Van Damme State Park is one of the North Coast's more popular dive destinations, and a popular destination not only for Northern California divers, but also for divers coming South from Oregon.
The main dive area at Van Damme is straight across the street from the park entrance. The entry is a gradually-sloping sandy beach, which provides an easy entry, and there is an offshore reef which provides extra protection from incoming swells and surf. For decades this has been a favorite dive location for classes and beginning divers due to it's easy access to the beach, and easy entry into the water. Inside the main cove depths reach 30-40 feet, and further offshore (with it's accompanying long surface swim), depths may reach 85 feet. Abalone hunters and spearfishing enthusiasts will need to head North or South of the cove to find the more rocky outcroppings that hold their prey.
In the Summer months, the near-shore dive area can get pretty thick with kelp, which is not only an entanglement factor but can also tend to reduce visibility somewhat.
Some divers will choose to launch an inflatable from this protected location and then head out North or South to areas where there are more abalone to be found, and beach divers should keep an eye out for boat traffic which can get somewhat busy during Summer months. Kayakers heading out of the cove and then to the South will find huge boulders, overhangs, and caverns that make it an interesting area to explore.
Showers and restrooms are available at the parking area which is always great to have before or after a dive.
Van Damme State Park is located three miles South of picturesque Mendocino on Highway 1, which runs through the park. It's about 150 miles North of San Francisco. The highway splits the campground and the Fern Canyon trail head to the East and the beach and parking lot to the West.
Van Damme campground hosts 74 campsites, with a nice riverside trail and visitor center. Van Damme now offers WiFi service within 150 feet of the visitor's center.
The cove is very protected from swells and surf, however use common sense and evaluate the weather and water conditions before attempting to dive here (just as anywhere else). Water temperatures on the North coast average 48-52 degrees year-round, so a full wetsuit or drysuit will be necessary. Visibility ranges from zero to over 40 feet away from shore.