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The Best Scuba Diving in Big Sur, California

This rugged coastline offers top-tier underwater experiences.
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The Best Scuba Diving in Big Sur, California

COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closings are constantly evolving. There is no guarantee that the dive sites mentioned within this article will be open at your time of travel.

big sur diving

A variety of anemones abound off Big Sur, while blue rockfish enjoy the scenery.

Brandon Cole

Millions of tourists visit Big Sur, the über-scenic stretch of central California’s coastline with plunging cliffs and craggy rocks jutting from the sea. Their focus is driving the winding roadway, not diving into the wild Pacific Ocean beside it. Even among scuba die-hards who regularly dive nearby Monterey, only a couple hundred each year plunge into Big Sur’s sometimes surly, often fog-shrouded waters. It’s truly an underappreciated diving frontier for those ready for a challenge.

If You Have One Day

Undergo your Big Sur baptism at Diablo Pinnacles and Lobos Rocks. The former features a huge kelp forest, canyons and mini walls in 75 to 100 feet with abundant anemones, sea stars, rockfish and lingcod. The latter site showcases dozens of playful sea lions keen to volunteer as dive buddies. The goggle-eyed aqua acrobats are so entertaining, some people never see the rest of the site. Cap a perfect day by masquerading as tourists. Drive south on Highway 1 to catch the sunset, gaze out to the speck of ocean you explored, then celebrate in style atop the cliffs at Nepenthe or Rocky Point Restaurant.

If You Have Two Days

Hop on Monterey Blue Diving’s ­inflatable to get out to Flintstones fast. ­Plummet from 60 to beyond 150 feet down a monolithic wall decorated with vibrant sponges, tunicates, zoanthids, orange and purple hydrocorals, and gorgonians. Next, swim through imposing granite portals at Twin Arches, or concentrate on No Name Reef’s marvelous macro — nudis, painted greenlings sheltering in spotted rose anemones, decorator crabs and strawberry anemone fields forever. Save enough energy to hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or horseback-ride along the beach in Andrew Molera State Park.

If You Have Three Days

For maximum bottom time in difficult-to-access territory south of Point Sur, book a multiday liveaboard trip to dive stunning sites such as Haystacks and Pfeiffer Pinnacle. Truth Aquatics occasionally offers Big Sur liveaboard trips during June each year. Maybe you’ll even take home a lump of real jade as a souvenir from Jade Cove. Tec divers with top-notch skills will pray to jump on deep, ­legendary Schmeider Bank. An alternative three-day strategy is to dive your brains out for two days, then relax and experience Monterey above the waves — kayak, whale-watch, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium, and wine and dine along Cannery Row.

Need to Know

When to Go: Summer and fall are generally best for the sea conditions required to dive weather-dependent Big Sur.

Dive Conditions: Drysuits are ­recommended for the 45 to 55 degree water. Current is ­unpredictable and can be strong, just like the surge. This is advanced intermediate to ­extreme diving.

Operators: Monterey Blue Diving is a great choice for customized day trips.