BIG SUR

Tourists flock to this jagged stretch of Cal­i­for­nia coast for photo ops, but the views are even bet­ter un­der­wa­ter

Scuba Diving - - TRAVEL - BY BRAN­DON COLE

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.

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