Disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links related to shark cage diving in California based out of San Diego. If you book a tour, I will receive a commission, at no additional cost to you. Opinions are my own, and based on my experiences diving with and blogging about shark diving over the past 12+ years.
Shark cage diving in California means diving with Great White Sharks.
Unlike shark diving in Florida, where you can swim, scuba, snorkel and even cage dive with a huge variety of different shark species, in California you’re limited to Great Whites for several reasons, with the most predominant being this:
California is arguably the best place on the planet to see Great White Sharks. Yup, really. We’ll get into that in a bit. First, here’s the basics of shark cage diving in California, and what folks typically ask before they go eyeball to eyeball with Great Whites off the Golden State.
FAQs About Shark Diving in California
How Much Does It Cost?
That depends on where you do it. The quick version is this:
Los Angeles – $500 for a 90 minute shark spotting excursion from a boat. This is not cage diving, but it’s very convenient. If you want to see Great White Sharks and you live in the LA area, this is a decent option.
San Francisco – $475 – $800+ – This is a day trip to the Farrallon Islands, about 30 miles off San Francisco. The lower price means shark watching from the boat. The higher end means anywhere from one to two cage dives. This is the cheapest shark cage diving in California, although the sharks can be elusive here and it’s not necessarily the best value.
San Diego – $3000 – $5000+ This is a 5 day liveaboard diving tour, in which you travel to Isla De Guadalupe, (yup, from Shark Week), about 260 miles south of San Diego. This gets you 3 full days of cage diving with white sharks before you head back.
The San Diego shark diving tours can be customized according to luxury and extra diving days, hence the higher range. The more you pay, the more you can customize, although from experience, the base $3,000 is more than sufficient to satisfy your bucket list wish of seeing great whites in person.
Note these prices are for November 2019. Please verify these for yourself with each boat in question. Also note that it’s good form to add a gratuity to each experience if the crew went above and beyond in making your shark cage diving in California the epic experience you want it to be.
Can You Swim With Sharks in California?
Not great whites – at least, not on tour. Nor is that advisable. Would be kinda hard to set that up don’t you think?
With that said, you can actually snorkel with leopard sharks in several places, including at La Jolla Cove in San Diego. But that’s not cage diving – and that’s a topic for another time.
Is it Safe to Cage Dive With Great White Sharks?
You’re diving with Great White Sharks, my friend. They’re not puppies. They’re apex predators. So no, I’m not gonna say it’s ‘safe’ to dive with Great White Sharks.
With that out of the way…
I am not aware of a single diver injury by shark in California, or Port Lincoln Shark Diving in Australia for that matter. Yup, I know, you saw 47 Meters Down and you’re wondering if a shark cage has ever dropped. I doubt it – I’ve certainly never heard of that happening.
Unlike what Hollywood would have you believe, it’s very unlikely that would happen for a variety of reasons. One of them? Most shark cage diving in California for beginners is done from a stern-mounted cage attached by metal brackets to the boat itself. That alone shoots down the theory of a shark cage held by a single rusty cable, that just has to snap (timed perfectly with a winch that has to jam).
You know what else 47 Meters Down gets wrong? Sharks don’t want to eat you. Even Great Whites. Really, they don’t. You need to let that one go.
Again, speak with each boat before you go out regarding their safety procedures and redundancy plans. But honestly, the cage diving operation at Isla De Guadalupe is pushing 20 years now. It has an excellent track record, especially given how many hundreds of shark divers take the plunge each year.
White Shark Excursions from San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego
OK, so California is NOT the best all-round state for shark diving. But it does one thing exceptionally well, and frankly, better than any other spot on the planet in my not-so-humble opinion.
What exactly is that? Three words: ‘Great’ ‘White’ ‘Sharks’.
You may have heard the Golden State is swarming with the little fellers in recent years. We’ve seen sharks breaching behind surfers, sharks checking out paddle boarders off Huntington and Manhattan Beach. And in 2017, a rather, er, intimidating announcement from a helicopter pilot that one paddle boarder was surrounded by 15 great white sharks, and he likely didn’t know it.
Scared? Don’t be – this is healthy, and most of the sharks seen off LA are juveniles. Great white sharks off California are a good thing because it means the marine ecosystem is coming back. The sharks we’re seeing off LA and San Diego’s beaches are typically 10 feet or less. And while they may be up for a little breach smackdown with rival sharks in the area, negative incidents with white sharks off California are very low.
In fact, they’re such a hit these days that a whale watching operator based at Dana Point is now offering ‘coastal viewing’ 90 minute great white shark tours just off the beach. Add that to the other white shark viewing hot spots and you’ve now got 3 options to see Mr. Whitey off California – to suit any time or budget.
Wanna see great white sharks? You can do it from California’s three biggest cities: Los Angeles, San Diego and/or San Francisco. Speaking as a shark lover who lives in beautiful but decidedly shark-less Victoria BC, (Canada), I envy you!
#1 – Great White Shark Tours Off Dana Wharf (from Los Angeles)
The Experience: This is a first. There are so many white sharks off Los Angeles in Spring that a whale watching company now offers shark-spotting tours off Dana Wharf. For $400, just hop over to the wharf on a Saturday and charter a boat for their new Shark Search – a 90 minute to 2 hour trip around the Dana Point area, in which, hopefully, you’ll spot the little guys, often just 100 yards off shore.
- Cheapest White Shark Tour in California
- You Don’t Get Wet
- Easy Way to See Great White Sharks
- This is NOT Cage Diving
- Short Tour
- Mostly Smaller White Sharks
- You Might Get ‘Skunked’ (See No Sharks – and That Would Suck)
What You’ll See: Juvenile great white sharks. You’ll see them from a boat – this is not a cage diving experience. Still, they’re great whites, within Orange County. Great white shark spotting does not get more convenient than that.
Length: About 90 minutes
What You’ll Pay: $400
When: Charters begin in May.
Next Step: Head to www.danawharf.com/shark-search.
#2 – Great White Shark Tours Off the Farrallon Islands (From San Francisco)
The Experience: Long before Guadalupe was in the picture, the Farrallon Islands were the spot to see great white sharks off California. The site is a wildlife reserve about 30 miles outside San Francisco where the toothy creatures tend to hang each autumn, with several shark tour boats you can take for the day.
- Potential to See Large Great White Sharks
- You Can Cage Dive And/Or Stay On the Boat
- Easy-Ish Day Trip From San Francisco
- You Can Keep it Under $1000
- You Can Get ‘Skunked’ (No Sharks)
- Poor Visibility at Farrallons
- Rough Seas
- Food Not Always Included
What You’ll See: Very large great white sharks – if you’re lucky. I have to be honest, the visibility here is quite limited, and there are many days when the sharks don’t show up. With that being said, the area is noted for very large great whites, and has seen some incredible things over the past 20 years, including the first documented encounter between an orca and great white back in 1997.
You can do a great white shark tour at the Farrallon Islands from a boat, a cage, or private charter. It’s a full day, leaving Fisherman’s Wharf at 6:30AM and returning 12 hours later.
It may be worth a look if you’re in San Francisco.
Length: About 12 hours.
What You’ll Pay: Roughly $375 for top-viewing, and $775 from the cage. Private charters will cost more – and note that you’ll have to pack your own lunch unless you do the latter.
Next Step: There are several great white shark tours at the Farrallons. Google ‘great white shark tours farrallons’ and see what pops up.
#3 – Great White Shark Tours At Guadalupe (From San Diego)
The Experience: This is the most expensive and time consuming of the three great white shark tours we’ll cover here, and I think the most rewarding. Back in 2007, I went shark cage diving at Guadalupe and it inspired me to create this blog three years later.
Guadalupe is a volcanic island about 250 miles southwest of Ensenada, at Baja California. You’ll either leave on a boat from San Diego, or catch a bus to Ensenada, from where you’ll ply the sometime-choppy Pacific for roughly 24 hours on a 5 day live-aboard experience.
This is a five day liveaboard diving experience. You’ll spend Day 1 sailing to Guadalupe and Days 2-4 diving (so you’ll likely get three days total diving for up to 8 dives each day. Each dive typically lasts an hour).
- LOTS of Great White Sharks
- Excellent Visibility
- 10+ Cage Dives Per Trip
- Lowest Chance of Getting Skunked
- Most Expensive Shark Cage Diving in California
- Takes 20-ish Hours to Get There From San Diego
The typical Guadalupe Shark Diving Itinerary looks like this:
Day 1 – Boat leaves San Diego or Ensenada (Mexico) around noon.
Day 2 – Boat arrives at Guadalupe, about 260 miles south of San Diego, about 6AM. First day of diving.
Day 3 – Diving.
Day 4 – Diving until about 5PM. Cages come up and you leave Guadalupe.
Day 5 – Arrive San Diego around 10AM-ish. Lots of hugs and pictures, and Facebook contacts – don’t forget those!
What You’ll See: You’ll see more great whites here than arguably anywhere on the planet. The visibility at Guadalupe is excellent – you can see 100 feet on a good day. You’ll see a range of sharks here, too, from juveniles, to some pushing 20 feet.
Heck, if you’re very lucky, you may see Shredder (also called Cal Ripfin), my favourite shark on the planet, who you can easily recognize for his ‘shredded’ dorsal fin. Sadly, though, he’s been AWOL at Guadalupe since 2011, and there’s some speculation he may have moved on.
I hope not. Shredder’s a keeper 🙂
We saw two highly unusual behaviours at Guadalupe on our dive. On the third day, a great white actually breached by our boat (and almost hit it!) – and we got a picture! On day four, a shark killed a seal. We got that on film too, which you can watch here for your gratuitous viewing pleasure.
The Australian guy, Luke Tipple, was our dive master. Cool guy.
Length: 5+ days.
What You’ll Pay: Guadalupe cage diving is not cheap. It’s worth it though – prices typically begin around $3,000 USD for single occupancy or slightly less if you’re matched up. All your meals are covered, and they’re usually very good. You may put on weight if you’re not careful!
Note that starting price for a basic charter, like on MV Horizon. The more luxurious you get, the more you’ll pay.
While that does sound expensive, keep in mind you’ll be on the boat for at least 4 nights. That’s 4+ nights you’re NOT spending $200+/night for a hotel room in San Francisco or San Diego. Also, if it’s you’re life ambition to see Great White Sharks, sometimes it’s better to go all-in – literally.
When: September to early December. The seas can get a little rough around November. Aim for October if possible.
Next Step: Book a tour, preferably earlier in the year – Guadalupe shark diving tours tend to fill up early.
I went with Shark Diver, who chartered MV Islander. If I were to do it again, my first choice would be MV Horizon because they’re one of the original operators at Guadalupe and have a good reputation in the shark diving community. Note that I am an affiliate of LiveAboard.com and will receive a commission if you book a tour through that or any San Diego/Guadalupe links in this post at no additional cost to you.
What Is the Best Great White Shark Diving Experience in California?
Each of these brings something to the table. If you’re short on time and money, and you’re in Los Angeles, the Dana Wharf Shark Spotting Charter is quick and easy. The Farrallons White Shark day trip from San Francisco can potentially get you in front of bigger sharks, with the option to go cage diving there as well.
Still, if you want my objective opinion on the best shark cage diving in California, it’s the San Diego tour. Well, technically it’s Isla De Guadalupe, but it leaves from San Diego.
Here’s why I feel it’s best: you get the most dives, you get the best visibility, and you get the most chances of seeing a variety (and many of) Great White Sharks, from juveniles to matures.
You’ve got the least chance of getting skunked at Guadalupe. You’re also on a live aboard dive boat for 5+ days that specializes in feeding you, housing you, and making your white shark diving experience something you’ll remember forever.
It’s on your Bucket List to see Great White Sharks, correct? The San Diego/Guadalupe tour gives you the best chance to check that off, and done in both comfort and with the camaraderie of other shark divers you may be friends with for life.
I’ve included links below where you can get more information about cage diving at Guadalupe (again, which leaves San Diego – and again, I am an affiliate). You can search for tours by boat or for a broader search for ‘Guadalupe’ in general. The latter shows you a variety of shark diving boats that you can inspect for pricing and amenities.
M/V Horizon will usually be the most affordable, starting around $3,000. Remember, each Guadalupe cage diving tour is at least 5 days (1 day to get there, 3 full days of cage diving, and a day to get back). You should also factor in a gratuity for the crew if you’re happy with the experience.
Booking Guadalupe Shark Tours By Boat
The following boats can all take you great white shark diving at Guadalupe between August to November – provided you book early enough:
MV Horizon (Top Pick)
Booking Shark Tours By SEARCH
Search Guadalupe Cage Diving Tours here. To do that, follow the link, which takes you to Mexico live aboard diving tours. Underneath it, search any date between August and November (Guadalupe’s white shark diving season) and click ‘Search’.
Then scroll down to see spots that are still available for ‘Great White Shark Diving’ and/or ‘Great White Shark Diving’ in the boat description.
Are they cheap? Nope – but live aboard shark diving at Guadalupe is the single best cage diving experience on the planet in my shark-loving opinion, and a ‘Must-Do’ for anyone whose bucket list is not complete without seeing a great white shark.