The Best Scuba Diving in Florida: 8 Great Dive Locations
Scuba diving is an exhilarating pastime that allows for the exploration of mysterious and exotic underwater habitats.
Florida happens to be one of the best places to scuba dive.
The waters here are clear and warm from March through November.
Each dive site is bursting with colorful coral reefs, exotic fish, and large creatures that attract beginner and advanced scuba divers from all over the globe.
Is the Scuba Diving in Florida Good?
Florida is one of the most beautiful and diverse spots in the world to scuba dive.
Not only is the area home to a wide range of marine life, but it also offers unique diving experiences including shipwreck exploration, freshwater springs, and many caves and caverns.
Places You Can Dive in Florida
Florida’s peninsula sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
All three of its coastlines offer amazing dive sites that will satisfy every kind of scuba diver.
Florida’s panhandle stretches from Tallahassee to Pensacola and offers a variety of great diving attractions.
First up we have Destin.
Largely considered to be one of the best deep-sea diving destinations in Florida, this area features a range of shipwrecks, natural reef structures, and a host of marine life.
The water reaches depths of up to 110 feet and averages about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summertime.
The visibility here is incredible, and divers frequently spot lobsters, large seashells, and schools of rainbow-colored fish near the sandy ocean floor.
There are several man-made reefs in Destin as a result of purposeful shipwrecks.
These wrecks were designed to attract baitfish and trophy fish to the area, and experienced scuba divers often catch glimpses of large game fish, Loggerhead turtles, and even the occasional dolphin pod.
On the coast of the Gulf of Mexico sits Panama City, a resort town with access to open water dive spots as well as deep-sea diving for certified divers.
This area is known as the Wreck Capital of the South, with over 50 artificial reefs and 150 dive spots to check out.
If you scuba dive in Panama City, you’re likely to witness pods of bottlenose dolphins amid the schools of tropical fish.
The area is home to manatees and whales as well.
Pensacola is a popular destination for those who enjoy scuba diving in Florida, largely because of its trail of famous shipwrecks.
The Great Carrier Reef is one such shipwreck, one of 12 that stretches from Pensacola up to St. Joe.
Before its life below sea, the USS Oriskany was a U.S. Navy boat that saw action during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
It was purposefully sunk in 2006 to attract marine life.
Certified divers report sightings of tiger sharks, manta rays, octopi, and crabs in the ship’s many dark corners.
For novice divers, there are also several shore diving spots.
The Park East Reef, also known as the Portofino Reef, is only 12 feet deep and features over a dozen “Christmas Tree” coral reefs.
If safety is a concern of yours when it comes to diving, check out the commercially operated dive park Vortex Spring.
They have a team of instructors and diving professionals who can help you safely navigate the spring.
Located in the tiny town of Ponce de Leon, Vortex Spring is the largest diving facility in the state.
It features a clear, freshwater spring that connects to a 1,642-foot long limestone cave.
The water this spring is cold for Florida diving standards, averaging about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
The facility offers open water and cave diving certification, making it a great spot for novice and experienced divers.
There are numerous freshwater eels, crustaceans, Koi, Gar, Catfish, and Bass who live in the constantly flowing water.
Diving spots are abundant in Northeastern Florida, from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach.
More than 100 artificial reefs are available to explore in Jacksonville, Florida which hosts corals, sponges, and hundreds of tropical fish.
These reefs take up more than 40 miles of underwater real estate and attract everyone from hobby fishermen to deep-sea divers.
The water off the coast of Jacksonville can be murky at times, which is why it is best to dive into this area in the summertime during calm, sunny weather.
Some locations allow divers to go down 110 feet, while other shallower options are more suited to beginners.
In addition to the numerous schools of fish that populate these dive spots, you may also see dolphin pods, manatees, and several species of sea turtles depending on your location and your luck.
The waters of St. Augustine are similar to that of the Jacksonville area in terms of clarity and visibility.
In the summertime, the average water temperature hovers around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Great dive spots in the area include the Capo Reef, home to schools of Grouper, Lionfish, and High Hat fish, as well as the Desco Reef.
Here, at a depth of 70 feet, divers can glimpse Polka-dot batfish, starfish, and the stunning Blue Angelfish swimming amidst the coral.
The relatively calm aquamarine waters of the Gulf Coast of Florida are perfect for activities like snorkeling and scuba diving.
Sarasota has a range of year-round diving spots including artificial reefs, shipwrecks, and stunning natural reefs that make this a must-dive location.
The marine life that calls the sunken barges, concrete culverts, and freighters of Sarasota’s waters home include schools of amberjack, jewfish, grouper, snapper, and barracuda.
You may also witness blue and grey angelfish swimming through the hard coral,
Depending on what site you choose, visibility ranges from 20 to 50 feet.
The water stays relatively warm in the low 80s.
Venice is the best spot in Florida for divers who enjoy a good fossil.
Here, divers can hunt for fossilized shark teeth, mastodon teeth, turtle shells, and more.
The waters here are fairly cold, averaging about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Numerous freshwater springs in central Florida attract certified divers.
Places like Ginnie Springs and Silver Springs boast shockingly clear waters and have visibility of up to 100 feet.
South Florida has some of the most diverse scuba diving locations, thanks to its coasts on both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Warm water shipwrecks are the big draw for divers in Fort Lauderdale.
76 artificial reefs have been sunk in the past couple of decades to explore.
Beginners will enjoy the shallow waters of the Barracuda Reef or The Caves.
Advanced divers looking to explore Fort Lauderdale and who are interested in more natural formations may find the Hammerhead Reef to be worth their while.
As one of the most popular Florida cities, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the best dive spots in Miami to check out.
The Neptune Memorial Reef is a man-made artificial reef 40 feet deep that allows divers to swim amidst stately columns, arches, and concrete statues.
The coral reefs of the Emerald Reef are shallower at only 20 feet deep and feature colorful fish such as blue tang, pillar coral, and sponges.
West Palm Beach
Last but certainly not least, we have West Palm Beach.
This popular dive area features gorgeous reefs, unique trenches, and an incredibly diverse selection of marine life.
Divers frequently see squid, octopi, and sea turtles as well as manatees and crabs in shallower waters, while advanced divers traveling down 100 feet or more come in contact with schools of bright tropical fish, goliath groupers, and sharks.
Also known as the Florida Keys, this 125-mile chain of islands south of Miami sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Its subtropical climate and warm water temperatures are ideal for coral, tropical fish, and ocean life to thrive.
The area also attracts divers from all over the world.
Big Pine Key
Located about 100 miles south of Miami, Big Pine Key offers several dive spots for divers of varying experience levels.
The warm tropical waters are perfect for viewing hundreds of species of fish and 50 coral formations.
In the warm blue waters of Islamorada, divers can explore several reefs.
The Davis Reef is 30 feet deep that moray eels and turtles live in, while the Hens and Chickens Reef attract both newbies and certified divers looking to view the giant coral heads and caves that create the reef’s structure.
Key West is a gorgeous dive destination that features wreck diving, healthy and abundant coral reefs, and unique natural structures you can’t see anywhere else.
A must-dive location in the area is the Sand Key Lighthouse Reef.
Here, you’ll have the opportunity to explore over ten miles of coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, sea turtles, and sharks.
The namesake of this reef is an active lighthouse that the reef has grown up and around over hundreds of years.
If you’re planning on scuba diving in Key West, you should also check out the Ten-Fathom Ledge.
This stunning natural wonder offers divers a chance to explore a network of caves and witness dramatic overhangs where lobster, grouper, and other marine life make their homes.
The Sombrero Reef in the Middle Keys is also a great dive spot to check out.
The water temperature in Key West is normally around 86 degrees, with temperatures dipping into the low 70s in the winter months.
Self-proclaimed as the Dive Capital of the world, Key Largo is home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the world’s largest artificial reef, and a national marine sanctuary.
Located near the Gulf of Mexico, the water here ranges from 74 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit and is generally clear.
There are over a dozen amazing dive spots off the coast, including stunning coral reefs and four shipwrecks.
One of Key Largo’s most popular dive spots is Molasses Reef, a sanctuary and preservation area famous for its coral structures, clear-water, and numerous fish including Snappers, Schoolmasters, and Parrotfish.
Lucky divers have witnessed Caribbean Reef Sharks, sea turtles, and Southern Stingrays as well.
Other popular Key Largo dive spots that cater to both beginner and experienced divers include the Conch Reef and Wall, French Reef, Minnow Caves, and Elbow Reef.
Each location offers different water depths and caters to a wide variety of curious explorers.
Which Key is Best for Scuba Diving?
Although you can experience great diving in Key West, if we’re rating the two, Key Largo is the better option for scuba diving.
The coral reefs and marine life are exquisite, there are numerous shipwrecks to explore, and it is easy to access.
Best Places to Go Scuba Diving in Florida
Whether you’re new to diving or just looking for the best places to go scuba diving in Florida, we recommend the following spots.
There are several diving locations in Florida specifically catered to beginners.
Some offer equipment rentals, instruction and certification courses, and even on-site camping so you can immerse yourself in the experience.
Devil’s Den Spring
Located in Williston, Florida, the Devil’s Den Spring is the perfect dive spot for beginners.
It is an underground spring inside a prehistoric cave that lets visitors explore ancient rock formations and fossil beds, as well as fish and turtles.
This is a privately owned spring with on-site restrooms, affordable camping accommodations, weekend dining, and a gift shop.
They offer full and partial equipment rentals so you’ll have access to what you need before your dive.
The crystal clear waters of this spring are 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, which can be considered chilly for some.
Free swimming is prohibited; however, visitors can snorkel without certification or scuba dive into the 54 feet deep water.
This spot is extremely popular and often has wait times of up to several hours, so it is recommended that you plan for a trip to Devil’s Den.
Manatee Springs State Park
At this beautifully preserved and historic park, divers can take advantage of open water diving in Manatee Springs Main Spring or cavern diving in Catfish Hotel.
As the name suggests, Manatee Springs is home to manatees, which can be viewed by divers as close as 50 feet away.
It is also home to alligators, turtles, snakes, and a variety of local fish.
Depending on the weather conditions, the water can be crystal clear or dark and muddy.
It remains 72 degrees year-round and averages between 50 to 150 million gallons of water a day.
The Catfish Hotel is a popular spot for cave exploration.
Named for the immense number of catfish that call the caves home, the dive spot is a series of caves, tunnels, and passageways that make up more than 5 miles.
The entire area is strictly regulated for safety and preservation purposes.
You will be required to show your diver’s certification card to the park rangers or be registered under your instructor’s certification before diving.
To preserve the natural beauty of this area, diving is on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Only 60 divers are granted permission between the two sites per day, so it is wise to head out early if Manatee Springs is on your list of dive spots.
Blue Grotto Dive Resort
Blue Grotto is an 80 foot wide, 100-foot deep cavern located in Williston, Florida.
It is a freshwater dive spot with three different areas to explore depending on your diving experience and expertise.
The popular dive spot gets its name from its gorgeous, crystal clear blue waters.
At the Blue Grotto, divers can witness a variety of fish.
The most popular attraction is the Grotto’s resident turtle Virgil, who loves to meet new divers.
The resort offers on-site training and equipment for beginners, camping, air, and Nitrox (EAN32) fills, picnic areas, and outdoor shelters, making it a go-to destination.
For Natural Springs
Florida’s natural springs offer just as many beautiful and unique scuba diving spots as the ocean and the Gulf.
Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River
As part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the Three Sisters Springs are a system of springs with dazzling turquoise waters accessible only by paddleboard or kayak.
At the park, divers and snorkelers can explore the warm waters of the springs and enjoy the local flora and fauna that surround the springs.
These springs are also a winter sanctuary for hundreds of West Indian Manatees.
Madison Blue Spring State Park, Lee
Scuba divers love the large cave system available at Madison Blue Spring State Park.
All divers are required to be cave and cavern certified to dive, and those who are get to view glorious limestone formations, fish and turtles, and other inhabitants of the caves.
To Swim with Manatees
If swimming with manatees has always been a dream of yours, look no further than Crystal River.
Crystal River is an incredible diving spot, particularly if you hope to see manatees in their natural habitat.
The area is home to 800 manatees from mid-November to late March when they seek out the warm waters of the spring.
To Go Cave Diving
Cave diving is one of the most adventurous forms of scuba diving, and Florida is not lacking in cave diving locations in any way.
Adventurous divers looking to explore the underwater caves of Florida have a couple of options.
As we mentioned above, Devil’s Den is a great cave dive trip for people who are beginner divers.
The area houses a lovely freshwater spring inside a prehistoric cave, with depths up to 54 feet.
The rock formations here are over 33 million years old.
Blue Grotto is another great spot for cave diving in Florida.
Here, an experienced diver can swim 100 feet down into upper and lower caverns to view incredible, ancient rock formations.
What You’ll See When Diving in Florida
Florida dive spots are home to some of the most beautiful and unique creatures on earth.
When diving in Florida, you will have the chance to view colorful hard and soft corals, invertebrates and crustaceans, and schools of local and tropical fish.
Larger marine life is not out of the question.
Depending on the dive spot, you may be lucky enough to glimpse pods of playful dolphins, friendly manatees, and a variety of different sharks.
Manta Rays and stingrays also call these waters home.
Finally, many shipwrecks, both historical and purposeful, are waiting in the ocean depths for divers to explore.
Best Time to Go Diving in Florida
Florida offers year-round diving in most areas.
Water temperatures are warmer in the summer months, with an average in the mid-80s.
However, visibility can increase in the winter months in certain spots.
Keep in mind that hurricane season in Florida takes place from August to October, so you might want to plan your diving excursions outside of these months.
How Much Does Scuba Diving Cost in Florida?
What you end up spending on scuba diving in Florida depends on a variety of factors.
For starters, if you are a beginner looking to obtain certification, you can expect to pay between $275 and $550.
If you need to rent diving equipment, you should plan to add on $50-100, especially if you have to visit a dive shop to make your purchase.
Experienced divers with their own equipment may only need to pay park entrance fees or charter boat fees.
There are numerous charter services to choose from in Florida, with fees ranging from $50 to $125 per person for 2 to 3-hour trips.
Florida Dive Sites Map
Take a look at this map for some of the best diving in Florida.
Snorkeling in Florida
If scuba diving frightens you, or if you don’t have the time or resources to get certified, snorkeling in Florida is just as enjoyable.
This activity typically involves swimming in shallow water.
Best Places to go Snorkeling in Florida
The best places to go snorkeling in Florida include Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne National Park, and Silver Glen located in the Ocala National Forest.
Dry Tortugas National Park
The warm, shallow waters of Dry Tortugas National Park make this an ideal snorkeling destination for people of all ages.
Here you will be able to catch glimpses of majestic coral, seagrass, and schools of colorful tropical fish.
The Dry Tortugas stretch from the Gulf of Mexico up to Miami in the Atlantic Ocean.
Also present in this park are the South Coaling Dock Ruins, which are great for experienced snorkelers to explore.
Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park is a delight for the senses.
Featuring emerald green islands, turquoise-colored waters, and a network of brilliant coral reefs, snorkeling here is an unforgettable experience.
The area is home to several unique shipwrecks easily visible to snorkelers, as well as a variety of tropical plants, 500 species of reef fish like goliath grouper, and bigger marine life like nurse sharks and spiny lobster.
There are numerous snorkeling tours beginners or tourists can take advantage of, many of which offer equipment rentals for affordable prices.
Silver Glen, Ocala National Forest
The clear water basin at Silver Glen is perfect for snorkelers hoping to see ancient fossils and dozens of types of fish.
It is also an important habitat for wintering manatees.
The beautiful blue water is a steady 73 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
Best Time to Go Snorkeling
The best time to go snorkeling in Florida largely depends on the location you plan to snorkel at and the weather.
However, a general rule of thumb is to wait for mid-afternoon on a sunny day.
This will allow the maximum amount of light to penetrate the water and light up the world below.
Choppy water conditions are also not ideal for snorkeling.
If possible, head out onto the water on a calm, windless day.
The season you choose to snorkel in will also make a difference.
Although you will experience colder water temperatures in the wintertime, this is the best time for visibility.
Wrapping Up: Diving and Snorkeling in Florida
The natural beauty of Florida’s underwater world is something we believe everyone should get to witness for themselves at least once in their lifetimes.
From fossils and rock formations of underwater caves to the busy brightness of a healthy coral reef, each dive spot offers something to stun the senses and expand your appreciation for this complex ecosystem.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned diving professional, there are dive spots in Florida for everyone to enjoy.