In June 2012 California approved creation of a network of its marine protected areas, making an unprecedented playground for divers and undersea life alike. Building on prior legislation, California’s is the first such statewide network of protection in the U.S., with expanded historically protected areas and brand-new ones. Ocean Conservancy has spotlighted its Top 10 dive sites within this network — along with creatures to look for in each — what are you waiting for? Here's a quick thumbnail on each to whet your appetite for more.
La Jolla Cove, San Diego: Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve
Recently expanded and renamed Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve in honor of its Native American heritage, this park features a sheltered kelp forest that’s teeming with life.
Look for: Leopard sharks
Shaw’s Cove: Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve
Most popular of the Laguna coves, this reserve has an incredible outer reef where you’ll find gorgonian sea fans, nudibranchs and a host of reef fish. Beware the occasional surge.
Look for: Garibaldi
Terranea Resort/Old Marineland, Laguna Beach: Point Vicente State Marine Reserve
Centered around Long Point and the Terranea Resort, a good site for intermediate shore divers and snorkelers. The Marineland Cove hosts a beautiful, shallow reef with a healthy kelp forest.
Look for: Octopus, sea urchins and anemones
Italian Gardens, Catalina Island: Long Point State Marine Reserve
A new MPA, Italian Gardens has an extensive area of boulders and thick kelp, and features terrain and conditions accessible to all divers.
Look for: Giant black sea bass
Naples Reef, Long Beach: Naples State Marine Conservation Area
A remote, wilderness-type dive for more experienced divers, with arches, pinnacles and ledges.
Look for: Sea lions, harbor seals and all types of reef fish.
Landing Cove: Anacapa (Island) State Marine Conservation Area
Bold and curious sheephead, kelp bass and rock wrasse may follow or approach you as you explore the lush kelp forest.
Look for: Bat ray
Carmel Pinnacles: Carmel Bay State Marine Conservation Area
Spectacular coralline-encrusted boulders and, in summer, a thick and teeming kelp bed in 20 to 30 feet of relatively calm water, with pinnacles that jut above the sand and the rock bottom further offshore, make this an easy dive.
Look for: Iconic Cali species like cabezon and lingcod during the winter
Point Lobos, Carmel: Point Lobos State Marine Reserve **
One of California’s most spectacular dive sites, it’s so popular that divers must reserve visits in order to limit numbers here.
Look for: Wolf eels, sea otters and sea lions.
Lover’s Point, Pacific Grove: Lover’s Point State Marine Reserve
Explore eelgrass beds, rocky ledges and, in the area of Hopkins Marine Station, a kelp forest and a reef system that’s been protected since 1931.
Look for: Octopus.
The Farallon Islands, San Francisco: Southeast Farallon Island State Marine Reserve
This internationally recognized ecotourism hotspot has a world-class assortment of birds, marine mammals and, famously, great white sharks.
Look for: Tufted puffins April to September