7 of the Best Places for Snorkeling in California

California boasts a glorious 1,100-mile coastline, as well as some of the country’s most iconic lakes and secretive sinkholes. There are hundreds of superb snorkeling spots dotted around the state, from the wild waves of NorCal to SoCal’s manicured beaches. Whether you’re looking for an adrenalin-filled snorkel boat trip or a secluded beach, you’ll find it in California. And, to make the decision a little easier for you, we’ve rounded up seven of the best places for snorkeling in California.

The best places for snorkeling in California

1. Glass Beach 

Glass Beach is northern California’s most prized  – and unusual – snorkeling spot. Once a city dump, the beach is now made up of thousands of colourful glass fragments that have been polished up by the waves over the years. Underwater it’s a kaleidoscope of colour, like snorkeling in jewels. The tops of the shallow rocks are covered in coralline algae too. There’s also plenty of marine life to bump into, such as rock cod, sea urchins, lingcod and teeny tiny octopuses.

2. Gerstle Cove

Set within Salt Point Saint Park, Gerstle Cove is a marine reserve with average depths between 10-30 ft deep. Thanks to a long-held fishing ban, there’s an abundance of underwater wildlife to encounter here, including red abalone and huge game fish. The waters are clear and calm for the most part, with plenty of rock pools for little ones to explore too.

3. Catalina Island

Set off the coast of Southern California, this tiny rocky island is one of the best places for snorkeling in California. There are a handful of excellent snorkeling spots to choose from, but the most famous include Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve, Casino Point Dive Park and Descano Beach. Renowned for its calm, clear waters, the island is extremely popular with local marine life too, so you’re always bound to spot something extraordinary. Book a reputable snorkel tour to make the most of your trip.

best places for snorkeling in California

4. Emerald Bay State Park 

Perfectly placed for lazy weekends in South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay State Park abounds with snorkeling opportunities. First opened in 2018, the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail is a curated underwater trail “showcasing the historic recreational watercraft and barges that now rest below the surface of Emerald Bay”. Sites range from depths of 10–60 ft. There are two sunken wooden barges, a wooden fishing boat, a skiff and a wooden passenger launch boat called the Florence M. Most of these were used during Tahoe’s ‘golden age’ in the early 20th century.

5. Diver’s Cove

As its name implies, Diver’s Cove is highly prized by scuba divers, but it’s an ideal spot for snorkeling too. Located in Laguna Beach, the cove is protected from the worst of the coast’s swells which makes for calm waters and good visibility. Highlights include garibaldi, sea stars, purple urchins, lobster and kelp bass. You might even get lucky and spot stingrays and leopard sharks dancing across the seafloor. The cove is around 300-ft long, separated from Picnic Beach by a row of rocks.

best places for snorkeling in California

6. Scorpion Anchorage

You’ll need to hop on a boat to get to this epic snorkel site but it’s worth the extra effort. Located in Santa Cruz, the largest of the Chanel Islands, the waters here are bursting with marine life. It’s home to stingrays, crabs, sea hares and seals (no scorpions, thankfully). It’s one of the largest sea caves in the world too, making it ideal for more advanced snorkelers too.

7. McAbee Beach 

Located in Monterey Bay, McAbee Beach is one of northern California’s best snorkeling spots. It boasts an easy access point too, with a sprawling kelp bed minutes from the shoreline. Popular with all levels, from beginner to advanced, the waters are rich with marine life, including blue rockfish and kelpfish. As well as colourful invertebrates, several old pipes stretch across the waters to form an artificial reef too. The beach is named after John B. McAbee, who built the seaside resort in the late 19th century.

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Allie D'Almo

Allie is a passionate traveller with a hearty interest in great food and stories. She likes to travel slowly, particularly to underrated and underloved places. She’s lived in Italy and is now based in London, where she spends most of her time either plotting her next trip or writing about her last one.

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