This may surprise you, but you can’t go shark diving in Los Angeles in 2020 – at least not commercially.
You can do shark spotting in Los Angeles, but that’s not shark diving. It’s shark spotting – done as a charter with Dana Point Shark Tours, and from a boat that cruises around the Dana Point area looking for, primarily, juvenile Great White Sharks
That’s not to say there aren’t mature Great White Sharks in Los Angeles, and/or any sharks to see at all for that matter. But if you’ve got your heart set on shark diving in Los Angeles, you’ll need to head for Guadalupe (from San Diego) or the Farallons (from San Francisco).
Types of Shark Diving
First, a little clarity. Shark diving is a broad topic and there’s a lot of confusion behind it. When we talk about ‘shark diving’, we generally mean this:
Shark Spotting/Shark Watching – This is done from a boat. It’s surface-viewing. You don’t enter the water. This is currently the only shark tour option in Los Angeles.
Swimming/Snorkeling With Sharks – This is exactly as it sounds. You’ll typically do this with reef sharks, leopard sharks, and other ‘mild’ sharks that have little, if any, history of negative interactions with humans. Examples, reef sharks, whale sharks, leopard sharks.
Shark Diving – While this is the term you’ll hear most, when we say ‘shark diving’, it technically means Scuba Diving with sharks. Examples, Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks.
Shark Cage Diving – This is shark diving done in a cage. It usually means diving with Great White Sharks, although it can be done with other species. For example, Cape Cod Shark Dives, in Massachusetts, where you can cage dive with Makos, Blue Sharks, Hammerheads and yes, even Great Whites, if you’re lucky.
California Shark Diving Options
Along with Hawaii, and shark diving in Florida, California is one of the best places in the United States to see sharks – primarily Great White Sharks at that. In Los Angeles, you can go shark spotting – but not shark diving – for about $500. This service also hinges on whether there are sharks to see in the area in the first place.
This depends on white shark migratory patterns. In a good year, like 2016, there are plenty of sharks to see and Dana Point will likely offer Shark Searches as a regular service, done at least once a week.
In a ‘less sharky’ year, they may offer the service as a charter, as was the case in 2019. So your options for seeing Great White Sharks in California are currently this:
Los Angeles – Shark Spotting only, from May to September.
San Francisco – Cage diving with white sharks at the Farrallon Islands, about 30 miles off San Francisco.
San Diego – Cage diving with white sharks at Guadalupe, about 260 miles south of San Diego, and arguably, the best place in the world to see Great White Sharks.
Why You Can’t Go Shark Diving in Los Angeles
Sharks have their own agenda. They don’t care if you live in Los Angeles, Victoria BC, Moscow, Antarctica or the face of the moon. They look for food, mates, and a spot where they can develop their place among shark hierarchy.
It’s probably not a coincidence that juvenile white sharks have been caught breaching on camera behind surfers in Los Angeles. Sharks breach for food and to make a statement to other sharks – something I saw personally when I went cage diving with white sharks in 2007 at Guadalupe and a shark breached next to our boat when surrounded by food and female sharks.
LA seems to be like ‘pre-school’ for juvenile great whites. Some years are plentiful, others are more scarce.
The point I’m getting at? Juvenile white sharks appear to use San Clemente, Manhattan Beach and Los Angeles in general as a ‘training ground’ for dominance and hunting techniques. Once mature, they tend to hang out around Guadalupe and the Farrallon Islands off San Francisco.
In other words, in Los Angeles, you’re sandwiched between two huge white shark hot spots. LA seems to be like ‘pre-school’ for juvenile great whites. Some years are plentiful, others are more scarce. The sharks in Los Angeles are not consistent enough to offer permanent shark diving in Los Angeles. And they tend to head north or south when they’re bigger and older.
Dana Point Shark Tours Explained
You still might see white sharks off Los Angeles. I don’t encourage this, but if you paddle board off Manhattan or Huntington Beach in May or June, you might see juvenile white sharks with time, the right conditions, and some very good luck.
Probably safer, the Dana Point Shark Tours, which do juvenile white shark spotting, typically from May to September. Last year, this was a charter option only, though Dana Point did the tours as a regular service each Saturday in 2016 because the shark spotting that year was so good.
Even in a good year, it’s important to manage your expectations with shark spotting at Dana Point. You’ve got a fair chance of seeing juvenile white sharks at Dana Point, but ‘fair’ means ‘fair’ and not ‘guaranteed’.
You may see whales, porpoises and a variety of interesting wildlife though, so if you’re cool with the possibility of not seeing white sharks, this may be good tour regardless.
How Can I See and Dive With Great White Sharks In Southern California?
You can head to San Francisco, for a day trip off the Farallons, or San Diego, for a 5 day liveaboard shark diving tour at Guadalupe. This too is as it sounds. The day tour at the Farallons will cost between $500 – $1200+ and can be done as shark spotting (surface viewing) and/or cage diving as well.
While it’s tempting to do a white shark day trip from San Francisco, it’s also important to consider the visibility at the Farallons can be quite murky, so you can’t see the sharks you so want to see. Also, this is a day trip. If the sharks don’t show, you’re out of luck.
This doesn’t mean San Francisco shark diving can’t be a good thing. It just means you should weigh shark diving at the Farallons against diving at Guadalupe, which costs more, but has better visibility, and a lot more time in the water with the sharks.
Read more about shark cage diving in California for a better understanding of your shark diving options in the Golden State. You can’t go shark diving in Los Angeles, but head roughly 300 miles south and you’re knocking on, arguably, the best white shark diving spot on the planet.
Affiliate Disclosure: Abenaki is an affiliate of Liveaboard.com and may earn a commission if you book a tour with them.