San Diego gets plenty of recognition for its idyllic beaches and rugged coastline, but many don’t give credit for its fantastic snorkeling.
It may come as a surprise to you that snorkeling in San Diego is one of the best ways to enjoy a beach visit. Colorful marine life, huge kelp beds, and sea caves are all waiting to be explored. And did you know that you can even snorkel with sharks in San Diego? Each summer, leopard sharks come to La Jolla to hatch their young and snorkeling is the best way to see them. Don’t worry, they are totally harmless. You should still keep your distance and never touch or disturb them in other ways.
We’ve created a comprehensive guide for eager snorkelers heading to San Diego. Most of the snorkeling spots are located in the neighborhood of La Jolla, but there are some San Diego snorkeling spots closer to downtown as well. This article is complete with the top snorkeling spots, must-do tours, and the best-rated equipment and everything else you might want to know about snorkeling in San Diego.
Best Spots To Go Snorkeling In San Diego
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is, without a doubt, San Diego’s most famed spot for snorkeling. A title it most definitely deserves.
Part of the La Jolla Underwater Park, during summer, enhanced visibility in this underwater park allows snorkelers to swim with leopard sharks and vibrant garibaldi fish. The sea lions which lounge by the rocks may even join you!
You can rest easy knowing that lifeguards are permanently stationed here, making it a safe spot to explore for confident swimmers.
You can find paid parking at the nearby La Jolla Financial Building. For those who arrive early enough, you should be able to snag free street parking for up to 2 – 3 hours. Don’t stay underwater too long or risk a hefty fine for overstaying your parking limits.
La Jolla Shores Beach
Staying in La Jolla but heading a bit further north is La Jolla Shores.
La Jolla Shores is a family-friendly beach where kids can get in on the snorkeling action thanks to calm conditions and shallow waters.
You have the option to bring your own gear or rent some from one of the many snorkel rental spots in the neighborhood.
Easily accessed behind the Marine Room restaurant, swimmers can dive by the kelp beds and spot the sting rays that frequent the waters.
Similar to La Jolla Cove, this area tends to get busy later in the day. Start your day early and find a space at the free parking lot right on the beachfront.
There are no prizes for guessing why this spot in La Jolla’s marine sanctuary got its name. Turtle Town is home to adorable young and old sea turtles swimming alongside schools of brightly colored fish.
Known as one of San Diego’s closely guarded secrets, it’s easy to see why it’s gotten this reputation, it can be notoriously tricky to find.
Between The Marine Room restaurant and La Jolla Cove, look out for red and green kelp plants, where the turtles tend to congregate.
Due to its hard-to-reach location, this spot is best for avid snorkelers and strong swimmers. This spot isn’t recommended for little ones.
Seven Sea Caves
Yet another La Jolla snorkeling hot spot is the Seven Sea Caves. These are located just east of La Jolla Cove and consist of seven uniquely named caves that line the coast.
Join the halibut, mackerel, and rays which spend their days swimming beside caves named Clam, Shopping Cart, and Jim.
Accessed from the same entry points as Turtle Town, this is also a popular spot for swimmers and kayakers. This spot is best explored through group tours which can guide you to the safest sites. Additionally, it’s advisable to leave the younger snorkelers at home for this one.
Close to the Seven Sea Caves is Devil’s Slide, which is a relatively challenging place for a San Diego snorkeling experience.
Though the waters are shallow, this area sits at the base of the sea cliffs, making it difficult to reach.
Small fish, like zebra perch and anchovies, can be found along the cliffside, while sea lions and rays are also commonly spotted. With a bit of luck, snorkelers can cast their eyes on horn sharks and octopuses.
If you’re not the strongest of swimmers, Devil’s Slide may not be the safest choice. Especially as it’s not the most accessible area for lifeguards.
Mission Point Beach
We’re moving away from snorkeling in La Jolla this time and heading further south towards downtown. Cue chilled-out Mission Point Park.
Located on Mission Bay, the beach here has some of the most pleasant waters for snorkeling in San Diego.
Its warm and calm conditions make it the perfect place to take the kids.
Often an underrated spot for a glimpse of marine life, you won’t have to worry about getting here early. There are plenty of free parking lots nearby.
Park up and take to the sea, where you’ll find kelp fish, senoritas, eels, and octopus.
Shell Beach And Boomer Beach
It’s clear by now that La Jolla is home to the majority of San Diego’s most desirable snorkeling spots. For this reason, it can be difficult to avoid the crowds which flock to the most well-known locations.
Just north of Children’s Pool Beach are the quieter Shell and Boomer beaches. These spots have no stairs down to the shore, requiring a little climbing. But the result is a much more peaceful beach when you get to the end.
Swim out until you reach the kelp beds, where you can swim amongst friendly sea lions and countless sardines.
If luck is on your side, you may cross paths with a migrating grey whale or even see harbor seals chilling out.
Due to the challenging climb down and the rougher seas, snorkeling here is only recommended for experienced swimmers.
Snorkeling Tours In San Diego
La Jolla Kayak & Snorkel Tour
Follow your trusted guide and kayak to La Jolla’s ecological reserve. Visit the rocky reef between Emerald Cove and Goldfish Point before hitting the sandy seas near the Marine Room.
You’ll stop off for swimming amongst sea creatures like garibaldi fish, leopard sharks, bat rays, and blue moon fish.
All kayaking and snorkeling equipment, including masks and fins, are provided. You can even use the wetsuit after the tour finishes up and return it the following day.
This tour is suitable for children over the age of eight.
La Jolla Cove & Cave Snorkel Tour
If exploring underwater caves in addition to witnessing magical marine life appeals to you, this tour is right up your alley.
Starting from La Jolla Cove, your experienced leader will guide you to the best spots to see sea stars, sea cucumbers, and sea lions in the clear waters.
They’ll then direct you to the incredible rock formations and caves lying beneath the surface.
All the necessary snorkel gear is included, and you can pay an extra fee to rent a wetsuit if you’re feeling chilly.
La Jolla Underwater Park
Combining kayaking and snorkeling, this excursion will take you out to the Seven Sea Caves.
Here you can enjoy a leisurely kayak through the majestic caves, most of which are only accessible by kayak or swimming. Along the way, dive in and catch a glimpse of shovel-nose guitarfish, sea turtles, and leopard sharks.
Kayaks, snorkels, and fins are all provided, and you can opt to rent a wetsuit and a storage locker for extra.
This tour is open for anyone over the age of five.
Must-Have Snorkel Gear And Accessories
Perfect for recreational snorkelers, this durable snorkel set has a soft silicon skirt that’s comfortable and won’t irritate your skin, while still remaining fitted.
Features like splash-resistant top and anti-fog mask make this a great all-around product. It’s also available in a range of colors.
With all the essentials in one set, this snorkel pack is ideal for avid snorkelers seeking affordable, high-quality equipment.
This set includes an anti-fog, tempered glass mask with adjustable buckles, and a snorkel designed to fit your mouth comfortably. In addition to soft fins with vented blades, and handy, quick-drying gear bag.
This is a fantastic set for beginner and advanced snorkelers.
A brilliant find for snorkelers who enjoy hitting the water wherever they go, these travel fins are compact and easy to carry. But still with the efficient features of larger alternatives, giving a solid kick. These fins are practical and comfortable, with adjustable straps to keep your heel in place.
Suitable for both men and women, these travel-friendly flippers are a worthwhile purchase if you travel regularly.
There you have it!
Your fool-proof guide to snorkeling in San Diego, down to the spots which require patience to reach, and the calm waters which make for a fun-filled family outing.
Adventure-seekers can take to the sea themselves in search of rainbow-colored fish and sea lions, while knowledgeable tour guides can bring the less experienced to the perfect spot.
Grab your fins and snorkel, lets see what lies beneath the San Diego seas!