Location: Cannery Row and Hoffman, next to El Torito Restaurant
Parking: Pay lot across the street, rates vary.
Experience Level: Novice
Entry: Sandy beach, few rocks
I'd dive here more often if I understood the parking policies at El Torito. The restaurant used to allow divers to park in their lot for 5 bucks. The attendant was a cool guy who'd show up before the restaurant opened and collect the fee from the divers as they arrived back to their cars after a dive. The lot was a great deal. Close to the beach, and cheaper than the one across the street. I always rewarded El Torito by holding my end-of-class meal there after the dive.
Lately their policy has been unpredictable. Sometimes they allow you to park there (for a fee of course), and other times they threaten to tow your car away. So now you have to park across the street, where rates vary week by week.
Now to the diving. Enter in front of the concrete wall, but be careful not to enter too close to the El Torito side of the beach. There is a lot of rusted re-bar in the shallow water that presents a dangerous hazard, especially when sand is washed away. As you swim out, stay on the El Torito side of the beach, as the other side is very shallow with waves being a hazard.
There are two destinations I enjoy here. One great dive is to head straight out till you get to about 40 feet. The visibility is better here, and you'll see occasional metridiums, juvenile wolf eels, and large fish. For a shallower dive, head out to about 30 feet, and turn towards the aquarium. In that direction the reef is very rugged with tall vertical faces.
I've had some of my most memorable harbor seal encounters here. At times I've been followed by 3 or 4 for the entire dive.