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The 9 Best Snorkeling Spots in California
Health & Fitness

The 9 Best Snorkeling Spots in California

From wild NorCal shores to manicured SoCal beaches, here's where to find the best snorkeling spots in the Golden State.


5 min read

April 02, 2024

California's vast stretch of coastline is a treasure trove for snorkelers, boasting stunning beaches, mysterious caves, picturesque islands, striking rock formations, and diverse marine life, all combining to deliver a thrilling experience. Whether your adventure leads you to the secret depths of a secluded beach or you're keen on adding a splash of excitement to your next beach camping trip, the dream of snorkeling in the vibrant waters of California is within easy reach.

From wild NorCal shores to manicured SoCal beaches, a weekend getaway to one of these snorkeling hot spots in the Golden State are must-visit destinations for locals and tourists alike.

Get an up-close look at sea life while snorkeling along the colorful shores of Glass Beach.

1. Glass Beach

As one of the most unique beaches in California, Glass Beach is a snorkeling destination in NorCal that gives true meaning to the phrase “from trash to treasure.” Although the water is rather cold, if you bring along the right gear, you’ll have one of the best snorkeling experiences in Northern California here. 

Aside from the local marine life (such as rock cod, lingcod, sea urchins, and small octopuses), be on the lookout for colorful rocks and pebbles that adorn the waters and shores of this beach near Fort Bragg. Just make sure you don’t take any of the colorful pieces homethis is prohibited in order to preserve the beach’s beauty—unless you want to pay a fine.  

2. Caspar Bay

Add an interesting twist to your Mendocino County getaway by going snorkeling at the stunning Caspar Bay. Also known as Caspar Cove, the west-northwest section of this beach is a calm and rather shallow place to dive. But if you head to the north wall, you’ll experience some of the best snorkeling in California. 

Although you’ll find many fish heresuch as lingcod, rockfish, and cabezonthe underwater plant life is far more fascinating. Featuring giant green anemones, red coralline algae, sea stars, and more, the vibrant grounds of this NorCal snorkeling and diving spot are enchanting, to say the least. 

Introduce little ones to the magical underwater world by taking them on a snorkeling adventure.

3. San Carlos Beach

Located close to the iconic Cannery Row, right next to the Coast Guard Pier, San Carlos Beach is a popular snorkeling destination in Monterey. So, if you’re planning a weekend getaway to the coastal town and looking for a unique activity to add to your list of incredible things to do in Monterey, look no further. 

The calm waters make it perfect for beginner snorkelers, so you needn’t worry if it’s your first time. There’s a lot of kelp in the water here, too, which means you’ll encounter an abundance of sea life such as rock cod, sand dollars, and maybe a friendly seal or two during the right seasons.

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4. McAbee Beach

McAbee Beach is another great spot for snorkeling in Monterey. Named after John B. McAbee, who set up a seaside resort in the area during the 1890s, McAbee Beach is known today as a great diving and snorkeling site. Upon entering the waters, you won’t need to swim far to reach deeper waters; you’ll soon see the sandy bottom give way to rocks covered with brightly colored invertebrates. 

The waters are rich with other marine life, too, so you may encounter blue rockfish, kelpfish, and other small fish. After your snorkeling session, head to the nearby Cannery Row and check out great eateries and cool boutiques.

Snorkel in the waters of South Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay to discover a sunken forest and large barges.

5. Emerald Bay

When spending a weekend in South Lake Tahoe, head to Emerald Bay State Parkthis is one of the best places to snorkel in California. The NorCal snorkeling spot offers cool lake waters, incredible views, and plenty to explore. Although there is interesting marine life in South Lake Tahoe, what’s more likely to entice snorkelers are the unique underwater geological features. 

On the west side of the bay is a sunken forest—a group of pine trees that plunged into the water during a landslide now sit upright—and across the bay are two sunken wooden barges that were towed by steamers across the lake in the 1900s.

View a variety of vibrant fish and marine invertebrates while exploring the waters off of Santa Catalina Island.

6. Catalina Island

Right off the coast of Southern California, you’ll find the small rocky island of Catalina, which features beaches known for providing some of the best snorkeling in California. For an experience that’ll satisfy both beginner and advanced snorkelers alike, head to Lover’s Cove where the waves are calm and the marine life is abundant. 

When it comes to snorkeling in Santa Catalina, it’s hard to beat this spot. Once voted the “World’s Healthiest Marine Environment” by Scuba Diving magazine, Lover’s Cove is a paradise for any snorkeler in California. Just note that the shores of Lover’s Cove are very rocky, so before embarking on a trip to snorkel at this Catalina Island destination, make sure you pack the right footwear.

7. Diver’s Cove

This semi-secluded Orange County beach provides some of the best snorkeling in California for a variety of reasons. Ideal for beginner snorkelers, Diver’s Cove in Laguna Beach will have you interacting with sea life a mere 10 feet away from the shore. While exploring the waters of this O.C. destination, you’ll spot sea stars, perch, sea urchins, eelgrass, garibaldi, rockfish, and more. 

Diver’s Cove is within close proximity to downtown Laguna Beach, too, so after you’re done traversing the waters, consider heading to town for a quick bite.

Go on a snorkeling adventure in the largely undiscovered Channel Islands to spot colorful sea creatures.

8. Scorpion Anchorage

Situated off the Southern California coast, Channel Island National Park is a must-visit destination for any snorkeler. The waters surrounding the Channel Islands’ eight outcroppings are bursting with marine life, but Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island is the top spot to see it. 

Santa Cruz is the largest of the Channel Islands and boasts one of the largest sea caves in the world—a treat that intermediate and advanced underwater explorers will surely love. Stingrays, crabs, sea hares, and seals are a few of the exciting marine species you’ll see while snorkeling through the kelp forests of this California destination.

9. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove snorkeling is an experience that every Californian must try at least once, so make sure you add it to your list of things to do when visiting La Jolla. Home to an incredible variety of sea creatures, La Jolla is among the best places to snorkel in San Diego. 

The warm waters and protected cove attract numerous fish and mammals, which means you’ll have a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with unique marine life. Species you can expect to see while snorkeling in La Jolla are garibaldi, dolphins, octopuses, sea urchins, sea turtles, and leopard sharks. Need we say more?

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