Most people consider snorkeling to be an island pursuit — and rightfully so. Good snorkeling typically consists of warm clear water and lots of bright tropical fish. However, just because you’re stuck North of the tropics doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the underwater scenery while breathing through a tube. Here are a few feasible snorkel options in the continental U.S.
The Florida Keys
Okay, this one is almost cheating. The Keys are the southern most portion of the continental US and they are practically in the tropics. Still, you can drive there, so it’s actually more continental than some of the other spots on this list. The Florida Keys, specifically Key West and Key Largo are likely your best bets for a consistently pleasurable continental U.S. snorkeling experience.
Crystal River, Florida
This Gulf Coast locale is one of the best places in the world to get up close and personal with the West Indian Manatee. Manatees are a protected species, so a bit of planning and etiquette are required. Crystal River offers guided manatee snorkeling tours through the protected estuaries and springs.
La Jolla Cove, CA
Southern California is the top choice for snorkeling on the best coast. The water is a bit warmer and if you choose a spot away from the urban centers and sandy beaches you can usually find good visibility and a decent variety of wildlife. Alternatively, you can venture out the kelp beds and see some truly unique Pacific marine life. Just watch out for sharks.
Lover’s Cove, Catalina Island, CA
The Channel Islands offer the best snorkeling in California. You can’t drive there, so it may seem disingenuous to include Catalina on this list. However, technicalities aside, the quality of snorkeling off Catalina simply can’t be ignored. Lover’s Cove offers dense kelp forests and rock reefs that house a wide variety of colorful cool-water fish. Visibility is rarely a problem, but the water can get cool, so summer is best for diving.
Block Island, Rhode Island
The Northeast coast of the US is not exactly known for its snorkeling potential. It’s cold, it’s cloudy, the water is generally murky, and the fish are generally less than interesting to look at. Block Island, and Rhode Island in general, is probably the best place to don a mask and snorkel in the northeast. The abundance of reefs and the relatively short continental shelf ensures that visibility is, on average, much better than the surrounding areas. Reefs also shelter a variety of fish and give potential snorkelers something to look at besides sand. The only significant drawback about diving in this region is the water temp. It’s bearable in the summer, but after October you would have to be insane to voluntarily stick your face in that water, regardless of neoprene.
Wherever You Live
If you don’t mind the cold, or the dark, or being labeled an eccentric, you can pretty much snorkel anywhere. I can’t promise that you’ll see anything, or that you won’t get sick, but with the right attitude sometimes the best spot is wherever you happen to be.