Channel Islands National Park Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Overview
Flipping out: A seal posse off Channel Islands National Park, California (Marc Muench)

Channel Islands National Park Highlights

  • Take a dive boat from the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard to Anacapa Island.
  • Wade the tide pools at West Anacapa's Frenchy Cove. Venture farther out to see the Winfield Scott steamer, which sank off Middle Anacapa more than 150 years ago.
  • Bundle up in spring; chilly 55- to 65-degree water warms in summer and fall.

Warm water from the tropics and cold water from the arctic come together at the Channel Islands to form a unique underwater habitat—more than 1,000 plant and animal species live off-shore, and that's just in the first 60 feet of depth. Add that to the fact that visibility averages 50 feet (and sometimes reaches 100 feet), and you'll start to understand why divers and snorkelers make regular pilgrimages to these islands. With so many sites to choose from (including caves, shelves, and underwater forests), we couldn't possibly list them all. But here are a few to get you started.

Special Know-How

Away from the beaches and protected coves, the ocean currents can be very strong. High winds and swells usually come from the southwest and get stronger throughout the day—plan your dive accordingly.

Water temps range from the low 50s to the high 60s. A full wetsuit and a hood are recommended year-round.

The Best Underwater Adventures...

The Channels, 10 to 30 ft.
The famous kelp forests surrounding Anacapa and some of the other islands grow so thick in parts that swimming through them is a challenge. At this West Anacapa site, it's just dense enough that you can experience the abundant underwater plant life without getting tangled. A shallow reef system, accessible to both divers and snorkelers, branches out from shore. Anemones and sea sponges are two reasons to bring your underwater camera.

Santa Cruz
Scorpion Anchorage Shipwreck, 40 to 70 ft.
In the 20-plus years that this wood-hulled, WWII minesweeper has been sitting on the sandy ocean floor, quite a bit of marine life has managed to accumulate in its 100-ft.-long remains. Among them are barnacles, tunicates, sea stars, and bryozoans—to name a few. The calm water of Santa Cruz' northeast shore makes the dive relatively easy, but the depth makes it a poor choice for snorkelers.

Santa Rosa
Talcott Shoal, 20 to 90 ft.
The northwest shore of Santa Rosa Island is the place to go big-fish watching. How big? Basking sharks up to 40 ft. long have been spotted in the vicinity, not to mention great whites (FYI, there's only been one fatal attack on a Channel Islands diver in the last decade, just off San Miguel—you're more than ten times as likely to be hit by lightning). This is a shelf dive, with levels that drop off sharply as you go farther from shore. For the best viewing, follow a ridge line.

Santa Barbara
Landing Cove, 0 to 20 ft.
Within easy swimming distance of the Landing Cove beach, snorkelers can get great views of sea urchins, sea stars, and shimmering schools of garibaldi fish that hover close to shore. You can also expect occasional visits from playful California sea lions that swim up from the Southeast Sea Lion Rookery. This island is only one square mile in size, but its shoreline is packed with sea life.

San Miguel
Point Bennett, 30 to 80 ft.
About half the world's population of elephant seals breeds on San Miguel. Most of them, along with thousands of California sea lions, call Point Bennett their home. This is one of the least-dived spots in the Channel Islands, due to the fact that wind, rough water, and fog can make it extremely tricky to navigate. But if you're an experienced diver willing to brave the swell (and the lower visibility that comes with it), you could enjoy a private party with the pinnipeds.

Dive Boats

Liberty: 805-642-6655,
Spectre: 805-483-6612,
Peace: 805-984-2025,

Long Beach
Encore: 310-541-1025,
Sundiver: 800-555-9446,

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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