Diving San Carlos Beach in Monterey, CA
Because we live less than a two hour drive from Monterey, CA, it tends to be our go-to for diving when we're feeling the itch to get underwater. Zach and I were both certified at San Carlos Beach, and since we're still new divers, we enjoy returning down there for dives at a site where we're both familiar with what to expect. San Carlos Beach is one of the easiest and most popular dive sites in Monterey, so if you head there on a weekend, you'll likely be in the company of a number of classes out doing their certification dives.
San Carlos Beach is a beginner-friendly dive site and is the location where almost all local dive shops certify their open water students. It can get crowded on weekends past 8am, so I recommend that you plan to arrive at 7am to get parking and start putting together gear if you want to avoid the crowds. There is a good sized parking area near the beach, and a grassy hill that you can unload to if you want to set up a base for the day, but we usually keep our gear locked in our car and swap out tanks from the parking lot between dives.
For your first dive here, I suggest diving the Breakwater. It follows the edge of the wall out in the cove. The max depth of this dive is ~50ft, and is considerably shallower for most of the dive. The shore entry is on the lower end of the beach along the coast guard pier on the map above. The beach has a large set of stairs that is a convenient place to do buddy checks. We enter into the water to the right of the kelp forest and swim out a short distance to drop down at ~7-15 ft. The wall is an easy marker to follow out and back.
On the other side of the beach is a pipe that leads out to the Metridium Fields, but it’s a cool dive even if you don’t hit the fields because there’s a ton of kelp. The pipe disappears underground at points and navigating can challenging, especially if you don't get a good heading at the surface. The pipe goes out to a depth of about 40ft; beyond the pipe towards the metridium it is closer to 50-60ft. This is a long surface swim if you plan to go all the way out to the fields, but you can also choose to submerge and surface far closer to shore just to get a slightly different environment from the Breakwater.
What You Might See
I've done close to 20 dives in this area of Monterey, and so far, no two have been alike! If you make it out to the metridium, that's an unbelievable view and unmatched experience. We've also seen sea lions, harbor seals, crabs, diving ducks, starfish, nudibranches, and, of course, tons of schools of fish! And if that doesn't seem like enough - you'll get to see more kelp than you ever dreamed of.
Tips & Tricks
Carrying gear on land can be tiring! If you aren't used to shore dives, you might want to bring and assemble your gear closer to the shore instead of donning your gear at the parking lot
Semi-dry and 7mm wetsuits need more weight than other suit types. I list a breakdown of my Monterey gear down below
The water temperature tends to be about 56F / 13C degrees at the surface and down to 50-51F / 10C degrees at a depth of 50ft / 15m. Gloves + hood are must-haves! I dive with 5mm gloves and boots, and my hood is part of my wet suit
I recommend wearing swimsuit under clothes on the drive over and wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt for surface intervals. I find these to be easy to pull on and off and they warm me up quickly when I'm done for the day
There is an exposed gear shower near an unloading/loading zone next to the beach, and showers in the bathhouse on the pier
Parking in the lot near the beach is free before 9am and after that can be paid hourly. For two dives at this site, when we arrive at 7am we usually wrap up around 11 with a minimal surface interval just to swap out tanks
My Gear for Monterey
I'm in the process of putting together my own dive gear, and have been buying one piece at a time as budget permits. I'm almost to a full set (just missing weights and a tank once my BP/W arrives!) but I've had a chance to try out a few different types of gear and I can share what works best for me.
I dive in an AquaLung SolAfx 8/7mm wet suit. At 160lbs, I wear a size 14 and it's a bit big on me in the pelvic area, but the 12 wasn't long enough so I sized up. With a steel 63L tank, I and standard BCD, I wear about 20-22 pounds of lead. With an aluminum 63L tank, I've worn up to 28 pounds but was over weighted and dropped to 26.
I use a Deep6 regulator for my 1st / 2nd stages and a Mares SMART wrist computer. I've dove at this site with two different types of jacket BCDs (an AquaLung Pro HD and a TUSA Liberator Sigma II) and a BP/W setup, and my very own BP/W will be arriving before our next dive, so I'll update this post after taking that for a spin!
NOAA Wind / Wave forecast: https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/data/Forecasts/FZUS56.KMTR.html Wave / Swell maps: http://californiadiver.com/monterey-dive-conditions/
Dive Conditions FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/montereycountydivereports/