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100% Dolphin approved scuba lessons and underwater photography
100% Dolphin approved scuba lessons and underwater photography

San Carlos Beach panorama
Also known as Breakwater Beach. This beach is commonly used for teaching scuba classes. It's relatively sheltered from waves and swells, has easy entry via a sand channel on the breakwater side, and has close parking, showers, and bathrooms. This is a marine sanctuary, so look but don't take.

Dive Areas

Girella nigricans (Opaleye)


This rock wall is on the right (south) side of the beach. Lots of nudibranchs, crabs, and fish; sea lion encounters are common farther out.

It's very hard to get lost, even in low visibility; keep the wall on your right headed out, and on your left headed back.

The numbers painted on the side of the concrete part of the breakwater start at 0 by the stairs and are every 100 feet. Swim out to at least the number 6 on the wall before dropping down; the bottom drops off there from 15 fsw down to 25-30 fsw. You can get down to 50 fsw farther out the base of the rock wall.

There is a sand channel between the rock wall and mid-reef where entry is easiest. Don't get too close to the rock wall during entry or exit; waves can push you into the rocks.

The anchor at San Carlos Beach
Big anchor by the wall
There's a big anchor in the sand channel about 15 yards off of number 5 on the wall, which is occasionally visible when the sand shifts after a big storm.


This is a collection of rock outcroppings in the center of the beach. Most of them are in 15-30 fsw. Training dives often go here. To the north end, there are runs of small pipes.

You can enter the water either in the sand channel at the south side by the rock wall (easiest), or out from the broken concrete building by the ramp (see the big pipe for more info).

Sebastes auriculatus (Brown Rockfish)
Brown rockfish in the big pipe

The Big Pipe

There is a large (30" diameter) pipe extending out from the old pump house next to the bathrooms on the right edge of the beach. It varies from all the way above the sand to almost totally buried in sand for about 20 yards just past the smaller pipes. There are some nice rock outcroppings to the north of the pipe midway out next to a tilted concrete mooring block; those are in 35 fsw and accessible to less experienced divers.

Enter at the north end of the beach, out from the broken concrete building. There are many small submerged rocks near shore, so this isn't the best entry point if waves are more than waist high (which fortunately doesn't happen very frequently).

If visibility is good (10'+), you can find the pipe from the surface in shallow water and follow it out, then drop down.

If not, here are some recommended sight lines and headings to help finding the pipe:

Metridium farcimen (White-Plumed Anemone)
Metridium anemones

Metridium Fields

Follow the pipe all the way out to the end (45-50 fsw) and go due north, and you'll hit some rock outcroppings with big white metridium anemones in 50-55 fsw. This is a bit of a swim, and recommended for divers who are better on air consumption or diving larger tanks.

There are more patches of metridium on rocks to the north and east of the first patch.

Rock directly north of the big pipe
Directions to/from the big pipe:

The Barge

This is the remains of an old wooden sardine barge from the cannery days. It lies a couple hundred yards north of the breakwater in 60-65 fsw. There used to be lines running from the barge all the way to the breakwater, but they've been washed out or buried on the breakwater side so are only visible closer to the barge.

This is a long deeper swim, and in the boat channel, so is an advanced dive. It's best visited using a DPV, and definitely bring a DSMB if you have to surface for some reason.

If you do want to go:

If you're on a DPV, it may be easier to find on a 45 heading from #9 on the breakwater; that's a longer 250-yard swim, but hits the lines from the barge at more of an angle so is a bigger target.

Shore Information

Directions from the Bay Area

(or just use Google Maps)


The best spots are the front lot by the grass. If that's full, the upper lot and breakwater lots are also good. Make sure you pay for parking! It's a guaranteed $35 ticket if you don't. Parking is free before 9 am and after 8 pm. I usually just pay $10 for the full-day parking pass. Bring a credit/debit card, or use the mobile app (see signs on the parking machines). The same pass is good on the breakwater and both the lots (but NOT elsewhere in Monterey).


There are two sets of bathrooms:

There is one shower by the stairs on the south side of the beach, and another on the back side of the bathrooms on the breakwater.

Dive Shops

There are three dive shops close by, if you need to fill tanks (bring your cert card for nitrox fills) or rent/buy gear.

Other Notes

Backscatter, my favorite photo shop, is just across the street at the start of Cannery Row.

Cannery Row Aquatics, the other close dive shop, is now a closed dive shop as of 2022.

PigWizard, the tasty sausage deli on the breakwater, closed in Feb 2023. If you remember the old sandwich shop in that location owned by the Russian couple, it moved in 2015 to 794 Lighthouse Ave (several blocks down towards the aquarium).


Here's a map with features labeled (click for larger image).

Annotated map of San Carlos Beach

Dive Map

As usual, click for larger image.

Here's an alternate map made by some of my divemasters in training.

GPS Coordinates

Google Maps

Night Diving

San Carlos Beach is a great place to night dive. A different set of critters comes out of the rock wall at night, and octopus are common in the sand channel next to the rock wall. Occasionally, a seal will dive with you to hunt by your dive lights.

Some things to know:

Presentation to Diver Dan's Dive Club, Jan 2015

Photo Albums

Other Information

Inside Locations: EarthEastern PacificCaliforniaMonterey AreaMonterey
Marine Life: San Carlos Beach Marine Life
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