By John Heimann
From the oilrigs to the Channel Islands to the wrecks near San Diego, to the vast kelp forests thriving in our shallow waters, California divers have a seemingly endless list of options when it comes to choosing our next dive destination. At first glance, most locations appear similar to the next. At second glance, though, each has defining characteristics, which set it apart from all the others. Wood’s Cove has its twin peaks; the famed crevice and arch at Shaw’s Cove keep local divers coming back for more; and the mysterious broadnose sevengill sharks of La Jolla Cove keep us refilling our tanks for yet another look. The reef at Montage, also known as Treasure Island due to its abundance of life, rarely disappoints.
On the north end of Laguna Beach, where the Pacific Coast Highway meets Cliff Drive, lies ¼-mile of coastline known as Crescent Bay. Its beautiful scenery and easy beach access make Crescent a popular location for divers and beachgoers alike. This location, unlike many others in the area, offers restrooms and outdoor showers, making it a bit more visitor friendly for those looking to make a day of it on the beach. It isn’t the plumbing, however, that attracts divers to this incredible place. Towering above the surface is a small island known as Seal Rock, which is home to many playful sea lions. Seal Rock offers divers the opportunity to interact with these beautiful and extremely curious animals. It’s a bit of a long swim to get to the rock, but well worth the calories once you arrive. Stay mindful that these are wild animals and that you are a guest in their home — there is no need to approach them, they will come to you should the mood strike. Stay calm, keep your hands to yourself and enjoy the show. If the dominant male decides that you’ve come too close, he may give obvious signs that it’s time for you to move along. Although it’s unlikely, if this does happen, respect his boundaries and give the animals their space, both to stay safe and reduce the animals’ stress levels.
Should the sea lions decide to stay above the rock’s surface, you’ll still find plenty to see down below. The beautiful garibaldi and sheepshead live in abundance in this area, and are not afraid to come close to give you a good once over. If you stay patient and look closely between the kelp and grass, you’re likely to encounter leopard sharks as well. What these sharks lack in size, they more than make up for with their beautiful, leopard-print skin. If you come too close they’ll speed off, so give them a bit of space and let the camera roll.
Keep a close eye on your gauges — you’ll have been out here longer than it seems with so much to see. It’s a long swim back to the beach with much to see between here and there.
To dive Crescent Bay, you’ll need to arrive early, as parking can become an issue as the morning progresses. This is a residential area, so please respect the people living here and keep the noise levels to a minimum in the early morning hours. With its easy beach access and low surf levels most of the time, Crescent Bay is a great location for divers of all ages and skill levels. Dive safely.