Best Snorkeling In California

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Suppose you are someone who enjoys weekends out in nature, surrounded by the exotic beauty our planet has to offer. In that case, snorkeling in California may just be the perfect way for you to kick back and unwind after a stressful week at work.

Snorkeling in California is one of the best ways to explore the state’s seemingly endless miles of coastline. The breathtaking beaches, caves, islands, and marine life is any snorkeler’s dream come true. You can see kelp forests, coral, sea lions, and even harbor seals through crystal clear waters.

Snorkeling in California is a fantastic weekend activity for the entire family to enjoy. It is much easier than diving as it is less skill-based, making it perfect for novices and children. There are a few things you will have to consider before embarking on your snorkeling journey, such as the top-rated spots, the skill level required as well as entry fees and local snorkeling clubs.

Snorkeling Conditions In California

Although the weather along the California coast is nothing less than fantastic practically year-round, this does not mean that you can have a pleasant snorkeling experience at any time of the year.

The Pacific Ocean is known to have icy water, so unless you want a chilly snorkeling adventure, it is highly recommended that you use a wetsuit when snorkeling, even in the warmer summer months.

If you are not too fond of the cold, Southern California is the place to be as the water will be warmer. The waters in Southern California range from 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures can drop to 60 degrees Fahrenheit or even lower during the winter months. The waves are also much rougher during the wintertime, so the clarity of the water will be affected.

Northern California is known to be even colder, so it is highly recommended that you save your snorkeling trips for the summer months to ensure your journey is as pleasant as possible. To have the most comfortable snorkeling trip, a wetsuit is your best option for combatting those icy waters.

The Top 10 Snorkeling Spots In California

California has so many snorkeling destinations; it’s easy to become overwhelmed with different opportunities. That’s why we’ve created a list of what many snorkeling enthusiasts agree is their favorite places for snorkeling in California.

La Jolla

Snorkeling in La Jolla is easily number one on our list of top-rated places, as it offers some of the most fantastic snorkeling opportunities in the world. This is mainly because the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park have been voted as one of the top ten snorkeling destinations around the globe.

The Ecological Reserve and the Underwater Park combined offer 6,000 acres of ocean bottom and tidelands that are just begging to be explored. A main attraction in the reserve is where the ocean floor drops 500 feet into the La Jolla Underwater Canyon.

Snorkeling in La Jolla provides views of various ocean creatures, such as urchins, dolphins, sea turtles, and shovelnose guitarfish. Between June and December, the area is home to the largest gathering of leopard sharks, as the pregnant sharks gather near the beaches and flock to La Jolla cove for their young.

Seven different sea caves can be found in La Jolla Cove, which snorkelers can swim through, providing the tide allows it. Another attraction at La Jolla would be the underwater graveyard located around 100 yards from the La Jolla Cove Bridge Club.

The underwater graveyard, Tombstones, is situated 35 feet underwater. It features numerous markers in remembrance of dead spearfisherman and members of North America’s first diving and spearfishing club, the Bottom Scratchers.

You do not need extensive snorkeling experience to enjoy a day underwater at La Jolla. However, most guided tours require that you have a beginner level of competency in swimming.

Channel Islands National Park

The Channel Islands National Park is situated just off Santa Barbara and Los Angeles coast. It is said to be one of California’s most biodiverse and breathtaking areas. Five out of the eight Channel Islands are protected areas, and some of the best-known snorkeling spots are near the east of the Santa Cruz Islands and Anacapa.

If you plan on snorkeling in these chilly waters, it is highly recommended that you bring a wetsuit with you. These waters have a low temperature of 52 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite all of this, the breathtaking views found around these Islands are worth it. Snorkelers should expect to see a wide variety of ocean life, including seals, dolphins, and even whales.

Luckily, you do not need to be an experienced snorkeler to enjoy the Islands’ beauty. However, this area has strong currents and waves; therefore, to snorkel around the Islands, you need to be a relatively strong swimmer.

Laguna Beach

Situated in Southern California, Laguna Beach is one of the best snorkeling spots in the Heisler Park Ecological Reserve. The crystal-clear waters found at this location are perfect for snorkeling. One of the main attractions in the area is Shaw’s Cove, which is a small beach that offers beautiful views of the reef structures and diverse marine life.

Tourists can sign up for the two-hour-long tour that will take them out to Seal Rock for a snorkeling experience unlike any other. Here you can see more of the rich kelp forests and reef structures. It is best to go with a guide if you are new to snorkeling, as big swells can become dangerous for inexperienced snorkelers.

Santa Cruz Island (Scorpion Anchorage)

Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island is a top destination for many experienced snorkelers. Situated just off the Southern Californian coast, Santa Cruz is one of the eight islands making up the Channel Island National Park.

This Island is also the largest in the park. It features one of the largest sea caves in the entire world, making it such an attractive destination for intermediate and advanced underwater explorers.

While snorkeling around Scorpion Anchorage, you can expect to see a wide variety of marine life, including crabs, stingrays, sea hares, and even seals. These are just a few exciting sea life that can be observed while snorkeling through these kelp forests.

Catalina Island

Situated just 22 miles off of the coast of Los Angeles, Catalina Island features crystal clear waters, teeming with an abundance of ocean life. With around 80 feet of visibility, the clear waters give snorkelers the chance to see ocean creatures such as giant sea bass, horn sharks, eels, and even yellowtail tuna.

One of the Islands’ main attractions is Lovers Cove, a protected bay teeming with ocean life amidst its dense kelp forests. Another popular spot is Casino Point Dive Park, close to Avalon, the largest town on the Island.

This underwater park is a major attraction as it features shipwrecks under the water and an abundance of marine life such as giant kelp, spiny lobsters, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, octopus, and tree fish.

Lake Tahoe

If you are searching for a freshwater snorkeling experience, look no further than Lake Tahoe. One of the better spots for snorkeling can be found at Sand Harbor, which offers a 2,500-foot beach accompanied by teal waters, where snorkelers can observe massive boulders scattered on the lake floor. There is even a dedicated bay for snorkeling as well as scuba diving.

Another fantastic spot for snorkeling is the West Sores Emerald Bay. This Bay is home to a breathtaking underwater forest of pine trees that had fallen into the water during a landslide. Snorkelers also have the opportunity to spot a pair of old wooden barges used by steamers to transport cargo across Lake Tahoe.

Although some interesting marine life can be found in the lake, its greatest attraction is the unique underwater geological features and sunken forest. Beginners are welcome to try out snorkeling at the lake, provided they have basic swimming skills.

Klamath River

The Klamath River is another fantastic freshwater snorkeling experience in California. This river is so massive that it flows for 257 miles around Oregon through Northern California before emptying into the Pacific.

The river is perfect for kayaking as well as fishing, but one spot that stands out for snorkelers is Blue Creek. The rocky bottom and waters of the creek are inhabited by many different species of fish, including the Spring Chinook Salmon and Steelhead.

Mcabee Beach

McAbee Beach is situated in Monterey, Northern California. It was named after John B. McAbee, who started a seaside resort in the area during the 1890s. Today, McAbee Beach is famous for its fantastic snorkeling and diving site.

After you’ve entered the waters, you won’t need to swim far to reach deeper water. Early on in your swim, you should see the sandy bottom turn into rocks covered with brightly colored invertebrates.

The waters have an abundance of other marine life also, so you may see some kelpfish, blue rockfish, as well as other small species of fish. A unique feature of this beach is the old, submerged pipelines, where an artificial reef has formed around the underwater pipes.

San Carlos Beach

Situated nearby the iconic Cannery Row, next to the Coast Guard Pier, the San Carlos Beach is a significant snorkeling attraction in Monterey. So, if you’ve been planning a weekend getaway to the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, don’t forget to add snorkeling to your list of things to do.

The calm, peaceful waters make it an ideal place for beginners in snorkeling, so if you have no previous experience underwater, this is the place for you. There’s an abundance of marine life to spot, such as sand dollars, rock cod, and even seals amongst kelp forests.

Glass Beach

Glass Beach is known to be one of California’s most unique beaches, making it a popular snorkeling destination in Northern California. The water here is rather cold. However, it shouldn’t be an issue with the right gear and a wetsuit.

Apart from the local sea life, lingcod, rock cod, sea urchins, and small octopi, what is going to really catch your eye is the colorful rocks and pebbles that are scattered throughout the waters and beaches near Fort Bragg. However, you should be made aware that it is illegal to take any of the colorful pieces home, which is banned to preserve the beach’s natural beauty.

Snorkeling Tours In California

If you like spending your free time underwater, there’s nothing worse than doing it alone. There are many snorkeling tours available in California in which you can spend your time underwater with other people.

Original Snorkel Tour Of La Jolla (Everyday California)

The original snorkel tour of La Jolla will have you exploring the waters of the La Jolla Ecological Reserve with two experienced snorkel guides that will take you around the reserve in search of leopard sharks; garibaldi, shovelnose guitarfish, sea lions, turtles, and even dolphins!

This tour takes place in the summertime and is an hour-long. It is an introductory tour, which is perfect for beginners and little kids. Find more information here.

Channel Island Tours (Santa Barbra Adventures)

On the guided tour around Scorpion Anchorage, you will be able to learn from experts in the park while exploring the breathtaking kelp forests that line the coast. If the time is right, you may even get a chance to swim in the sea caves. Find more information here.

SoCal Snorkeling Tours (Laguna Beach And Catalina Island)

Through SoCals Snorkeling Tours, you are given the unique opportunity to explore underwater kelp forests and see a massive variety of fish as well as marine life while venturing through stunning coral reefs. All trips are private and accommodate a maximum of 6 people. Find more information here.

Snorkeling In California Hidden Fees

While you may have budgeted for accommodation, food, and a private guided tour, you may have forgotten about some of the hidden fees, such as entry into state parks or metered parking fees.

La JollaParking: $4.95
Channel Islands National ParkNo Fee
Laguna BeachMetered Parking: $2.50 – 4.50 / hr
Scorpion AnchorageNo Fee
Catalina IslandsFerry: $70 Round Trip
Lake Tahoe$10 / Vehicle
Klamath RiverNo Fee
McAbee BeachMetered Parking: $2.50 – 4.50 / hr
San Carlos BeachMetered Parking: $2.50 – 4.50 / hr
Glass Beach$14 Entry Fee


California has endless coastlines and waters teeming with marine life just waiting to be explored. With so many different highly rated snorkeling spots to visit, your snorkeling dream can finally come to life in the crystal waters of the Golden State.

With a few things to consider, such as the time of year, and the temperature of the water (depending on where you want to visit), your snorkeling journey of a lifetime is only one wetsuit hire away.