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.
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).
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:
- Line up with Reeside Ave. Use the south edge near shore, and the north edge if far out from shore.
- Take a compass reading to the bathroom on the breakwater.
- 120-140 is ok. You will hit the pipe before the concrete block.
- 140-150 not recommended; the pipe is almost buried from 143-147.
- 150-170 is ok, though 170 is very close to the end of the pipe. You will hit the pipe past the concrete block. This is good for the metridium fields (see below).
- Drop down and take a 300 heading. You should hit the pipe in 15-20 yards.
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.
Directions to/from the big pipe:
- When you get to the end of the pipe, take a 345 heading (anywhere 330-0 should hit the metridium fields) for 15 yards.
- To get back, take a 180 heading from anywhere in the metridium fields. That'll intersect the pipe before the end.
- If at any time you're in 60 fsw, you've missed the pipe and/or the fields. Head 180 towards shore. You may end up towards the center of the beach, but at least you won't end up doing a kelp crawl from north of the pipe near shore, or a 400-yard surface swim.
Directions from the Bay Area
- South on 101 Freeway
- Exit 336 - 156 West to Monterey Peninsula
- Continue on Highway 1 South to Monterey Peninsula
- Exit 402B - Pacific Grove / Del Monte Ave (don't get fooled; there are other Del Monte exits before this one)
- Stay on Del Monte as it turns into Lighthouse after the wharf (follow signs towards Cannery Row)
- After the tunnel and harbor, veer right onto Foam St.
- Turn right on Reeside Ave.
- At the end, turn right into the parking lot by the grass. Park towards the breakwater (far) end if you can.
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:
- On the breakwater/dock. These have quarter-operated hot showers inside, and cold showers outside. Good if you're dripping wet.
- On the north side of the beach. These are usually a little cleaner, but please only use these if you're (mostly) dry.
There are three dive shops close by, if you need to fill tanks (bring your cert card for nitrox fills) or rent/buy gear.
- Monterey Bay Scuba is a new shop on the Breakwater itself.
- Cannery Row Aquatics is on Cannery Row just north of the beach. (That building also houses Backscatter - my favorite camera shop.)
- Aquarius is a couple miles back towards the freeway on Del Monte. If you're staying at Lone Oak Lodge or in Seaside, it's an easy stop on the way to the beach. It also tends to be less crowded on the weekends than the shops right on the beach.
There's a sausage deli called PigWizard on the breakwater in between the dive shop and the bathrooms. You can walk into the deli in a wetsuit, as long as you're not too drippy.
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).
Here's an alternate map made by some of my divemasters in training.
- N36 36.663 W121 53.766: The Big Pipe, in the shallows out from pumphouse (18 fsw)
- N36 36.722 W121 53.680: Concrete block north of the Big Pipe (35 fsw)
- N36 36.752 W121 53.627: End of the Big Pipe (47 fsw)
- N36 36.759 W121 53.629: Pointy rock at south end of the metridium fields (50 fsw)
- N36 36.765 W121 53.627: Metridium Fields (center; 50 fsw)
- N36 36.694 W121 53.556: Ballast rockpile (53 fsw)
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:
- The shower area by the grass is well lit at night, and parking is fairly well lit.
- Parking permits aren't needed after 8:00 pm.
- The bathrooms are locked after sundown. Local restaurants are still open, but obviously you'll need to be changed back into (dry) street clothes. The portapotties by the bathrooms on the breakwater are still unlocked, though.
- San Carlos Beach - April 2021
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- San Carlos Beach Fluorescence - Feb 2017
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- San Carlos Beach - June 2016 (night)
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Marine Life: San Carlos Beach Marine Life