Comparing North and South California Scuba Diving

Are you planning a scuba diving trip to the California coast, but feeling unsure about whether to head to NorCal or down towards the southern border? It's a decision that many people find challenging, not least because cities like San Diego and San Francisco have so much to offer the scuba enthusiast both during and between dives.

To aid you in weighing a decision between the two, today we're going to compare and contrast La Jolla scuba diving and Bay Area scuba diving. Let the battle between North and South begin!

Sunny San Diego sits right at the base of the California coast, not far from the border with Mexico. This fun and culturally vibrant city enjoys a semi-arid climate and a rich history, having been the first location settled by Europeans as they reached the western coastline.

Nearby La Jolla is without a doubt the most famous diving location in the San Diego area, so we'll definitely be zooming in on that destination. Meanwhile, San Francisco also boasts fantastic culture and entertainment, framed by a Mediterranean climate and access to Bay Area scuba diving.

Which will tempt you more? Read on to find out.

Hitting the Water from a Base in San Diego: La Jolla Scuba Diving

Why is La Jolla scuba diving so popular? Well, it's one of only a handful of places on the Pacific Coast where divers can expect to access rocky reefs teeming with fish, giant kelp forests, and sea caves from a single beach entry point. La Jolla divers can also hope to run into harbor seals, sea lions, green sea turtles, sharks, and rays.

So much abundant life thrives here because La Jolla cove is effectively a giant underwater state park! La Jolla is part of the Matlahuayla State Marine Reserve, and has been actively protected since 1929. The reserve is named in tribute to the Kumeyaay tribes that used to live in this coastal region, and the word Matlahuayl is akin to what they used to call La Jolla, meaning “land of holes”. Why, you may wonder? Most likely in reference to the seven famous caves that can be found beneath the waves!

The sea caves are visited by kayakers, snorkelers, and scuba divers. When the water is calm, explorers can venture through gaps in the rocks to discover mysterious grottos. While scuba gear isn't necessary to adventure into this incredible habitat, those breathing through a regulator will certainly be able to explore it the most freely.

Divers can swim through tunnels between chambers and surface in exciting hidden open-air caverns. It's quite easy to get disoriented, so do go with a guide if checking out this incredible place for the first time.

Outside the caves, other features of La Jolla scuba diving include drifting through the seagrass meadows and investigating wildlife resident in the reefs.

One of the most impressive underwater sites to check out is the kelp beds, which would be more aptly described as kelp forests! These giant marine plants stretch up from the rocky seabed creating what feels like a submerged fantasy woodland where you can swim between branches and under canopies.

Do keep in mind while engaging in La Jolla scuba diving that it is forbidden to hunt or capture marine life, pick underwater plants, or take rocks and shells in the Matlahuayl reserve. Also, keep in mind that you'll want a decent wetsuit for this diving area. Local water temperatures range between 53°F (12°C) and 78° F (25°C), although the water rarely gets so balmy, and only during the warmest fall months.

During winter, there can be a moderate surge at La Jolla, making it a must to be cautious about swimming in rocky or caved areas. If in doubt, check with a trusted local dive center.

San Francisco Bay Area Scuba Diving

While there isn't really anything to be said for scuba diving within San Francisco Bay itself—this shallow body of water is sadly mostly mud flats and shipping lanes—the city has a thriving dive community. Why? Because the wider offering for Bay Area scuba diving is rated as exceptional among scuba enthusiasts globally!

Just like the coast around San Diego, this part of the California shore is home to lots of underwater nature reserves.

The first place that most divers head to from a base in San Francisco is Monterey Bay, just to the south of the city.

Monterey Bay is also where most San Fran dive schools will take you to get the open water experiences needed for any diving certification that you pursue while in the city. Monterey Bay is popular with Stanford marine biology students and was rated as the best beach dive in the U.S. By Scuba Diving magazine. Not bad credentials!

In terms of what to expect, Monterey Bay features yet more kelp forests and a dazzling array of large and small marine animals. This can be attributed to a deep canyon positioned just offshore that drives an upwelling of rich nutrients into the shallows.

Scuba divers can enter the water from the somewhat rocky shores or charter dive boats. Once submerged, they will be able to meet seals and sea lions—who may join them in their adventures—and find bright corals, colorful fish, octopuses, strawberry anemones, lobster, and nudibranchs. There are also great opportunities for night diving here.

Other great Bay Area scuba diving locations include the Metridium fields, where you'll find expansive reefs covered in big cauliflower-like anemones that are accessed by swimming alongside a large submerged pipe until you reach this striking sight.

Carmel Bay is also prized for its verdant underwater habitat and spectacular beach scenery above the water.

All of the Bay Area scuba diving sites certainly call for a decent wetsuit or even a drysuit, as the water here is even colder than around San Diego. Anticipate water temperatures that range between 53ºF (12ºC) in January and 60ºF (16ºC) in August and September.

Did we sway you towards La Jolla scuba diving or Bay Area scuba diving? Both certainly offer an abundance of underwater beauty, with unusual species near San Fransisco and cave diving near San Diego.

Whichever of these two locations you choose, do keep in mind that the Pacific Coast can be a little unpredictable.

Always confirm the water temperature before your trip and check if surges are forecasted on the day. Safety is always the priority.

Happy California coast diving!

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