Great snorkeling doesn’t require a plane ticket to the tropics. Not when Abalone Cove State Marine Conservation Area in Rancho Palos Verdes is just a quick drive away. It has everything you want for a local undersea foray: kelp forests, rocky reefs, reasonably calm water, and easy access—once you cross the rocky shore and get out beyond the waves. You should be at least an intermediate-level swimmer, and be sure to check the surf report before you go. Ideally, choose a calm day, which will also ensure max visibility in the cove—up to 20 feet.
Stay to the left of the cove (when facing the ocean), and swim toward the rocky tidepool area. Before long, you’ll see dense kelp forests and small reef fish. On exceptionally clear days you can see more impressive wildlife such as octopuses … or octopodes! (Fun fact: Because “octopus” comes from Greek, some consider the plural “octopodes” more correct than the Latin “octopi.” You can’t go wrong with octopuses, though.) That’s in addition to rays, horn sharks, giant crabs, and dozens of species of fish.
Abalone Cove may not be the most scenic snorkeling spot in SoCal, but it’s easy to get to and a great place to hone your skills and enjoy being out on the water. Wetsuits make the experience easier due to their buoyancy but are not necessary. The water is plenty warm right now. When leaving the water, time your exit so you can ride the waves back to shore. Try taking the Olmstead Trail to exit the cove—it’s a longer route, about a mile, but a gentler grade. The views of the cove below are amazing, and the gentle ocean breezes help you and your gear to dry off before you get back to your car. Win!
From Pacific Coast Hwy. in Torrance, take Palos Verdes Blvd. toward the ocean for about 2 miles, then turn south on Palos Verdes Dr. W. Continue for 7 miles to Abalone Cove Shoreline Park, on the right. From the parking lot, take the Abalone Cove Trail and Beach School Trail until it intersects with the Sea Dahlia Trail, then follow that until you reach the beach—about a half-mile, at most, but very steep. Continue down the rocky beach until you arrive at the cove near the base of the bluffs. Trails are dog-friendly, but no dogs on beach.