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Scuba Diving the Santa Barbara Channel Islands and Big Sur

Diver in a kelp forest

Diver in a kelp forest

Photo: ©Michael Todd Walker

California scuba diving in the kelp forests around the Channel Islands and Big Sur is a unique and different experience for divers more accustomed to tropical waters. Diving in kelp is similar to a walk in a lush forest of trees with these plants growing to heights of more than 120 feet. Giant kelp helps support this rare aquatic ecosystem, providing domicile for more than 800 species of marine life.

The knowledgeable Truth Aquatics crew will provide you with many scuba diving opportunities to discover a wide variety of underwater landscapes. There are untold opportunities for viewing and photographing a panorama of underwater vistas. Unlike the coral reefs of tropical waters, the giant kelp forests of the Channel Islands add a third dimension.

The rocks are covered with brightly colored bouquets of anemones, starfish, and garlands of hydrocoral, sponges, and sea fans. Moray eels, octopus, abalone, rock scallops, California spiny lobsters, and a host of other sea creatures inhabit rock fissures and crevices. Divers may chance upon giant black sea bass weighing in at 500 pounds, or halibut, lingcod, vermilion rockfish, calico bass, bat rays and more. Friendly seals and sea lions pay visits to divers to show off their graceful swimming abilities. Migrating gray whales, blue whales, hump back whales, and schools of dolphins, are familiar sightings during daylight channel crossings.

Each island offers a different and unique collection of sea life so even the most discriminating diver can find a variety that will keep them entertained. From swimming with the sea lions at the Santa Barbara Island rookery to the virtually unexplored waters of Big Sur, where everything seems bigger, these California coastal waters have something to offer every diver.

Getting to Your Diving Destination

Anacapa Island at Sunrise

Anacapa Island at Sunrise

Photo: ©Ralph A. Clevenger

On most multi-day liveaboard dive trips with Truth Aquatics we will plan departure times to travel during the night hours so that you arrive at the dive site first thing in the morning. The location will dictate departure time so check the schedule closely before traveling so that you arrive on time.

The boat is always open the night before departure so that you have plenty of time to board the vessel, sign in on the ship’s manifest, store your equipment, and settle into a comfortable bunk. When you hear the engines of the boat come to life you may remain in bed or awake to watch the boat maneuver out of the Santa Barbara Harbor as we get underway to your dive destination.

Sumbeams through kelp.

Clear water and kelp

Photo: ©Scott A. Roush

Water Temperatures and Visibility

Water temperature can vary up to 15 degrees from the Northern and Southern ends of the island chain with an average of 50-60°F in winter and 60-70°F in summer. Visibility can range from 40 to 100 feet and on rare occasions sometimes even up to 150 feet.