There are numerous factors to consider when deciding where to dive. Long walks, especially on stairs or cliffs are often difficult when carrying 50 or more pounds of scuba equipment. Visibility at dive spots can vary within a few hundred yards. Sometimes one place will be clear, and another will be murky. But there is nearly always someplace off the North County coast clear enough to dive.
15th Street, Del Mar--Just across from the Amtrak depot, and a short walk to the beach, this is a good diving and surfing reef. (Good surf reefs are often good diving reefs.) Parking is free for the most part, and plentiful in the early hours. Showers and restrooms about an eighth of a mile north.
San Dieguito river mouth, Del Mar--A long, but level path to the beach leads to mostly sand bottoms with scattered bits of reef. There are thick kelp beds far from shore and to the north. Parking is free. There are no showers or restrooms.
Fletcher Cove, Solana Beach (Pillbox)--There is plenty of free parking, and clean restrooms and showers. It's a short walk to the beach. The best diving is on the reefs scattered to the north in 15 to 25 feet of water. The water is often murky. There are thick kelp beds far from shore.
Tide Park, Solana Beach (Table Top Reef)--A long stairway to the beach leads to a beautiful reef. The best diving is in 15 to 25 feet of water. There is free parking on the street, and a shower at the bottom of the stairs. The reef has been fished heavily, and fish are aware of spears. The kelp is thick far from shore.
Seaside Reef (Cardiff)--There's plenty of free parking, and easy access to the beach. There is a large central reef with sand channels and broken reef to the immediate south. Visibility is often good. There are no restrooms or showers. The kelp is thick a few hundred feet from shore.
Cardiff Reef--parking is $6 a day. Access is good and easy. A beautiful reef with a lot of variety, and often clear water. Most diving is in 15 to 30 feet of water. Because of the easy access, Cardiff attracts a lot of divers. Fish, consequently are on guard. There are restrooms and showers. The kelp is thick a few hundred yards from shore.
Pipes, Cardiff--Paid parking in Cardiff State Park, or free on coast highway. A short, but steep walk to the beach. Diving in mostly shallow water. There are complete facilities within the park. The kelp is a few hundred feet from shore, and not as thick here as in many other spots.
Swami's, Encinitas--The stairs are long, and the cobble berm at the bottom makes for difficult walking. It is illegal to take any invertebrates from Swami's. A three-level reef extends for about a hundred yards. Fish are plentiful, but so are divers. There are restrooms, a park and barbecue facilities at the top of the stairs. There is a shower at the foot of the stairs, but it has been shut off during the drought. There are very thick kelp beds a few hundred yards from shore.
Moonlight Beach, Encintas--It's an easy, short walk to beach. Scattered reef to right and left, and a lot of sand straight out. There is a small reef and kelp patch straight out about 1/8 mile. Facilities include restrooms and showers. Diving is rarely good because of abundant sand. The kelp is thin and far from shore in this area.
Stone Steps, Encinitas--The access to Stone Steps is closed for repair, but good diving exists on the reefs mostly in the 15 to 25 foot range. There are no facilities, and the parking is limited. The kelp is thin and far from shore in this area.
Beacons, Leucadia--The trail to the beach is long, but fairly gentle. The diving is good and varies a lot within a small area. There are no facilities. Parking is free, but limited. The kelp is thick and far from shore.
Grand View, Leucadia--The access at Grandview is from Ponto, a few hundred yards to the south. The reef at Grandview is broken, and leads to long sandy stretches to the north and south. There are no facilities. The kelp is thick and far from shore.
Carlsbad State Park--A broken reef exists directly in front of the main lifeguard tower at Carlsbad State Park. It's a short walk to the beach if you park in the State Park. Parking is $6 a day and free on the frontage road that runs parallel to Coast Highway, there are restrooms and showers. The kelp is thin and far from shore.
Oceanside--Mostly sand bottoms. Good corbina fishing close to shore in summer months.