Tourists flock to this jagged stretch of California coast for photo ops, but the views are even better underwater
Millions of tourists visit Big Sur, the über-scenic stretch of central California’s coastline with plunging cliffs and craggy rocks jutting from the sea. Their focus is driving the winding roadway, not diving into the wild Pacific Ocean beside it. Even among scuba die-hards who regularly dive nearby Monterey, only a couple hundred each year plunge into Big Sur’s sometimes surly, often fog-shrouded waters. It’s truly an underappreciated diving frontier for those ready for a challenge.
IF YOU HAVE ONE DAY
Undergo your Big Sur baptism at Diablo Pinnacles and Lobos Rocks. The former features a huge kelp forest, canyons and mini walls in 75 to 100 feet with abundant anemones, sea stars, rockfish and lingcod. The latter site showcases dozens of playful sea lions keen to volunteer as dive buddies. The goggle-eyed aqua acrobats are so entertaining, some people never see the rest of the site. Cap a perfect day by masquerading as tourists. Drive south on Highway 1 to catch the sunset, gaze out to the speck of ocean you explored, then celebrate in style atop the cliffs at Nepenthe or Rocky Point Restaurant.
IF YOU HAVE TWO DAYS
Hop on Monterey Blue Diving’s inflatable to get out to Flintstones fast. Plummet from 60 to beyond 150 feet down a monolithic wall decorated with vibrant sponges, tunicates, zoanthids, orange and purple hydrocorals, and gorgonians. Next, swim through imposing granite portals at Twin Arches, or concentrate on No Name Reef’s marvelous macro — nudis, painted greenlings sheltering in spotted rose anemones, decorator crabs and strawberry anemone fields forever. Save enough energy to hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or horseback-ride along the beach in Andrew Molera State Park.
IF YOU HAVE THREE DAYS
For maximum bottom time in difficult-toaccess territory south of Point Sur, book a multiday Truth Aquatics liveaboard trip to dive stunning sites such as Haystacks and Pfeiffer Pinnacle. Maybe you’ll even take home a lump of real jade as a souvenir from Jade Cove. Tec divers with top-notch skills will pray to jump on deep, legendary Schmeider Bank. An alternative three-day strategy is to dive your brains out for two days, then relax and experience Monterey above the waves — kayak, whale-watch, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium, and wine and dine along Cannery Row.
Above: A variety of anemones abound off Big Sur, while blue rockfish enjoy the scenery.