San Diego Snorkeling Guide

Everything you need to know before snorkeling in San Diego

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BEST SNORKELING IN SAN DIEGO (AREAS)

La Jolla, Mission Bay, Point Loma, and Coronado Islands (in Mexico)

SAN DIEGO SNORKELING SEASON

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

SAN DIEGO SNORKELING TOURS

Boat Snorkeling: All snorkeling areas
Shore Snorkeling: La Jolla only

SAN DIEGO SNORKELING PRICES

Boat Snorkeling: avg. $83 - $207
Shore Snorkeling: free - $160

SAN DIEGO SNORKELING VISIBILITY

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

SAN DIEGO WATER TEMPERATURE

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

EXPOSURE PROTECTION

Summer: 5mm wetsuit
Winter: 7mm wetsuit (hood recommended)

SAN DIEGO MARINE LIFE

  • Leopard, sevengill, horn, tope sharks
  • Stingray, bat ray, guitarfish
  • Halfmoon, blacksmith
  • Garibaldi, sheephead
  • California spiny lobster
  • Giant spinned sea star
  • Sea lion, harbor seal
  • Green sea turtle
  • Giant sea bass

SAN DIEGO SNORKELING CHARTERS

Snorkeling in San Diego

Despite visibility and water temperature being on the lower scale when compared to tropical destinations, snorkeling in San Diego packs the whole punch of cold-water snorkeling.

When snorkeling in San Diego, you'll have the chance to encounter:

  • Sea Lions: a day trip to Coronado Islands' local rookery
  • Sharks: leopard sharks are guaranteed in the summer months
  • Rays: in La Jolla and Mission Bay, common in the summer
  • Sea Turtles: although rare, they inhabit La Jolla year round
YouTube video

Video by Justin MacRae

SAN DIEGO SNORKELING IN A NUTSHELL

    Snorkeling Conditions

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    Photo by Frankie Grant

    snorkeling-in-san-diego-la-jolla

    Photo by Frankie Grant

    Visibility

    This is what you can expect from San Diego snorkeling visibility:

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

    Water Temperature

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

    Surface temperatures vary with the seasons and range between:

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

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

    Exposure Protection

    If you plan to snorkel in San Diego, exposure protection is a must.

    We recommend wearing a full 5mm wetsuit during the summer and a full 7mm wetsuit and a hood in the winter. If you don't have your own gear, keep on reading for some San Diego snorkel gear rental recommendations.

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

    Marine Life

    san-diego-snorkeling

    Photo by Frankie Grant

    San Diego’s rugged topography and its Marine Protected Areas create the perfect home for creatures unique to the Pacific Coast.

    Although you can’t expect to see every creature on your first snorkel tour, there’s a good chance of finding kelp bass, sheephead, garibaldi, and blacksmiths almost every time you get in the water!

    For those either lucky enough or patient enough, you may find giant sea bass, horn sharks, green sea turtles, sevengill sharks, sea lions or our curious harbor seals.

    LOCAL TIP

    The early bird gets the worm! Get into the water and start snorkeling early in the morning when the reef is coming to life and activity is high.

    Snorkeling Access

    snorkeling-in-san-diego

    Photo by Frankie Grant

    All San Diego snorkeling spots are public access. Some are easy to access, some require a strenuous workout, and some are only accessible by boat. See our next section for details on all snorkeling spots in San Diego.

    If you've never snorkeled before, we highly recommend joining a snorkel charter or a guided snorkel tour so you can easily find entry points and species of interest.

    We (Waterhorse Charters) are the only commercial boat running snorkel charters in San Diego and to the Coronado Islands.

    SNORKELING GEAR TIP

    When snorkeling off the beach, keep your mask around your neck (not your forehead!) and your fins securely in your hands. The waves may look unassuming, but gear is lost in the surf all the time.

    San Diego Snorkeling Spots

    The San Diego snorkeling map above includes our selection of best San Diego snorkeling spots dive sites from La Jolla, Point Loma, Mission Bay, and Coronado Islands.

    Green icons represent easy-to-access spots, red icons represent spots that require a strenuous workout, and blue icons represent spots accessible only by boat.

    La Jolla Shores

    • Level: All levels
    • Formation: Sandy Flats
    • Highlight: Leopard Sharks, Rays
    • Access: Boat & Shore

    Marine Room

    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Abundant Fish
    • Access: Boat & Shore

    TURTLE TOWN

    • Level:Advanced
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Sea Turtles
    • Access: Boat & Shore (strenuous)

    DEVIL'S SLIDE REEF

    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Horn Sharks
    • Access: Boat & Shore (strenuous)

    La Jolla Sea Caves

    • Level: All levels
    • Formation: Sea Caves
    • Highlight: Lighting Contrast
    • Access: Boat & Shore (strenuous)

    La Jolla Cove

    • Level: All levels
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Easiest Access
    • Access: Boat & Shore

    Boomer's Kelp Beds

    • Level:Advanced
    • Formation: Kelp Forest
    • Highlight: Sea Lion Colony
    • Access: Boat & Shore (strenuous)

    Bird Rock

    • Level:Advanced
    • Formation: Kelp Forest
    • Highlight: Giant Sea Bass
    • Access: Boat & Shore (strenuous)

    Mission Point Park

    • Level:Advanced
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Always Calm
    • Access: Boat & Shore

    Sunset Cliffs

    • Level: Advanced
    • Formation: Kelp Forest
    • Highlight: Dramatic Seascape
    • Access: Boat & Shore (strenuous)

    Lobster Shack

    • Level: All levels
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Sea Lion Colony
    • Access: Boat

    Middle Grounds

    • Level: All levels
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Harbor Seals
    • Access: Boat

    Keyhole

    • Level: All levels
    • Formation: Rocky Reef
    • Highlight: Underwater Archway
    • Access: Boat

    Snorkeling Businesses

    San Diego has one snorkeling charter company, two kayak and snorkel companies, and a number of companies offering snorkeling tours and rentals. Here's a list of all San Diego snorkeling businesses and all the services they offer:

    WATERHORSE CHARTERS

    (yours truly 😀)

    • Boat snorkel tours
    • Snorkel gear rental (boat only)

    Everyday California

    • Shore snorkel tours
    • Kayak snorkel tours
    • Snorkel gear rental

    La Jolla Kayak

    • Shore snorkel tours
    • Kayak snorkel tours
    • Snorkel gear rental

    ZACH SCUBA SHACK

    • Shore snorkel tours

    LA JOLLA WATERSPORTS

    • Shore snorkel tours
    • Snorkel gear rental

    DIVE IN SCUBA

    • Shore snorkel tours

    SAN DIEGO SCUBA GUIDE

    • Shore snorkel tours

    Scuba Diver Girls

    • Shore snorkel tours

    Scuba Diving San Diego

    • Shore snorkel tours

    Snorkel San Diego

    • Shore snorkel tours

    Snorkel San Diego Scuba

    • Shore snorkel tours

    La Jolla Caves Snorkel and Paddleboard Rentals

    • Snorkel gear rental

    You'll love snorkeling in San Diego

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    Our boats make weekly trips to the Coronado Islands, a Mexican snorkeling paradise. They're also available for private snorkeling charters for groups from 6 to 24 people. We'll take you there.

    Photo by Ed Olu

    🧜‍♀️ New year, new skills: start 2023 expanding your underwater horizons!
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