Joseph Montgomery is an avid hiker and traveler who enjoys writing about his experiences along the trail.
Despite the long coastline of California there are surprisingly few good places to snorkel because of the heavy surf which dominates the state’s coast. There’s no shortage of surfers along the Golden State’s beaches and scuba diving is also popular but many dive sites require an offshore charter boat trip. Snorkeling spots remain rare, however.
Probably the only good place to snorkel in San Diego County is in La Jolla Cove mostly because of its north facing orientation which acts as a natural surf break. Here you can walk into the water and within a few feet enjoy clear sandy bottoms with great visibility as much as thirty feet. Kelp forests with an abundance of marine life are also within a few yards of the shore, but these areas are more the realm of the scuba enthusiast. You will probably be sharing the waters with sea kayakers, open-water swimmers, and the occasional harbor seal, as this is a popular beach.
Regulations and Safety
Things to Know. La Jolla Cove is part of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve and as such you are not permitted to take anything from the sea or disturb the marine flora and fauna in any way. Check the tide schedules as you probably want to avoid an incoming tide. Water depths off La Jolla drop quickly as two submarine canyons, La Jolla and Scripps Canyons, converge close to shore. Within a half kilometer of shore, you can expect water depths of 100 meters (328 feet) which get deeper the farther you go out. Swimming farther out is not recommended for snorkelers because there are longshore currents that can be strong when the tide comes in. It’s recommended to stick to the immediate cover of the Cove’s half-moon if you are snorkeling. The best rule for snorkeling La Jolla Cove is that if you cannot see the sandy bottom, you are too far out.
Look out for the vibrant orange-colored garibaldi fish, California’s state fish. Other frequently sighted fish include the yellowtail and rockfish. Leopard Sharks are also common, especially between June and November. They are harmless because they are primarily bottom dwelling feeders. There’s a good chance you can see them while snorkeling.
Best Time to Go
Surface water temperatures in La Jolla peak around Labor Day at only 68 degrees Fahrenheit on average and drop to 55 during the winter. There could be some fluctuation if it’s been a warm summer or if there is an El Niño condition. Unless you can tolerate colder waters and don’t have a wetsuit, plan to snorkel in the summer months.
Since summer is high tourist season, try to plan your trip during the week. Avoid holiday weekends especially, as parking is almost impossible anywhere near the Cove during Memorial Day, the Fourth, and Labor Day weekends.
Also worth noting is the direction of the swells. Between July and October they come from the south, which makes for the calmest waters in the Cove and the best snorkeling conditions. Other times of the year they come in from the north and the water can get turbid even on days with good weather (nice weather doesn’t always mean perfect water conditions). For a daily recording of the dive and snorkel conditions at La Jolla Cove, call 619-221-8824.
Facilities and Logistics
Equipment rental. For a reasonable price it is possible to rent equipment such as mask, fins, snorkel and a wetsuit. You can also take snorkel/kayak tours. All of these services are offered by San Diego Bike & Kayak Tours. Their La Jolla office is located 2158 Avenida De La Playa and the telephone number is 858-454-5100. A couple other outfitters that rent snorkeling gear andwet suits can also be found on the same block if the aforementioned is busy or booked.
Parking. Two-hour parking spots are available first come/first serve along Coast Boulevard, which overlooks the La Jolla Cove.
Facilities. The public restrooms and showers right above the La Jolla Cove in Ellen Scripps Browning Park are absolutely filthy because of the heavy usage. Plenty of hotels and restaurants are available for the paying customer within walking distance of the Cove.
La Jolla Cove is about fourteen miles north of downtown San Diego. Take I-5 to the La Jolla Parkway West exit (Exit 26A) then merge onto La Jolla Parkway. After 1.2 miles it will merge into Torrey Pines Road. After 0.9 miles take a right onto Prospect Place. Stay on Prospect Place for about 1000 feet and then turn right down a steep, winding hill to Coast Boulevard. Start looking for parking.