San Diego Scuba Diving Guide

Everything you need to know before scuba diving in San Diego

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SAN DIEGO SCUBA DIVING AREAS

WHEN TO GO

Diveable Months: Year-round
Best Conditions: Fall & Winter

access

Boat Diving: All dive sites
Shore Diving: La Jolla only

COST

Boat Diving: avg. $130 - $250
Shore Diving: free - $250

visibility

Imperial: 5 to 80 ft (avg: 20 ft)
Metric: 1 to 24 m (avg: 6 m)

SURFACE WATER TEMP

Imperial: 58° to 70°F
Metric: 14° to 21°C

BOTTOM WATER TEMP

Imperial: 48° to 65°F
Metric: 8° to 18°C

protection

Mandatory: 7mm wetsuit or drysuit
Recommended: Hood, booties, gloves

marine life

  • Red gorgonian, strawberry anemones
  • Sevengill, horn, swell, & angel sharks
  • Stingray, bat ray, guitarfish
  • Yellowtail, lingcod, halibut
  • Halfmoon, blacksmith
  • Garibaldi, sheephead
  • California spiny lobster
  • Giant spinned sea star
  • Sea lion, harbor seal
  • Giant sea bass
  • Nudibranch

BOAT CHARTERS

Waterhorse Charters ⭐️
Marissa Charters

 

San Diego Scuba Diving

San Diego scuba diving packs the whole punch of cold-water diving:

  • Kelp Forests: richer at Point Loma area, but also found in La Jolla
  • Canyons & Walls: prime spots are Scripps Canyon & Train Wheels
  • Wreck Diving: famous underwater collection at Wreck Alley
  • Sea Lion Diving: a day trip to Coronado Islands' local rookery
  • Specialty Diving: lobster, night, and shark diving are possible here
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IN A NUTSHELL

    Dive Conditions

    Visibility

    For divers accustomed to warm waters, San Diego scuba diving might feel slightly eerie. Visibility averages here equal the poorest visibility days in the tropics. The dazzling 100 ft+ visibility you find down south happens because those waters are nutrient deserts.

    San Diego waters are nutrient rich, which helps kelp forests and cold-water species like sea lions and some shark species to flourish.

    With that being said, this is what you can expect from San Diego scuba diving visibility:

    • Average: 20 to 30 ft
    • Best: 50 ft+ locally & 100 ft+ at the Coronado Islands (fall & winter)
    • Worst: 5 ft (usually during algae blooms)*

    Dive conditions here change hourly. We keep a running Conditions Report spreadsheet to better forecast future visibility for our boat charters.

    san-diego-scuba-diving-exposure-protection

    Brave birthday diver ventures out at the Coronado Islands without a wetsuit (Photo by Jon Schmitt)

    Water Temperature

    We are the first to admit it: San Diego scuba diving might not be for everyone. While cold water is just part of the sport for some, others might completely despise loathe shivering underwater.

    If you plan to scuba dive in San Diego, self-awareness and exposure protection are a must. 

    Surface temperatures vary with the seasons and range between:

    • May - October: 62° to 70°F
    • November - April: 58° to 61°F

    Bottom temperatures don't ever get too high and range between:

    • May - October: 56° to 65°F
    • November - April: 48° to 55°F

    Coronado Islands, a day trip to Mexico away, tend to have 1 to 3°F higher surface and bottom temperatures. Every bit counts!

    san-diego-scuba-diving

    Photo by Jon Schmitt

    Exposure Protection

    An extra layer of neoprene is always helpful when diving in San Diego, which is why we recommend full 7mm wetsuits with hood, booties, and gloves.

    If you are certified and comfortable with it, a drysuit is not a bad idea for an even-warmer dive, although they might be hard to rent if you don’t have your own.

    LOCAL TIP

    House of Scuba is the only local shop that rents drysuits, but only if you are certified for it.

    Dive Site Access

     You can dive La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores by shore, but you'll need a private or commercial boat to access any other dive site in San Diego. 

    Waterhorse Charters - us - and Marissa Charters have the only United States Coast Guard inspected commercial dive boats in town.

    san-diego-dive-boat

    Photo by Phil Colla

    Dive Sites Map

    The San Diego scuba diving map and list below includes our top favorite dive sites from La Jolla, Wreck Alley, Point Loma, and Coronado Islands. Although not all of San Diego dive sites are represented here, these are the main local recreational dive sites.

    Darker icons represent advanced sites (over 60 ft) and brighter icons represent open water dive sites (under 60 ft).

    P-38

    • Max. Depth:  130 ft
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Wreck
    • Highlight: Historical Plane

    Scripps Canyon

    • Max. Depth: 130 ft+
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Canyon
    • Highlight: Deep Walls

    La Jolla Pinnacles

    • Max. Depth: 90 ft
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Rocky Pinnacle
    • Highlight: Nudibranchs

    La Jolla Shores

    • Max. Depth: 130 ft+
    • Level: Open Water, Advanced
    • Formation: Sand, Canyon
    • Highlight: Night Diving

    La Jolla Cove & Kelp Beds

    • Max. Depth: 50 ft
    • Level: Open Water
    • Formation: Kelp Forest
    • Highlight: Shore Diving

    HMCS YUKON

    • Max. Depth: 100 ft
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Wreck
    • Highlight: large size (366 ft)

    NOSC TOWER

    • Max. Depth: 60 ft
    • Level: Open Water
    • Formation: Wreck
    • Highlight: Mini 'Oil-Rig'

    Ruby E.

    • Max. Depth: 80 ft
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Wreck
    • Highlight: Colorful Anemone

    Old Ingraham Street Bridge

    • Max. Depth: 70 ft
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Wreck
    • Highlight: Bridge Rubbles

    El Rey

    • Max. Depth: 80 ft
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Wreck
    • Highlight: Kelp Harvester

    6 Fathoms

    • Max. Depth: 60 ft
    • Level: Open Water
    • Formation: Kelp Forest
    • Highlight: Sevengill Sharks

    New Hope Rock

    • Depth: 35 ft
    • Level: Open Water
    • Formation: Kelp Forest
    • Highlight: Shallow Reef

    Horsehead Reef

    • Max. Depth: 60 ft
    • Level: Open Water
    • Formation: Kelp Forest
    • Highlight: Walls

    Dino Head

    • Max. Depth: 100 ft
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Kelp Forest, Cliffs
    • Highlight: Dinosaur Rock

    Train Wheels

    • Max. Depth: 100 ft
    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Kelp Forest, Cliffs
    • Highlight: Wrecked Wheels

    Lobster Shack

    • Max. Depth: 60 ft+
    • Level: Open Water
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Sea Lions

    Keyhole

    • Max. Depth: 60 ft+
    • Level: Open Water
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Archway

    Middle Grounds

    • Max. Depth: 60 ft
    • Level: Open Water
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Rocky 'Fingers'

    LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

    We didn't include Mission Bay as a main San Diego dive area because ocean conditions always triumph. Despite poor average visibility, Mission Bay is often used for scuba courses and lobster diving.

    Diving Specialties

    SHARK DIVING

    Here is what you need to know about shark diving in San Diego:

    • Common Species: horn sharks, leopard sharks, sevengill sharks
    • Rare Species: swell sharks, tope sharks, smooth-hound sharks
    • Rarest Species: great white sharks, blue sharks, mako sharks, thresher sharks
    • Cage Diving: there is no great white shark cage diving in San Diego, but charters leave from San Diego to Mexican Guadalupe Islands
    • Dangers: Shark attacks are incredibly rare in San Diego, specially for scuba divers
    • Season: scuba diving in the Kelp Forests for sevengill sharks (spring), snorkeling at La Jolla Shores for leopard sharks (summer), looking under rocks and inside crevices on most dive sites for horn and swell sharks (year-round)

    If you're interested in shark diving, see our San Diego Shark Diving guide.

    san-diego-shark-diving

    Photo by Charles Hobson

    LOBSTER DIVING

    Here is what you need to know about lobster diving in San Diego:

    • Season: October through March (specific dates here)
    • Required Gear: Lobster game bag, gauge, dive light
    • Lobster Limit: Seven lobsters per person, per dive
    • Licenses: Lobster Report Card and Fishing License (buy them here)
    • Legal Size: 3 ¼ inch carapace (measured like this)
    • Location: Anywhere you don't see red (or some blue) on this map
    • Best Spots: Point Loma Kelp Beds & Mission Bay
    san-diego-lobster-diving

    Photo by Michael Wimmer

    NIGHT DIVING

    Here is what you need to know about night diving in San Diego:

    • Season: year-round
    • Gear: dive light, SMB, reel
    • Species: shrimps, octupus, crabs, horn sharks, guitar fishes, halibuts
    • Best Spots: Mission Bay & La Jolla Shores (from shore), Scripps Canyon & HMCS Yukon (by boat)
    san-diego-night-diving

    Photo by Michael Wimmer

    Dive Shops

    San Diego has 5 dive shops, 2 scuba charter companies, and a number of scuba diving companies offering tours and lessons. Here's a list of all San Diego companies and all the services they offer:

    WATERHORSE CHARTERS

    (yours truly 😀)

    OCEAN ENTERPRISES

    • Dive Shop
    • Dive Courses*
    • Dive Travel
    • Guided Shore Diving

    Beyond Land Adventures

    • Dive Shop
    • Dive Courses*
    • Dive Travel
    • Guided Shore Diving

    MARISSA CHARTERS

    • Boat Diving
    • Dive Courses
    • Guided Shore Diving

    HOUSE OF SCUBA

    • Dive Shop
    • Dive Courses
    • Dive Travel

    SAN DIEGO DIVERS

    • Dive Shop
    • Dive Courses

    NORTH COUNTY SCUBA CENTER

    • Dive Shop
    • Dive Courses*

    SCUBA GUY CHARTERS

    • Boat Diving (6-pack)
    • Dive Courses

    ODYSSEA BY FLETCHER

    • Dive Courses*
    • Guided Shore Diving

    ZACH SCUBA SHACK

    • Scuba Courses
    • Guided Shore Dives

    SCUBA SAN DIEGO

    • Scuba Courses*
    • Guided Shore Dives

    SAN DIEGO SCUBA GUIDE

    • Scuba Courses
    • Guided Shore Dives

    LA JOLLA DIVE

    • Scuba Courses
    • Guided Shore Dives

    scuba diver girls

    • Guided Shore Dives

    *These companies charter our boats for some dive courses & group dives

    You'll love San Diego diving

    san-diego-scuba-diving

    Our two dive boats make weekly trips to the most popular San Diego dive sites mentioned above. Plus: we lend you tanks and weights, feed you, help you with your fins, and give you insider tips before each dive.

    We'll take you there.

    Photo by Ed Olu

    Holiday Diving Contest: Win $540 worth of dive-related prizes
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