The 7 best places to freedive in Northern California

Northern California has beautiful conditions for freediving.

Deep calm lakes for those who are into freediving for healing and meditation, and the wild Pacific Ocean for those who want to swim with seals, forage for uni and catch ling cod.

Below are 7 of best spots to freedive in Northern California.
San Carlos Beach, Monterey
Difficulty level: Beginner
Foraging: No
Max depth: 70'
Water temperature: from 64F in summer to 51F in winter

Nestled in the east-facing arm of the Monterey Bay, San Carlos is perfectly protected from ocean swell and usually as calm as a lake, making it a popular spot for beginner and intermediate freediving classes and social freediving events.

With commercial and recreational fishing prohibited, San Carlos is teeming with marine life. The kelp forests are thick and healthy here, sheltering scores of fish and invertebrate species, which in turn keep the sea lions, seals and otters who live here well fed.

Common sights during a day’s freediving include families of otters playing in the kelp, groups of sea lions breaching the surface in unison as they head home from a successful day’s hunting, and maybe a seal directly underneath you, playing with your fins.

Want to learn to freedive at San Carlos beach?
Take a California Coast Freediving class with Fins and Foam Freediving.
Lovers Point, Monterey
Difficulty level: Beginner
Foraging: yes
Max depth: 20'
Water temperature: from 64F in summer to 51F in winter

Located in the Monterey Bay, the only truly protected section of the entire Northern Californian coastline, Lovers Point is calm and sheltered from swell.

Unlike at nearby San Carlos or Monastery beaches, foraging is permitted here, so this spot is a perfect place to practice your spearfishing skills or collect urchins for uni.

You can enter from the rocks or from the nearby beach, from which it is a short swim to 10-20’ depth. The downside of this spot is that fish can be scarce because of its popularity with beginner spearos.
Lake Berryessa
Difficulty level: Beginner
Foraging: yes
Max depth: 200’
Water temperature: from 75F in summer to 50F in winter

Lake Berryessa is the best place in Northern California to practice deep freediving. It is very calm, with no currents or swell. It has a warmer top layer and crystal clear water below.

There are some underwater attractions, like wrecks of cars that have plunged from the cliff road above, and spearing for bass and trout is possible, but the main draw of this spot is warm, calm access to deep freediving. It is a popular spot for certified freedivers.

The only downside to this spot is its lack of cellphone reception. This spot was only discovered in 2017.
Want to learn to freedive deeper in calm conditions? Join our Regular Classes at Lake Berryessa.
Salt Point
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Foraging: excellent
Max depth: 40’
Water temperature: from 60F in summer to 50F in winter

Salt Point is a wild, windswept expanse of tall grass and pine copses on the northern Sonoma coast, and the rocky bays here are perfect for foraging. Schools of blue and black rockfish will approach you inquisitively, and the kelp forests are recovering from their depredations by urchins. The shoreline is exposed to swell, but the rocky bottom mostly prevents surf breaks, making entry and exit in the right places easier than expected.

While not preparing ceviche and uni pasta from your catch, you can pick mushrooms, blackberries and bay leaves to add to your meal, check out some bouldering routes on the cliffs around (including a deep water solo!), and hike along ten miles of coastline to the north, usually without seeing anyone else.

This is a popular weekend camping spot for freedivers of all levels.

Difficulty level: Intermediate
Foraging: no
Max depth: 300’
Water temperature: from 60F in summer to 50F in winter

Monastery Beach is home to the deepest kelp forest in Northern California. Up to a hundred feet deep in places, it is home to scores of fish species, with occasional sightings of dolphins and orcas. Next to the forest, a finger of an underwater canyon stretches into shore, offering depths of 300' and beyond.

This is a popular spot for intermediate and advanced freedivers. Exposed to the ocean swell, risks include seasickness and the sharp beach break, but on a good visibility day, the sunlight filtering down through the kelp forest is magical.
Lake Tahoe
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Foraging: No
Max depth: 1600'
Water temperature: from 68F in summer to 32F in winter

Nestled like a molten jewel in the Sierra mountain range, Lake Tahoe has incredibly clear water and very deep water close to shore.

Great freediving spots around the lake include Rubicon Point, Emerald Bay, Sand Harbor, William Kent beach and Dollar Point. The best spot of all is Meeks Bay, with camping facilities, a sandy beach and 300' of depth a short swim from shore.

This is a seasonal spot: as fall approaches, temperatures drop towards freezing, making all but the quickest freedive sessions impractical.
Horseshoe Bay
Difficulty level: Advanced
Foraging: No
Max depth: 200’
Water temperature: from 66F in summer to 51F in winter

Only discovered in 2021, this spot is very challenging and still in beta. Boat traffic, low visibility and strong underwater currents mandate safety precautions like lanyards and a buoy.

Despite the risks, however, this is a gorgeous spot to freedive, with the Golden Gate bridge on one side and the city of San Francisco on the other. It is common to see friendly seals, the fins of shy harbor porpoises, and flocks of pelicans skimming low overhead.
If you are considering exploring any of these freediving spots, it is important to take a freediving class first, and remember the first rule of freediving safety:
Always dive with a buddy.