If you’re in the U.S. and looking for the best diving sites, you’ve come to the right place. We have scoured the country for the best waters and underwater treasures that you can visit on your next vacation. These great places to scuba dive in the US take pride in amazing underwater sceneries and marine diversity that will wow even in the most experienced divers.
Let’s go and discover the most compelling underwater destinations across the country. So gear up and let’s drive straight to these locations.
10 Best Places to Scuba Dive in the US
1. Panama City Beach, Florida
A gem at the Gulf Coast, Panama City Beach boasts of diverse marine life. Aside from that, this destination is popular among wreck divers, which isn’t a surprise as the Gulf Coast is home to many of the most interesting shipwrecks in the world.
The most famous site here is the Red Sea Wreck, a 120-feet freighter that was sunk intentionally back in June 2004. Nature has claimed the wreck and is now covered with seaweeds and reef fishes.
Other shipwrecks that you can dive here are USS Accokeek sunk in 2000, S.S. Tarpon sunk in 1937, Empire Mica sunk in 1942, Chippewa sunk in 1990, and E.E. Simpson Tug sunk on 1929. A few bridge spans are also submerged under the waters of the city. Also, back in 2014, the city government added Voodoo F101 Fighter Jets sunk intentionally. Underwater, Panama Beach City offers a dramatic scene and a glimpse of history.
Aside from the charm of shipwrecks, Panama City Beach is a hub for those who want to learn how to dive. Several diving schools around the city offer lessons and certifications for freediving, technical diving, spearfishing, shore diving, and guided dives.
2. Catalina Island, California
An hour of ferry ride from Long Beach will bring you to Catalina Island. It’s dotted with diving sites, which is why it’s one of the favourite diving destinations for more than 50 years now.
One of the most famous diving spots in Catalina Island is Casino Point, formerly known as the Avalon Underwater Park. It’s one of the classic California dives where you’ll get to see garibaldi fishes, eels, halibuts, and more marine life.
Another favorite spot here is the Ship Rock. It’s located two miles off the coast where leopard sharks, sheepheads, garibaldi fishes, and angel sharks are in abundance. The best thing about Ship Rock is its depth that ranges from 20 to 135 feet with a visibility range of 40 to 100 feet. It suits all diver levels, but you have to prepare since the water here is surprisingly cold.
Of course, with dive sites as spectacular as Catalina Island, it’s not surprising that this is also the best place to learn diving.
3. Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Texas
About 100 nautical miles off the shores of Galveston, Texas, you’ll be treated to an underwater show. The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is a federally designated underwater area and is protected by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
The Flower Garden Banks is one of the best places to scuba dive in the US if you want to see whales, sharks, and manta rays. Also, during the month of August, coral polyps spread all over the sea, which attracts feeders, making it a great time to dive and see a myriad of sea creatures.
However, the Flower Garden Banks isn’t for beginners. It’s 8 hours away from the nearest shore and the current can be quite unpredictable. Also, some trips are cancelled at last minute’s notice due to inclement weather.
Although visiting the Flower Garden Banks requires the flexibility of schedule, it’s worth it once you’re underwater. It’s a colorful, coral-filled, and pristine scenery. Somehow, the difficulty of going to the dive spot helps in protecting its marine life.
4. Kona, Hawaii
Hawaii is known as a tropical paradise, but wait until you see the marine life beneath the waters of Kona. A coastal town in the Big Island, Kona is always filled with divers who want to see the marvel that’s beneath its waters. Besides, no other diving sites in the country can top the experience of hearing humpback whales sing.
Also, Kona is home to endemic marine life, including Potter’s angelfish, bandit angelfish, and millet seed butterflyfish, among others. Get ready to have fishes parading all over your face mask. You’ll be in awe about how a single dive can sweep you off your feet, even if you’re not really a diving enthusiast.
Most of all, you should never miss the Manta night dive here in Keahole Point. It’s dubbed as the ‘Greatest Night Dive on Earth’ with dozens of manta rays performing what seems like an underwater festivity.
Moreover, it’s quite common in Kona to encounter playful dolphins, green sea turtles, and tiger sharks. The marine life is so diverse that one dive isn’t enough to savor everything. Truly, Kona is a great place to scuba dive.
5. Point Lobos National Park, California
If you’re in California, head to Carmel-by-the-Sea to try the Point Lobos National Park. This diving site boasts clear waters, sheltered coves, a diverse marine life, and one-of-a-kind underwater topography. The best thing about Point Lobos is it remained inaccessible to humans until the 20th century. This means that what you’ll see is totally pristine and guaranteed to be every diver’s dream.
Just to give you an idea, Point Lobos is home to sea creatures without backbones, marine mammals, harbor seals, rock cod, leopard sharks and more. Take note that conditions vary all year round, but under favorable periods, visibility can reach as deep as 80 feet.
However, Point Lobos only accepts 30 divers at a time to guarantee the best experience and to protect the marine life as well. Also, it’s best to make a reservation for about 60 days in advance to secure your preferred day.
Although there are entry restrictions, the wait is totally worth it. Point Lobos has marine life you can’t see in other dive sites in the U.S.
6.Riviera Beach, Florida
Surrounded by stretches of white sand beaches, Florida is also a safe place to scuba dive. Adding to this is the Blue Heron Bridge dive in Riviera Beach. This is ideal for beginners as the depth only ranges around 5 to 20 feet.
For such a shallow depth, you’ll see a myriad of marine life including crabs, pipefish, grunts, lobsters, seahorses, batfish, and more. During favorable conditions, there would be octopuses, rays, angelfish, and manatees.
If you’re planning to dive in Blue Heron, try to schedule it about half an hour before the slack high tide. The clear water from the Atlantic Ocean provides better visibility. Remember that diving outside of the mentioned window can be risky. Heavy currents can sweep you away, especially if you’re a beginner.
Also, divers in Blue Heron are required to use dive flags for added safety. Also, you have to secure a permit from the county to dive. You can skip the hassle by availing a guided dive from one of the scuba diving shops or resorts in the area.
7. Monterey Bay, California
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary houses the most diverse marine life in the United States. It takes pride in its pristine areas, specifically the Bluefish Cove and the Whaler’s Cove. It’s actually adjacent to Point Lobos, so expect that it will apply the same restrictions to the number of divers admitted per dive.
About 65,000 divers head here to see the spectacular underwater scenery. This is not surprising given the underwater canyons, kelp forests, and schools of fishes that will dance around your mask. It’s also home to various marine mammals including sea otters, sea lions, and seals.
However, you should know that underwater temperatures in Monterey Bay get really cold. Sometimes, it can hit 60F, so a wetsuit is very much needed. Also, the visibility level is around 10 to 30 feet, which may not be ideal for beginner divers. Nevertheless, like what other divers say, if you can dive in California, you can dive anywhere.
Overall, Monterey Bay offers world-class underwater features. Even if you have to book the dive months ahead, it’s worth the wait.
8. Florida Keys, Florida
The Florida Keys is actually a string of islands off the coast of Florida. It’s a popular destination for snorkeling, fishing, and diving enthusiasts. Moreover, this place is popular chiefly due to the shipwrecks underwater as well as buried treasures believed to be stashed on sunken ships and trading vessels.
Many professional divers come back to the Florida Keys over the years since they can’t get enough of what the underwater has to offer. We suggest that you try the Molasses Reef right in the middle of Key Largo. It has 30 individual dive sites where reef sharks, sea turtles, and eagle rays are abundant. There’s no doubt that it’s one of the top places to scuba dive in USA.
Also, the 10-feet tall Christ of the Abyss statue at 25 feet is a must-see. It’s donated by Egidi Cressi, a scuba diving legend.
For avid shipwreck divers, what you’re looking for is 60-feet deep. The shipwreck of USS Spiegel Grove is sunken 6 miles away from the Key Largo shore. This ship is 500 feet long, but not all areas are safely accessible to divers. If you can go deeper, you must see the ex-military missile ship USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. It’s a 524-feet ship sunk at a depth of 70 to 100 feet.
9. Bonne Terre, Missouri
The Bonne Terre offers a different kind of dive. Instead of marine life, what you’ll see are mine shovels, geology lab, machine shop, and even a movie theater submerged under fresh water. This is actually the remains of the Bonne Terre mine. It was used to extract lead to create ammunition. However, when the resources run out, the workers abandoned the place without even packing up.
The mine started its operation in the 1800s and ceased in 1960s. Upon the abandonment, the pumps used to keep spring water off the tunnels malfunctioned. Nowadays, the entire mine is reclaimed by nature with billions of gallons of clear water.
Aside from professional divers, the place is also a top tourist destination in Missouri. Even if some can’t dive, the place offers boat tours to see the surface of the mines.
Moreover, if you’re planning to dive, make sure that you wear a thick drysuit or wetsuit. The underwater temperature is cold at 62F all year round. Nevertheless, Bonne Terre is still one of the best places for scuba diving in the US.
10. Puget Sound, Washington
The ever-famous Puget Sound doesn’t just offer a spectacular sunset view. It also boasts 75 shore-diving sites ranging from wrecks, rocky reefs, to fjords. If you go deeper, you can see giant anemones, sea lions, and even killer whales!
Also, the Puget Sound offers the best wall dive called the Dead’s Man Wall at Point Defiance. Don’t let the name scare you, though. Once you’re 90-feet deep, you’re going to see giant Pacific octopus, lingcod, and skates. On the other hand, you can also try the Dry Island Wall dive at the other side of Point Defiance. This dive spot is teeming with sunflower stars, anemone, and kelp crabs. Also, don’t be shocked when eels approach you as many divers feed them all the time.
In addition, you should be prepared because Puget Sound has a frigid underwater temperature of 50F all year round. Look for the thickest wetsuit and consider diving during winter or fall seasons as these are the periods with the best visibility. Also, it’s best to dive half an hour before or after the slack tide time for a more relaxed current.
These are the best places to scuba dive in the US and they are also some of the favorites of diving enthusiasts. Even if you’re a beginner or licensed diver, you’ll surely find a spot that will amaze your eyes. Just remember that preparation is necessary for every dive. This way, you will remain safe and you can enjoy every minute while you mingle with the underwater creates.
Most of all, take only pictures and memories. Don’t touch any marine life and always follow diving instructions and rules.