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Scuba Diving in San Diego

An adventure filled with sights and aquatic wonders

No matter where one dives in San Diego, however, it's an adventure filled with sights and aquatic wonders.

Just as San Diego is a playground above water, so too is the Pacific offshore. With an average August temperature of 69 degrees, and a minimum February temp of 57, San Diego means divers don't have to endure extreme underwater cold. What's more, the waters off San Diego offer the recreational diver a phenomenal array of places to go and things to see. Where else but San Diego can divers enjoy the stunning Scripps and La Jolla Canyons? Or the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, a 10-mile long, 3-mile wide stretch of ocean where the depth plunges from beach entry to 900 feet? Or the giant kelp forests off Point Loma? San Diego even claims its own aquatic Ecological Reserve, a 533-acre domain just out from the La Jolla Cove, where all fishing and boating activity is banned. In 1975, and again in 1979, artificial reefs were created in the park by dumping quarry rock into 70 feet of water, creating a spectacular habitat for fish and divers.

Because many retired Navy SEALS and divers live in the San Diego area, the local dive ranks are filled with knowledgeable professionals who have spent more than their share of time in local waters. They'll tell you that the best beach dives are available all along the La Jolla coastline, which serves as the hub of San Diego shore diving. For dive sites not reachable from shore, boat trips run almost daily to many local hot spots, leaving from Mission Bay and San Diego Bay. Trips vary in price from $50 for a half day's local boat dive to the $300 range for a shark-diving journey down into Mexican waters. No matter where one dives in San Diego, however, it's an adventure filled with sights and aquatic wonders.

Places to Dive

La Jolla Shores: The gateway to the Underwater Park, La Jolla Shores can be found by turning west off Interstate 5 toward La Jolla. From La Jolla Shores Drive turn onto Avenida de la Playa, which leads directly to the beach. The area is a diver's Mecca, so don't be surprised to see dozens of fellow undersea fanatics checking their gear. Straight offshore, it's flat and sandy, perfect for beginners. Further offshore are the dark blue depths of the La Jolla Submarine Canyon.

Isla Los Coronados: These three islands are actually off the coast of Mexico, so the only way to get there is by boat. It's an hour and a half ride to the clear waters of Los Coronados, with undersea visibilities in the 50-70 foot range. Seals, sea lions, sun stars, sea slugs, abalone, and eels populate the big boulders underwater. Dive boat skippers know the best spots. A few local favorites are Pukey Point, Lobster Shack and the Keyhole. A note of caution: currents off Los Coronados run very strong. Start your dive against the current, or arrange a drift dive with your dive operator.

The Yukon: On July 13, 2000, the Canadian destroyer Yukon was intentionally sunk two miles off Mission Beach, in an 600-acre underwater area known as Wreck Alley, where four other sunken vessels (a Coast Guard cutter, kelp cutter, barge, and sportfishing boat) also rest on the bottom. At 366 feet long the Yukon makes an imposing artificial reef, and quickly attracted the fish and undersea life that has made the vessel a local favorite among divers and sport fishermen.

South Casa Cove: Enter the water in La Jolla, just north of Hospital Point. A reef extending from the ocean side of the jetty down to Hospital Point means an abundance of marine life and some incredibly scenic diving. After a surf entry, depths quickly reach 15-30 feet. A favorite place for setting lobster traps and for spearfishing, this local favorite also features a large population of seals and sea lions.

Point Loma Kelp Beds: There are two kelp forests off the San Diego coast, but local divers tend to prefer the one off Point Loma. A series of unique pinnacles and shelves along the bottom, interspersed among the kelp, give the feeling of truly being in a primeval forest. Only New Zealand comes close to matching these forests. The depth of the beds vary from 35-80 feet, so that divers can choose to go deep or stay relatively shallow. Either way, the phenomenal visibility within the beds and their offbeat character make this a must. Local dive boats make the trip every day, and experienced skippers know the best spots to enter the water for the ideal dive.

Insider's Secret: The Marine Room

This shore dive gets its name from a landmark restaurant right across from the beach. Located between the popular La Jolla Cove and legendary La Jolla Submarine Canyon, the Marine Room is a shallow reef that lies a healthy swim away from the beach. The highlight: enormous calico bass that swim right up to you.

With so many dive locations to choose from, make sure to get the right dive boat. Learn tips on choosing the best scuba dive boat.

For those interested in swimming with a variety of marine life, explore swimming with sharks, sea lions and other big animals.

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