If you’re wondering whether there is good snorkeling in San Diego, the answer is yes. Thanks to clear water and a marine life rich underwater park, most of the best spots are right here in La Jolla.
With the increased interest in outdoor activities due to our current world situation, questions have been landing in my inbox about where to go snorkeling, what fish and sea life are visible, snorkel rentals, and more.
Who better to help me answer these questions than the experts at Everyday California since this ocean-loving crew spends pretty much every day in the water guiding people on kayaking and snorkeling tours in La Jolla. Big thanks to Robin Bigge, Marketing Director at Everyday California, for chiming in. Note: If you book a tour through the links in this post, I may be compensated.
EXCLUSIVE EVERYDAY CALIFORNIA DISCOUNTUse code lajollamom (enter code and click the green checkmark) for a 20% discount on kayak and snorkeling tours, lessons, and rentals. For 20% off clothes and accessories, use code LJM20. Shop and book now.
What is the La Jolla Underwater Park?
The reason why La Jolla snorkeling spots dominate this list of favorites is due to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park. It was created in 1970 to protect 6000 acres of ocean habitats that include rocky reef, kelp bed, sand flats, and submarine canyon. The reefs cause waves to break gently on La Jolla Shores Beach, which makes it easy to swim out or launch a kayak into the park.
There are two parts to the reserve: a Marine Refuge and an Ecological Reserve. The latter encompasses all of La Jolla Cove to midway down La Jolla Shores Beach and is where you’ll go snorkeling. It’s a sizable area, so it helps to know where to go.
ECOLOGICAL RESERVE RULESFishing and scavenging in the reserve is prohibited. This means even if a pretty shell washes up on the beach, you will have to leave it. Look, but don’t take. Flotation devices like boogie boards and life jackets are also not allowed.
Where should I go snorkeling in San Diego?
All but one of the seven San Diego snorkeling places mentioned below are La Jolla snorkeling spots.
La Jolla Cove
Difficulty level: Easy
The nice thing about La Jolla Cove snorkeling is that it’s an easy launch point for beginners. Part of the reason is that waves rarely break here (but when they do, they are powerful).
All that you need to do is put on your snorkel and fins and swim out into the ocean to explore what lives among the low-lying rocks and kelp beds here. Visibility underwater can reach 30 feet at times.
Our curious La Jolla seals and sea lions hang out on the beach and cliffs in this part of the reserve. It is not uncommon for them to swim up to or near you. Along the way, you’re likely to see schools of fish, Garibaldi, rays, sea anemones, and more.
Learn more in my La Jolla Cove guide.
The Marine Room
Difficulty level: Easy
Head out in front of one of my favorite La Jolla restaurants for some epic La Jolla snorkeling.
The Marine Room restaurant is part of the private La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club complex. You can access the beach in front of it via a walkway on the south end of the restaurant. Or, walk at the water’s edge in front of the club to avoid entering the private beach area.
In the late summer, this is the best place to swim with leopard sharks who aggregate in the warm shallow water here. You only need to be in 2-4 feet of water to enjoy them. In addition, you’ll likely see shovelnose guitarist, bat rays, and other fish.
TIPWhen snorkeling with leopard sharks, avoid kicking and stay very still. The friendly (and harmless) sharks will swim right around you. It’s really neat.
Everyday California’s La Jolla Leopard Shark Snorkel Tours and Original Snorkel Tours enter the water here because it’s the best place to see animals close to shore. You’ll go out with two experienced guides for 60 minutes to explore two of the habitats in the Ecological Reserve (the former tour focuses more on the leopard sharks, of course).
Devil’s Slide and the Sea Caves
Difficulty level: Intermediate (Easier if you take a tour)
On the south side of the Marine Room restaurant, you’ll find a small rocky beach. A shallow reef area in front and on the edge of the seventh sea cave of it is called Devil’s Slide.
You can keep swimming toward La Jolla Cove along the sea caves here where spiny lobster, angelsharks, schools of fish, Garibaldi, sea lions, and others live.
GET HERE ON A KAYAK AND SNORKEL TOURPersonally, I would take a kayak and snorkeling tour if you’re unfamiliar with the area (or even if you are). You’ll kayak out to the sea caves and anchor there with expert guides who know the spot well. Use code lajollamom for 20% off and click the green checkmark. Book your tour.
Turtle Town San Diego
Difficulty level: Advanced
Yes, there’s Turtle Town in Maui and also in La Jolla. It’s located between La Jolla Cove and The Marine Room. The abundance of red and green kelp plants signal that you’ve reached the right spot. Sea turtles feed mostly on the red kelp but you’ll also see, well, lots of other fish we mention in this post.
Sea turtles like our warm water and are usually most often seen in late summer to early fall. However, locals report sightings outside of this window likely due to increased water temperatures. Snorkeling gives you a good vantage point because they need to come up for air.
La Jolla Shores Beach
Difficulty level: Easy
Pick a spot south of the surfing area near Scripps Pier to head out into the water. Beyond the break, you may see leopard sharks, eels, crabs that like to hang out on the sandy ocean bottom. Beautiful sand dollar beds can also be seen here, too.
Boomer Beach to Shell Beach
Difficulty level: Advanced
The beach on the south side of Point La Jolla, the southern point of La Jolla Cove, is called Boomer Beach. It’s adjacent to Shell Beach. For some perspective, I’d recommend that you first walk the boardwalk above the beaches to see what visibility and the currents are like.
Usually, the currents are strong. This is not a place for beginners and you should be a strong swimmer before entering the ocean here. The draw is the kelp beds and flat bottom rocks and everyone who lives in them. Sea lions, seals, and occasionally gray whales during seasonal migrations are known to feed here.
Mission Point Beach
Difficulty level: Easy/Intermediate
If you head south to the end of Mission Boulevard, turn left on San Diego Place into Mission Point Park. It doesn’t immediately look like a San Diego snorkeling spot. But, because this is where Mission Bay meets the Pacific Ocean, you’ll enjoy calm water and a good dose of saltwater marine life.
Enter the water from the bay beach here and snorkel the bay water around the point into the jetty if you’re a more advanced snorkeler. Keep in mind that boats use the jetty to go in and out of the ocean and that the jetty has rocky walls on both sides. Novices should stay around the point. You can see Garibaldi, kelp bass, perch, sea cucumbers, and spiny lobsters.
SHUFFLE YOUR FEETWhen you enter the ocean from our beaches, be sure to shuffle your feet in the sand to scare off sting rays. Don’t let their presence deter you. This is what we locals do.
What will I see when snorkeling in San Diego?
The list of visible sea life that you can see in the San Diego snorkeling spots mentioned above is actually quite long. Here are a few highlights:
When it comes to what you’re most likely to see on any given day, Robin says, “Depending on the time of the year, you’ll most likely see seals, sea lions, Garibaldi, and if its during summer, leopard sharks!”
Do I need a wetsuit?
If you’re going to take the hourlong summer leopard shark snorkeling tour that stays mostly in the shallows, I don’t think you need a wetsuit. The water is pretty warm here which is why the leopard sharks like it.
However, during any time of year, if you head further into the Ecological Reserve, I would wear a wetsuit. Not only will it keep you warm in deeper water, but wetsuits add buoyancy. Remember that flotation devices are not allowed in the reserve which is also why it’s nice to have a kayak to hop into on a tour.
WETSUIT RENTALS ARE EASY TO FINDIf you get to Everyday California and discover that you need a wetsuit, it’s no big deal. You can rent one.
Can a novice swim out and see fish at La Jolla Shores or La Jolla Cove?
Let’s say that you haven’t read this post or don’t really know much about snorkeling in San Diego. Can you get lucky and see some fish if you’re beachgoing at these two La Jolla beaches? The answer is yes.
Robin says, “It’s common to see stingrays, shovelnose guitarfish, and again if the season is right, the leopard sharks are always in the shallows — that’s where the warmest water is!”
So, bring or rent a snorkel and fins. The worst thing that happens is that you get some exercise, but you are very likely to see something if you want to leisurely wing it.
Is snorkeling in La Jolla safe?
Two permanent, state-of-the-art lifeguard towers monitor activity in the La Jolla Underwater Park. One tower overlooks La Jolla Cove, while the other is stationed near the parking lot at La Jolla Shores Beach. Also, seasonal lifeguard towers pop up along La Jolla Shores Beach during the summer to provide additional coverage. Lifeguards are on duty from roughly 9 a.m. to dusk. Learn more about our lifeguard services.
When it comes to being in the water, Robin adds, “There’s no real threat of predators that can harm you, plenty of flora and fauna, and as long as you’re aware of the swell, the waters and visibility are usually on your side!”
Leopard sharks have tiny mouths and are pretty docile. Don’t worry about them harming you. We La Jollans let our kids swim with them.
How is the snorkeling in Coronado?
Coronado Island beaches are among the most popular in San Diego. Unfortunately, the visibility and abundance of sea life pales in comparison to La Jolla. You can always try to snorkel and you may see some fish. Alternatively, check the tide pools near the small sea wall in front of The Del for sea anemones, hermit crabs, and small fish at low tide.
THE OTHER CORONADO ISLANDSI suspect that people think there is good snorkeling around Coronado Island San Diego because they’re confusing it with the Coronado Islands off the coast of Mexico where there IS incredible snorkeling and diving.
What should a snorkeler do if approached by a seal or sea lion?
If you’re going to enjoy La Jolla snorkeling, especially closer to La Jolla Cove and the sea caves, it’s possible that a seal or sea lion my try to accompany you. These encounters are either incredibly exciting or intimidating, depending on how you feel about it.
They are social creatures and curious by nature. “However (just from personal experience and observation) they can be a tad bit defensive and territorial while on land, but more curious in the water,” Robin says. “We always say just observe, never touch. We’re in their house after all.”
Is there a best time of year for La Jolla snorkeling?
Summer is the best time of year for La Jolla snorkeling because warm water draws the leopard sharks to shallower water so that pregnant females can speed up the incubation process. Also, the waves are smaller during this time of year. And, who doesn’t want to enjoy both warm sunshine and ocean water?
Fish, mollusks, and sea lions are always around so you can head out any time of year for some San Diego snorkeling. Again, between late fall and early spring, you’ll want a wetsuit no matter where you go.
What is the most important thing to know before you go?
You will get the most out of your experience by booking a tour, but you can go on your own.
Take a look at conditions to be sure that they’re appropriate for your snorkeling level. Robin adds, “It’s the ocean, so just be mindful that it changes how it feels whenever it wants.” If in doubt, ask a lifeguard.
I hear regrets about forgotten snorkel gear from readers who visit and fall in love with La Jolla Shores Beach. If this happens to you, don’t fret. Walk a few blocks to Avenida de la Playa, where you’ll find Everyday California. Rent a snorkel and some fins (call ahead for availability). Maybe pick up a sandwich at The Cheese Shop along the way.
What is the best age for kids to take a snorkeling tour?
At Everyday California, the minimum age is five for snorkeling tours. However, kids should be comfortable swimmers. If they are, they’ll love it.
Why should people book La Jolla snorkeling tours with Everyday California?
“We always put our best foot forward when it comes to making sure those who come out with us enjoy seeing why we love to call the ocean our office,” says Robin. Everyday California’s stellar reviews speak to the quality of their tours.
I started referring readers to Everyday California after I took a super fun kayaking tour with them several years ago. It’s not uncommon for people to email me with feedback about their San Diego vacations that mentions Everyday California kayaking or snorkeling tours as highlights. Book your tour with promo code lajollamom for a 20% discount.