Monastery Beach

Carmel, California

Monastery Beach

Highway 1, 1.7 miles south of Carmel Valley Road
Carmel, CA
(831) 649-2836
Part of Carmel River State Beach


  • Easy access off Highway 1
  • Scuba diving

Extreme Hazards

  • Also called Mortuary Beach because of the numerous drownings here
  • Extremely dangerous waves, strong undertow
  • Steeply sloping beach, sudden drop-offs


  • Restroom at the south end of beach


  • No fishing
  • No fires on beach
  • Dogs allowed on beach with leash

A Divers Guide to Monterey County

Sea Kayaking

Monastery Beach

Monastery Beach, named for the Carmelite Monastery across the highway, is part of Carmel River State Beach. The beach is sometimes called San Jose Creek Beach. The one-third-mile-long stretch of sand is most popular with divers. There is limited but convenient parking along the shoulder of Highway 1 right at the beach. A restroom is located at the southern end of the beach.

Monastery Beach, Carmel River State Beach, CA

Deceptively Calm Surf at Monastery Beach

Diving at Monastery Beach

Experienced scuba divers find Monastery Beach a great place to use as a base for underwater explorations. Entering from the north end of the beach, divers soon find themselves at the edge of the Monterey Canyon, a 95-mile long underwater canyon that achieves depths of 2 miles. The canyon supports a broad diversity of marine life.

Divers at Monastery Beach find fabulous rock formations, towering stands of kelp, and a myriad of sea life in the canyon. Vibrant colors, good visibility, huge schools of fish, and fascinating invertebrates bring divers back time and again.

From the south end of Monastery Beach, divers often launch kayaks or other small inflatables in order to reach diving spots farther from shore. To the south is the rugged shorelines of Granite Point and Point Lobos. Divers report seeing numerous harbor seals, sea lions, kelp rockfish, blue rockfish, calico bass, perch, lingcod, cabezon, anemones, and sunflower stars.

Monastery Beach Hazards

Most visitors to Monastery Beach spend a relaxed and enjoyable day there. Being aware of the hazards is the best way to avoid any mishaps.

Monastery Beach has a well deserved reputation as a dangerous place for swimming, wading, and diving. The steeply sloping beach and a deep shore trough cause waves to break literally on the shore (rather than a dozen yards out like on most sandy beaches).

The waves can knock unsuspecting visitors down and then, as they attempt to regain their feet, repeatedly knock them down again, dragging them into the ocean. Coarse sand makes footing treacherous. In the trough the churning water is much like being caught in a washing machine. From there, strong rip currents sweep exhausted victims away from the shore. These hazards can be masked by the sometimes benign appearance of the waves.

An additional danger is caused by rogue or sleeper waves that arrive unannounced and strike farther up on the beach than preceding waves, catching people standing on the beach unawares. People standing with their backs to the ocean - such as posing in a photograph - are often the victims of such waves. Fishermen poised on rocks at the water's edge also have been hit by such waves and swept into the ocean.

Most divers who launch from Monastery Beach are aware of the hazards and have experience entering and exiting the ocean in rough surf conditions. Even for expert divers, Monastery Beach can be extremely challenging. On high surf days the most experienced divers know to stay away.

Signs at Monastery Beach warn of these hazards.

Monastery Beach, Carmel River State Beach, CA

Southern End of Monastery Beach

Kayaking from Monastery Beach

Kayakers like to launch their boats from the south end of Monastery Beach when the wave conditions are safe. Because of the hazards mentioned above, this is a site for experienced sea kayakers only. Safer launch sites are located in nearby Point Lobos State Park.

Kayakers are wary of the currents around ocean rocks and stay well clear of them. Paddling west, parallel to the shore, kayakers often head toward Point Lobos and take time to explore the numerous coves and inlets along the way. China Cove is a favorite destination.

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