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Itinerary: Diving California's Sonoma Coast

By Ethan Daniels | Authored On September 18, 2014
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Itinerary: Diving California's Sonoma Coast


California's Rocky Coast

There are a number of little-known dive sites off the rocky coast of northern California.

Ethan Daniels

California's seldon-visited sites north of San Francisco harbor unique kelp kingdoms and so much more. If you're planning to dive on California's Sonoma Coast (and if you need convincing, check out this photo gallery!), we've got what you need to know.

When to Go Diving in NorCal is done year-round, but the weather is variable, especially during winter. Fog and cold winds are common. Heavy weather will sometimes curtail diving, when the coast is barraged by swells, limiting visibility. No matter what the cloud cover, diving is best whenever weak winds prevail.

Dive Conditions NorCal seas are cold, usually below 55 degrees F, so drysuits are recommended, but you will see local free divers in wetsuits as they hunt for abalone. Viz can vary dramatically, ranging from 5 to 50 feet on a weekly basis, as well as vertically in the water column. During calm periods within winter months, the water is the most clear. Be observant and careful during entries and exits in the surf zone.

Operators Try Sub-Surface Progression dive Shop in Fort Bragg (subsurfaceprogression.com), Bamboo reef in San Francisco (bambooreef.com), or Pinnacles Dive Center (pinnaclesdive.com) in Santa Rosa. Finding rental tanks and getting air fills can be difficult, so call ahead to reserve tanks, and to be sure dive shops are open for fills.

Three-Day Itinerary


Day 1: Head north on Highway 1 and choose a protected dive site along the Sonoma Coast State Park

. Then stop at the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol, home to tasty craft beers and live music.

Day 2: Not far north lies Stillwater Cove and Salt Point State Park, where Gerstle Cove offers one of the region’s easiest entry points for divers. Camp at the park or work your way up the coast toward Mendocino for fantastic sunset views while enjoying the fresh salmon at Wild Fish restaurant in Little River Cove.

Day 3: Find yourself in one of northern California’s most beautiful spots, Mendocino village. After diving Mendocino Bay, aka the Blow Hole, check out the scrumptious fish and chips at convivial Patterson’s Pub, just a few blocks from the dive site. Also, make sure to walk the paths of the Mendocino Headlands, which present spectacular views of the Pacific. Keep your eye out for the blows of migrating gray whales passing close to shore.

There are a number of little-known dive sites off the rocky coast of northern California.

Ethan Daniels

California's seldon-visited sites north of San Francisco harbor unique kelp kingdoms and so much more. If you're planning to dive on California's Sonoma Coast (and if you need convincing, check out this photo gallery!), we've got what you need to know.

When to Go Diving in NorCal is done year-round, but the weather is variable, especially during winter. Fog and cold winds are common. Heavy weather will sometimes curtail diving, when the coast is barraged by swells, limiting visibility. No matter what the cloud cover, diving is best whenever weak winds prevail.

Dive Conditions NorCal seas are cold, usually below 55 degrees F, so drysuits are recommended, but you will see local free divers in wetsuits as they hunt for abalone. Viz can vary dramatically, ranging from 5 to 50 feet on a weekly basis, as well as vertically in the water column. During calm periods within winter months, the water is the most clear. Be observant and careful during entries and exits in the surf zone.

Operators Try Sub-Surface Progression dive Shop in Fort Bragg (subsurfaceprogression.com), Bamboo reef in San Francisco (bambooreef.com), or Pinnacles Dive Center (pinnaclesdive.com) in Santa Rosa. Finding rental tanks and getting air fills can be difficult, so call ahead to reserve tanks, and to be sure dive shops are open for fills.

Three-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Head north on Highway 1 and choose a protected dive site along the Sonoma Coast State Park. Then stop at the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol, home to tasty craft beers and live music.

Day 2: Not far north lies Stillwater Cove and Salt Point State Park, where Gerstle Cove offers one of the region’s easiest entry points for divers. Camp at the park or work your way up the coast toward Mendocino for fantastic sunset views while enjoying the fresh salmon at Wild Fish restaurant in Little River Cove.

Day 3: Find yourself in one of northern California’s most beautiful spots, Mendocino village. After diving Mendocino Bay, aka the Blow Hole, check out the scrumptious fish and chips at convivial Patterson’s Pub, just a few blocks from the dive site. Also, make sure to walk the paths of the Mendocino Headlands, which present spectacular views of the Pacific. Keep your eye out for the blows of migrating gray whales passing close to shore.