

However, in the summer months, this area can get very crowded. 

The La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park are some of the best places to snorkel in California and arguably the country.

There is a total of 6,000 acres to explore, and you can spot turtles, dolphins, sea lions, and many different kinds of fish.

San Diego is a warm, lively place to be and it would make for a great spot to visit in California. Its known for its almost perfect year-round weather.

Laguna Beach, California6. Laguna Beach, California

Laguna Beach is a great place to snorkel between Los Angeles and San Diego. Home to Heisler Park Ecological Reserve, Laguna Beach is a great place for snorkeling because fish and wildlife roam freely and are in abundance.

Youll find crystal clear waters with diverse marine life.

Shaws Cove is an especially great little beach for snorkeling with luscious kelp forests that bring in unique sea life.

You may even have the opportunity to swim next to sea lions! Treasure Island Beach is another great spot to find some unique fish. 

Woods Cove has an active reef where youll find tons of sea life. Other great spots in Laguna Beach include Crescent Bay, Heisler Beach, Divers Cove, and more!

You can also take boat tours that will bring you to some cool spots out on the ocean.

There are many tide pools that are great for snorkeling too.

Fishermans Cove is an excellent place for beginners because it’s fairly shallow, and there is still a ton to explore.

Laguna Beach would also make for a great place to stay while in California.

It has amazing oceanfront accommodations, secluded beaches, restaurants, shops, and more. Its a small city compared to its neighbors, but its mighty and orange county offers many things to do. 

Catalina Island, California7. Catalina Island

Catalina Island lies southwest of Los Angeles and is known for being one of the best snorkeling spots in California.

Lovers Cove Marine Preserve is an excellent spot on Catalina Island to snorkel because sea life is abundant.

However, it can be rocky in this area, so make sure you have water shoes, and youre prepared. 

There are also plenty of snorkel companies that will take you to all the best spots if youre willing to spend a little money, but you can also just go out there yourself and explore.

Other great locations besides Lovers Cove include Casino Point Dive Park and Descanso Beach. 

Channel Island National Park-min8. Channel Island National Park

Channel Island National Park is made up of 5 islands off the coast of southern California.

This area is great for snorkeling because the islands are ecologically rich. Many seals gather on San Miguel Island at Point Bennett and Santa Barbara island often has sea birds.

The wildlife and sea life are in abundance at the islands, and theyre all worth exploring. Anacapa Island has a 1932 lighthouse, and Santa Cruz island has a ton of sea caves.

Lastly, Santa Rosa has many Torrey pines, a rare pine tree only grown in this area of California. Each of the islands offers something unique and special, they’re all worth checking out. 

For many reasons, Channel Island National Park is worth adventuring to. The best snorkeling spot on the islands is arguably Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, which is just bursting with sea creatures.

Santa Cruz also has a huge sea cave for more advanced explorers, and in general, you may spot seals, crabs, stingrays, and many different types of fish. 

Best Time of Year to Snorkel in California

California is a generally warm state year-round. In some parts of Southern California, you can experience weather in the 70s almost every single day of the year.

The temperatures are much warmer in SoCal than in NorCal, so the water is also warmer. When snorkeling in California, you may need a wetsuit because even though it can be warm outside, the water is often cold.

In Southern California, you can expect water temperatures to be 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but this can drop to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months.

Winter also brings more waves and rougher waters, impacting clarity and ease of snorkeling. The winter is not the best time to snorkel in California, but with a wet suit, it’s doable.

In Northern California, the water is almost only bearable in the summer months. You may also need a wet suit year-round in the NorCal waters because the ocean stays pretty cold throughout the year.

The ultimate best time of year to snorkel in California is in the summer.

Conclusions on Snorkeling in California

The list above with some of the best places to snorkel in California are also excellent places to visit and vacation while in California.

Most people dont consider California when they think of snorkeling.

Tropical countries and islands usually come to mind first, but California can be an excellent snorkeling destination.

There is a ton of marine life to experience out there, and with lots of coastlines to choose from, youre bound to find the perfect spot.

So get out there and enjoy the relaxing activity of exploring the underwater world.

There are also tons of places you can rent snorkel gear and wetsuits, so there is no excuse not to get out there and snorkel!

Youll be amazed at the unique sea life you can find just off the Pacific coast. The underwater world is a force to be reckoned with, and were only getting started. So get out there and enjoy it!

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Are you an avid snorkeler and have a favorite place in California to snorkel that wasn’t mentioned on this list? Say so in the comments below.

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