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Must be two of these threads or I'm experiencing deja vu all over again. Since I'm a warm water wussy and don't dive north of Pt. Conception, my votes are for Farnsworth Bank and Ship Rock off Catalina and San Miguel Island (especially when the blue and humpback whales are there!)
I'm partial to wrecks and invertebrate-covered reefs, so most of my favorite sites are on the south side of Palos Verdes. The Monterey peninsula had dozens of incredible sites as well. My favorites are as follows;
Beach dive, Marineland by far!
Boat dive, SoCal, Hawthorne Reef, aka Barber Pole
Central CA dive, anywhere from Pt. Sur to the Monterey breakwall. Too many to choose from.
I haven't dived the north coast yet, so I can't say for sure what the best site in California is.
If I could only dive one site forever, it would be Marineland. There are several areas where you will find different life than you will nearby.
Sam, I'd agree with your assessment of the three sites, but CDN is looking for the "best" sites to dive. Do the others (besides Farnsworth) really qualify on that basis (certainly they do on the bases you suggest).
Also, it would be interesting if you could give your perspective on the "best" sites in your early years of diving (and I'd like to know how many of them are somewhat degraded now due to changes over the intervening years). My "early" experience is almost entirely from Catalina (I didn't dive the SoCal mainland coast for over 30 years following my first dive there in 1969).
Point Dume is my favorite. There are adventures here to span a career; from snorkeling through tek diving. A shallow cove with surf grass, a submarine canyon a 40 foot wall at the pinnacles and a sea lion haul out; there is enough here to interest all people.
The cove has tidepools, surf grass beds and small ridges. Black perch are common. Farther out there are small pinnacles marked by kelp. This area is the perfect training ground for snorkelers and freedivers. Visibility is good and there are things to see from the shoreline out to 20 feet deep.
The pinnacles off the point are spectacular. A surge channel in the outer pinnacle holds a unique carpet of purple aggregating anemones. Giant green anemones, red volcano sponges and a host of other invertebrates also line this channel. Around the corner there is a 40 foot vertical wall and a swim through cave frequented by moreys. Head inshore to the SW side of the inner pinnacle on a clear day and see if you can beat the previous garibaldi count; the record stands at twenty without moving.
Dume Canyon is sandy and steep. Invertebrate life here is excellent. Sand dollar beds cover the seafloor in 15 feet. Critters hide in the detritus fields from 35 to 80 feet deep. Brittlestars cover the bottom a little past 100. Large shrimp roam the canyon depths at night, squid may also be found late in the season.
I believe that the test of a site is its diversity. Not merely the array of life, but the diversity of experience that a person can have diving there. There are many more adventures awaiting at Point Dume. They keep calling me back through the years.