Our Favorite All-American Weekend Dive Trips | Sport Diver

Our Favorite All-American Weekend Dive Trips

All-American Weekend Dive Trips

All-American weekend dive trips pack in plenty of adventure, all in our own backyard. We highlight our favorite USA stay-and-dive getaways in California, Florida, Hawaii and more.

Get Fresh with Piles of Shipwrecks - Door County, WI

The two-lane roads of Wisconsin’s Door County wind past honor-style cherry stands, rocky coastline, grassy dunes overlooking Lake Michigan, red barns and white clapboard churches. Above the water, these communities are perfect pictures of small-town charm. Beneath the waves, the wrecks tell another story. The French gave this pinky-shaped peninsula the name Porte des Morts Passage, or Way to the Door of Death, after it proved a navigational hazard. Each inlet, from Sturgeon Bay on the lake-side to Ellison Bay on the Green Bay coast, is littered with shipwrecks — so many that new finds are still being discovered. Jet skiers happened upon the Australasia in 17 feet of water in 2005 and thanks to discovery at a time when preservation trumps looting, many of the ships artifacts still lie within and around. The smaller tokens have been removed from most downed ships, but many deeper wrecks remain popular because they serve as intact links to an era of Great Lakes maritime history. One such site, Ocean Wave, sports a well-preserved eagle figurehead; the schooner was found in 2003 by commercial fishermen whose nets caught on the vessel in 110 feet of water. The most popular site lies at 60 feet in Bailey’s Harbor, accessible to all certified divers. Frank O’Connor, a 300-foot steamer, is prized for its intact boilers still standing on deck and its 12-foot prop. On clear days, its entirety is visible from the surface. divedoorcounty.com

Make a Weekend of It: Pastimes here are as pastoral as it gets: Spend your non-diving hours cherry-picking, touring lighthouses, sailing and road biking. Not surprisingly, the scenery and small-town friendliness attract a high number of painters, musicians and other artists looking to share their talents. Stay at one of the most charming bed-and-breakfasts in the area, The Chanticleer — a 12-room red farmhouse on 30 acres where sheep and horses roam.

Tamara Thomsen / Wisconsin HIstorical Society

Observe Mating Behavior - Jupiter, Florida

September is the cruelest month in North American dive travel — at least for those keeping the books. Not so in Jupiter, Florida. Come the night of the month’s new moon, ready-to-spawn goliath grouper congregate by the dozens. In the days before and after the singular event, where eggs and seed cloud the water column, the fish seek sanctuary from the current behind the larger wrecks. An otherwise shy, largely sedentary species becomes much more watchable — active even. Jupiter Dive Center runs morning and afternoon charters daily to proven congregation spots, including one site with three placed wrecks: Zion, Miss Jenny and Esso Bonaire III. The females, flushing white to signal readiness to mate, edge on their backs, bellies bared. The males, now duskier in color, defend their territory, their women; these 800-pound fish sidle up to divers, as if assessing intent. Head to the MG-111 barge where a grid pattern of pillars just beyond the wreck allows for close encounters. The fish stack up behind the pillars and along the sandbar ridges formed by the current, sliding over to make room for approaching divers. It’s peaceful, save for when the odd male emits a booming yawp to signal dominance. jupiterdivecenter.com

Make a Weekend of It: When it’s time to surface, find your way to Jupiter Beach Resort. At its sliver of a bar flanking sea and pool, raise a margarita to all you’ve just seen, as it won’t happen again for another year — a cruel trick indeed. jupiterbeachresort.com

Michael Patrick O'Neill

Swim with Giants - Monterey, CA

The Monterey Submarine Canyon is just one reason that humpback whales and other pelagics favor this central stretch of California coast. Add in the northwest winds, which peel off the top layer of water like a pudding skin — sending the plankton-rich deeper water to the surface. The dinner bell rings for everyone. Seals lure in the killer whales; huge schools of dolphins find baitfish; and humpbacks gorge on the plankton, which thrives thanks to the fog. The overcast mornings lend moodiness to the area, while also blocking out the sunshine that results in algae blooms. “Monterey is a very unique ecosystem,” says James Vincent, owner of Aquarius Dive Shop. “There’s so much life in our waters, it’s kind of amazing.” Vincent doesn’t mind the colder water temperatures — he wears a two-piece 7 mm in the summer — if it means playing with the harbor seals, which roll over like retrievers. He’s especially keen on night dives when seals take advantage of lights to hunt. Besides all the mammal interaction, Vincent chose to set up shop in Monterey because it’s never blown out. It’s 13 minutes by car from the northeast-facing Monterey Bay to the town of Carmel and its prime dive attraction, Stillwater Cove, which points southeast. “It’s all shore diving,” Vincent says, “And you can get in any day of the year.” aquariusdivers.com

Make a Weekend of It: If it’s drizzling, wander the art galleries of Carmel, stopping for brunch at Carmel Belle; try the truffled-egg toast with fontina cheese and asparagus. Otherwise, dress in layers for a walk along the cliffs of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Jason Bradley

Fish-eating Anemone - Monterey, CA

A fish-eating anemone off the coast of Monterey, CA.

Allison Vitsky

Kelp Crab - Monterey, CA

A kelp crab shelters in Monterey Bay, CA.

Allison Vitsky

Feel the Pull of Two Worlds Colliding - Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara enjoys a unique position on the California coast: It’s due east of Point Conception, the bit of land interrupting two currents — one northbound, one south. What results is an otherwise unnatural merging of two ecosystems. The landscape pops with bright colors, such as the regal purples of hydrocorals, typical of cold waters. Intermixed are warmer-water species, including yellow tail snapper, and calico and 500-pound giant black sea bass. Santa Barbara also sits at the edge of the Channel Islands National Park; of the five protected islands contained within, four — Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa — sit in the city’s backyard. For those new to southern California diving, regardless of which island the boat moors at for the day, “all the hallmarks will be present,” says Brad Killeen of Sea Landing Dive Center of the waving kelp forests with stalks rising 120 feet tall and super charismatic mammals, be it seals or sea lions. sealanding.net

Make a Weekend of It: You know On the Alley’s fish tacos and fish and chips are fresh — from the restaurant’s picnic tables, watch the fishing boats unload at Santa Barbara’s working harbor. The best part: This is a walk-able town with more than a dozen hotels a leisurely stroll away.

Allison Vitsky

Aeolid Nudibranch - Santa Barbara, CA

An aeolid nudibranch in the Channel Islands.

Jason Bradley

Black Sea Nettles - Santa Barbara, CA

Black sea nettles float off the coast of Southern California.

Allison Vitsky

Dive to the Center of the Earth - Bonne Terre, Missouri

Diving Bonne Terre Mine requires almost zero planning. For starters, there’s no need for weather reports. Ever. Year-round, the conditions inside this flooded former mining camp never deviate: The water remains 60 degrees Fahrenheit and visibility extends beyond 100 feet. Nor do you need to coordinate with a buddy’s time off. Three dives are offered daily; divers join guided groups where a safety diver runs sweep. Fifty set trails wind past ore carts, elevator shafts, slurry pipes, equipment like shovels and axes, the cart-track system, laboratories, engineering rooms and timekeeping shacks. Plus, the whole place is illuminated, so you don’t need a dive light. In terms of geology, trails lead past white calcium carbonate formations and glittering quartz veins. The mine is named a national historic site, as is the Bonne Terre Depot, a former train station now a bed-and-breakfast that accommodates guests in four rooms and two detached railcars. 2dive.com

Make a Weekend of It: Those not diving later in the day can head to the local wine country known as the Ste. Genevieve area, less than an hour away by car. Equidistant is St. Louis, home to the Gateway Arch, the Saint Louis Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Andy Morrison

Salute a General - Key West, Florida

Okay, so the U.S.S. Oriskany is technically still bigger, but the U.S.N.S. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg deserves an equal salute of respect: Whereas the trek to the Mighty O can last up to 90 minutes, it’s a painless 30 minutes to the Vandy’s three marker buoys — good news for those who may have overdone it on Duval Street the night before. Plus, with better, more reliable visibility and a shallower overall profile, the Vandy permits recreational divers to explore beyond the wheelhouse. Guides from Dive Key West steer you to the highlights: the open cargo hold, elevator shafts, antennae, radar dishes and more. At 522 feet long and with a warren of clean passageways, it’s enough entertainment to easily last a weekend, but should you tire of metal, the southernmost point in the continuous U.S. also has reefs populated with French grunts and Southern stingrays. divekeywest.com

Make a Weekend of It: In between dives, rest up at Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort with soundproof walls that make napping a breeze. Key West spans a mere 7.4 square miles, and the oceanfront resort is well within biking distance (definitely rent one) of the downtown attractions, including Hemingway’s estate, overrun by six-toed cats, and the party-hardy scene that is Duval Street. It’s about 20 blocks from the far end of Duval back to the hotel — what seemed like an easy stroll or ride prior to that first happy hour cocktail may seem otherwise late in the evening. Luckily, cabbies are no strangers to this phenomenon. casamarinaresort.com

Jay Kavanagh

Six-toed Cats - Key West, Florida

Six-toed cats overrun the Hemingway estate, near the party scene that is Duval Street.

Carrie Garcia

Uncover the Spoils of a Seaway - Alexandria, NY

“You’re on a river, so you never get blown out,” Michael Rothschild, president of the New York City-based dive club, Sea Gypsies, says of diving the St. Lawrence Seaway. For the past three years, he’s made the six-hour drive to the Alexandria Bay area of the Thousand Islands because of the reliable conditions — including the 40 to 50 feet of visibility credited to zebra mussels, an invasive species that luckily serves as an incredibly powerful filter. Come summer, runoff from Lake Ontario to the west keeps water temperatures in the 70s. As for the sites: 40 wrecks straddle the Canadian border (bring your passport). Popular picks in U.S. waters include the Islander, a wooden side-wheel steamer in 50 feet of water, and Keystorm, a 256-foot long steel freighter. The best part? Says Rothschild, “You don’t have to worry about a blow-off day. You get out of the water, load up the car and that’s it.” huntsdiveshop.net

Make a Weekend of It: Topside, it’s an area where natural beauty still reigns, making hiking an option for non-diving friends and partners. Drive less than 30 minutes north to the Macsherry Trail, a 3-mile loop with views of the Chippewa Bay and St. Lawrence River. Another highlight is the turn-of-the-century Boldt Castle, accessible hourly by ferry. Choose accommodations such as The Boardwalk Motel or The Ship Motel to stay in town and walk to dinner at Dockside Pub or Chez Paris Restaurant.

Warren Lo

Square off with Tigers - Beaufort, NC

Spring Break in North Carolina’s Outer Banks looks nothing like the packed-sand scenes in neighboring Virginia and South Carolina hotspots. For starters, the small town of Beaufort has just one hotel. The seafront is dotted with what the locals call sandcastles: quaint mansions turned bed-and-breakfasts. Beyond the beach, the attractions here still feel as if you’ve discovered them, from the wild Spanish mustangs roaming Shackleford Banks to paddle boarding Bogue Sound. Olympus Dive Center services the area and is based just next door in Morehead City. Divers can come with a shortlist of sites — the most popular picks are the German WWII submarine, U-352, and artificial reefs such as the Spar and Aeolus where sand tiger sharks regularly prowl — but know that with most sites lying 20 to 25 miles outside the harbor, the daily charter destination is largely weather dependent. If you’ve come with a certain wreck in mind, Nema Triplett, manager of Olympus Dive Center, recommends that you book at least three dive days. If facing a surfeit of time, go stake real estate at the beach. It’s plenty roomy during prime tanning hours, and even more so come dusk. Sure, the sun sets on the opposite coast, but at this hour, sharks surf the incoming waves — dark shadows skimming through turquoise furls. It’s a show that’ll make you wish you had more neighbors to share the moment with. olympusdiving.com

Make a Weekend of It: Finish the day listening to live music on the outdoor patio at Floyd’s 1921, a southern joint dishing up fried oysters, deviled eggs and spicy gumbo. When you’re ready to call it a night, the six recently renovated rooms at The Cedars Inn offer quiet retreat. cedarsinn.com

Andy Murch

Tiger Sharks - Beaufort, NC

Sand tiger sharks patrol a North Carolina wreck near Beaufort, NC.

Michael Patrick O'Neill

Mix with Wild, Colorful Locals - Maui, HI

Maui’s scads of green sea turtles, frogfish, gray reef sharks and 170 endemic, colorful reef fish make great dives commonplace, and to guarantee a great experience, be sure to book trips matching the level of adventure you seek. Several of the don’t-miss hotspots, namely Molokini Crater and Lanai, are full-day trips that operators like Maui Dive Shop undertake only a couple times per week. Greg Shepherd, operations manager for the outfit, deems Lanai a hotspot for its lava-formed architecture in the form of tubes and caverns. “Plus, we see some species on Lanai that we don’t on Maui that are pretty rare,” he says of finds like banded angelfish and reticulated butterflyfish. Molokini is the destination for pelagic action. Red Hill, often visited as a drift dive, is noted for frogfish, Hawaiian green lionfish, harlequin shrimp and some of 37 more unique eel species, such as the dragon moray. Those not ready to commit to two full days on the water should consider a visit to the manta cleaning station, which Maui Dive Shop visits as a Sunday afternoon dive. mauidiveshop.com

Make a Weekend of It: With golf, tennis, a spa and caramel-color beach on site, Makena Beach and Golf Resort on the island’s southwest coast makes for an easy destination weekend. In the evenings, astronomy experts bring high-powered telescopes on the lawn to give talks around the bonfire — marshmallows included. makenaresortmaui.com

Lea Lee

Day Octopus - Lanai, HI

On Lanai, a day octopus flexes its tentacles.

JENNIFER PENNER

North By Northwest - Hood Canal, WA

Hood Canal, Washington, is the exception to the rule that diving in the Pacific Northwest is utterly dependent on tides. Elsewhere, jump and miss slack water, and you’re gambling on what will be your exit point. At this hideaway town, which has maintained a small population due to narrow roads snaking around the fjord, a number of geological factors add up to impressively low tidal exchanges. What this means for divers is freedom — dive whenever you like. Many of the spots are shore dives, which adds further possibility to your schedule. The same steep rock walls that pack drama to vistas provide craggy, underwater pockets for critters to seek sanctuary (much of the rest of Puget Sound tends to be sandy). As for what you’ll see: Sites like Octopus Hole and Sund Rock are thick with dens of wolf eels and giant Pacific octopus. exoticaquaticsscuba.com

Make a Weekend of It: Those looking for amusements on dry(ish) land can lace up hiking boots and scramble along the trails of the Olympic National Forest; the nearest routes will be in the Lake Cushman area. Other popular pursuits are as expected: kayaking, mountain biking and off-roading all maintain loyal followings. In that sense — as a hinterland for rugged, outdoorsy pursuits — Hood Canal absolutely lives up to type.

Daniel Hershman

Take the Easy Road to the Pacific Northwest - Hood Canal, WA

The Olympic National Forest offers trails and scenery that will complement your exploration below the surface.

Aurora Photos / Alamy

The long weekend: It’s a staple of American 9-to-5 culture, tiding us over until our next mega-vacation. It’s an easy sell to a boss, who may not even notice our absence if we’re as liberal with checking emails as we are when applying sunblock. To on-the-fence companions debating a flight purchase, it’s an easy sell as a quick turn-around trip: affordable and easy. As for the rewards, a quick getaway is just another reminder of what hooked us on this sport in the first place.

Looking the perfect gear to bring on your road trip? Check out The Essential Gear for the Weekend Warrior

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