Despite its vast size, the continental United States is not particularly well known for scuba diving destinations. That doesn’t mean there aren’t several of note, particulars around the southern coastal states. But for the most part people look to offshore destinations nearby – Hawaii, the Caribbean, and even Bermuda – for scuba diving trips in and around the United States.
Below, we’ll identify a few alternatives that are available up and down the United States’ east coast. Not all of these are necessary world-class dives from a standpoint of visibility, marine life, or conditions. But they can all make for interesting trips, and in some cases they’re fun places to stay when you’re not in the water as well (which is something worth considering for any scuba enthusiast).
1. Key Largo – Florida
Key Largo, and the Florida Keys in general, are close enough to the Caribbean to be among the best beach destinations in the U.S. Accordingly, you can do most of the things there that you’d like to do at a Caribbean island. There are beachside bars, lovely hotels, beautiful stretches of sand, and even chances to swim with the dolphins and enjoy other awesome aquatic attractions.
Because of all this, it should come as no surprise that there are also some great diving spots at Key Largo. Though you may actually be surprised that the main attractions are wrecks rather than reefs. The USS Spiegel Grove and USCG Duane are two of the most popular dives. Though to be clear you’ll have excellent conditions, some nice coral arrangements, and some marine life to enjoy as well.
2. Outer Banks – North Carolina
The Outer Banks of North Carolina are also on the list of the best beach destinations in the U.S., for different reasons. Unlike Key Largo, there isn’t really a tropical feel to the Outer Banks. However, they’re beautiful in their own way, they’re at least marginally less crowded than most popular beaches, and there’s a sense of untouched history in parts of the area.
Nowadays there are different ways to enjoy the Outer Banks, from trying your hand at watersports, to touring the dunes of Kitty Hawk, to laying out on the pristine, internationally renowned beaches of Ocracoke Island. But the scuba throughout much of the region also has a fairly good reputation, not least because the Outer Banks has historically been known as the “graveyard of the Atlantic.”
The area’s shifting, unpredictable landscape of sandbars and small islands made it a notoriously difficult place to navigate in the days of exploration and piracy, and as a result there are numerous noteworthy wrecks.
3. Myrtle Beach – South Carolina
Myrtle isn’t quite as “nice” as Key Largo or the Outer Banks by traditional standards. But it’s a major destination in part because it’s packed with entertainment options, with an almost stripped-down Disney feel to it in certain places. You can stay in a massive beachfront hotel, drift around in an infinity pool, go play mini-golf, or see a dinner show featuring pirate ships on an artificial body of water.
Meanwhile, the area actually doesn’t have too much of a reputation for scuba diving, but there are some surprisingly good options. These include numerous relatively modern wrecks (as opposed to the older wrecks of North Carolina), as well as some underwater inshore and offshore ledge dives that actually have visibility in the range of 100 feet.
4. Atlantic City – New Jersey
Atlantic City is still best known as a casino destination, and they involve a variety of attractions, from gaming floor bars, to poker rooms, to various hotels and nightlife areas. There’s always something to do at these casinos, which means you’ll have some entertainment during any off hours when you aren’t actually diving.
The beaches and boardwalk of Atlantic City are sometimes overlooked, and along with that the scuba sites are all but unknown. But there is a dive company that uses its boat, Miss AC, to take interested parties out to dozens of different wreck sites within reasonable distance.
The waters around Atlantic City don’t necessarily have the best visibility, but these charters go out a decent distance, and a guided dive at these wrecks can be a great deal of fun.
5. Cape Neddick – Maine
Cape Neddick is almost more like parts of the Outer Banks in that it’s a more remote, less populated place better suited for a relaxing getaway than for an entertainment-packed vacation. It also happens to be a fairly well-regarded diving site however, even if the water is cold for much of the year.
Expeditions go out from the area around the famous Nubble Light House on the cape, and in fact allow you to go diving right off the shore up to a depth of nearly 100 feet. It’s a nice and easy dive but one that allows you to see all of the interesting marine life in the area.