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11 Fascinating Shipwrecks In California That You Can Still See Today

Not many people know that there are many, relatively intact shipwrecks located along the shores of California.

From huge ocean liners that crashed into rocks to military ships that were turned into entertainment venues, these shipwrecks all have fascinating stories.

Some even have mysterious origins where even the locals don’t know where they came from!

The majority of the shipwrecks listed in this guide can be seen from the beach but a couple can only be seen via snorkeling/diving.

So if you want to see a real-life shipwreck for yourself in California then keep on reading!

1. SS Monte Carlo

The SS Monte Carlo was a concrete oil tanker built in 1921. It has an interesting history and now lies as a shipwreck off the coast of California. 

Back in the 1930s, this ship was known for being a “sin ship” as it offered gambling, dancing and other entertainment offshore, where it was beyond the reach of California’s laws. 

Many Hollywood icons including Clark Gable and Mae West were rumored to have visited the ship.

Anchored 3-miles off the coast of Coronado, near San Diego, it was a popular spot until a storm in 1937 broke its moorings and caused it to crash onto the beach. 

Due to the ship being illegal, nobody claimed ownership of it and so it was abandoned.

Since then, the SS Monte Carlo has been buried under the sand, hidden from view most of the time. 

However, during very low tides or after a strong storm, the remains of this once lively ship become visible. 

Some people claim that there could be $150,000 worth of silver dollar coins hidden somewhere amongst the wreckage!

Visitors to the beach can see the rusted skeleton of the SS Monte Carlo peeking out from the sand like a ghost from the past. 

The sight of the shipwreck is a rare treat and you’ll find it just south of Hotel del Coronado, in front of El Camino Tower.

People walking along the beach can explore the visible parts of the ship, imagining the sounds and lights of its bustling nights. 

2. SS Dominator

The SS Dominator was a large cargo ship that ran aground off the coast of Palos Verdes in 1961 whilst lost in fog. 

It was carrying a load of grain and meat when it got stuck on the rocks near Palos Verdes Peninsula, close to Los Angeles. 

Despite efforts to save the ship and its cargo, the SS Dominator was too damaged and was abandoned. 

Over time, the ocean and the weather broke the ship apart. 

Today, what’s left of the SS Dominator is spread out along the rocky shoreline. 

If you visit, you can see pieces of the ship’s metal body, twisted and rusted, scattered across the coast. 

These remains have become a sort of outdoor museum which tells the story of the ship’s last days. 

Hikers are able to find bits of the cargo and parts of the ship, like it’s hull and machinery, lying around. 

You’ll find the ruins on the shore of Palos Verdes Point which is on the northside of Lunada Bay.

3. SS Avalon 

The SS Avalon was once a bustling steamship that carried passengers around the waters of California. 

The ship was bought in 1920 by William Wrigley, the famous chewing gum magnate, who brought it over to Catalina Island.

It was known for taking people on trips between the mainland and Catalina Island, offering beautiful views and a pleasant journey. 

Unfortunately, when the war broke out, the SS Avalon was recalled by its previous owners. 

Eventually, she was retired and in 1964, due to a heavy storm, she broke free from her anchor and sank, near Point Vicente.

Today, the wreck of the SS Avalon lies underwater, not too far from the shore.

Divers who visit the site can explore the remains of the ship which has since become a habitat for marine life. 

They might see the steel structure of the ship covered in algae surrounded by fish and sea creatures that have made it their home. 

Today you’ll find her about 70 ft underwater, approximately 3,000 feet off Chiswick Road in Palos Verdes.

4. SS Winfield Scott 

The SS Winfield Scott was a steamship that met its end in the waters of California, in the Channel Islands. 

Back in the early 1850s, this ship was busy transporting people searching for gold during the California Gold Rush. 

One foggy night in December 1853, the SS Winfield Scott hit a rocky area on Anacapa Island and sank. It was carrying $1 million worth of gold at the time.

Luckily, everyone on board was saved but the ship was left behind. 

It now lies fully underwater near Anacapa Island and the wreck is actually part of the Channel Islands National Park.

Today, what’s left of the SS Winfield Scott is a popular spot for divers and snorkelers who want to explore history beneath the sea. 

The wreck is located around 50 feet offshore and between 25 – 30 feet underwater.

Divers & snorkelers can see the remains of the ship like its huge engine and scattered pieces of metal and wood. 

Over the years, these parts have become homes for fish and other sea life which has turned the wreck into an underwater reef. 

One small silver lining is that, since the sinking of SS Winfield Scott, a lighthouse has since been constructed on Anacapa Island to prevent any further collisions.

5. La Jenelle 

La Jenelle is a famous shipwreck located in Port Hueneme in Oxnard. Specifically, you’ll find it on Silver Strand Beach.

This ship had a long history before it ended up on the California coast. It was actually built back in 1931 as a luxury ocean liner and traveled all over the world. 

In 1970, a strong storm caused La Jenelle to break free from its moorings and pushed it onto the beach. Unfortunately, it was too damaged to be saved or moved. 

Instead of trying to remove the wreck, people decided to use it to create a breakwater, which is like a barrier against the waves. 

Today, the remains of La Jenelle are still part of the beach. 

You can see the huge, concrete-covered structure that used to be the bottom part of the ship. 

Although most of the ship is covered, you can still see some parts sticking out from the sand including an old pump, bow cleats and the lower hull.

6. Cayucos Shipwreck 

The Cayucos Shipwreck is a mysterious wreck located near the small coastal town of Cayucos in California. It’s an easy stop from Highway 1.

It’s not as famous as some other shipwrecks but it has its own story to tell. 

The ship, officially named Point Estero, was a small fishing boat that ran aground in 2017.

There are many amusing urban legends around how the ship came to be stranded including one where, after a heavy night of drinking, a friend of the owner ran it ashore.

Today, the wreck lies close to the shore which makes it easily accessible to anyone who is curious and adventurous. 

When the tide is low, the wreck becomes visible. It sticks out from the ocean like giant bones from the past. 

Anyone visiting the beach can walk around and see the remains of the ship including pieces of its wooden structure and metal fittings. 

Over time, the ocean and elements have worn it down but it still captures the imagination of those who see it. 

It’s a fascinating piece of history sitting right on the beach for everyone to explore.

7. Sauce Bros Barge

John Vonderlin / Flickr

The Sauce Bros Barge is a lesser-known shipwreck that lies along the beach, near Castroville. 

This 150-ft barge was part of the Sauce Brothers’ fleet, a company known for transporting various goods along the coast. 

It met its untimely fate many years ago but the exact details of how and when it sank are a bit of a mystery. 

John Vonderlin / Flickr

Some say it was grounded during a bad storm in 1983 whilst others believe it occurred in 1995.

The barge now rests along the beach at Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll find it between Marina and Moss Landing.

Today, fishermen climb up onto the barge to drop a line into the ocean. Other people climb up onto it for a unique photo opportunity.

John Vonderlin / Flickr

(Although many people do it anyway, climbing up onto the barge isn’t recommended as it’s very old and rusty).

The wreck has even become a makeshift home for all sorts of marine life including fish, crabs and anemones. 

Although the barge itself might not look as majestic as it once did, the ecosystem that has developed around it is vibrant and full of color. 

8. SS Palo Alto

David Seibold / Flickr

The SS Palo Alto is a unique shipwreck located off the coast of California at Seacliff State Beach in Aptos. 

Unlike most shipwrecks, this one wasn’t caused by an accident at sea. 

The SS Palo Alto was actually built during World War I as a tanker but the war ended before it could be used. 

David Seibold / Flickr

Instead of sailing the seas, it was brought to Seacliff State Beach in Monterey Bay and turned into an entertainment pier with a dance hall, restaurant and even a swimming pool. 

However, over time, the ship was damaged and eventually closed to the public. 

Today, the SS Palo Alto remains at the end of the pier, partially submerged in the water.

oliver.dodd / Flickr

If you visit the beach, you’ll be able to see its concrete structure which has since become a home for birds and marine life including sea lions.

Although you can’t go inside the ship anymore, it’s still an interesting sight from the shore or the pier. 

The ship has continued to deteriorate over the years due to many intense storms including one in 2023 which severely damaged the ship and pier.

You can still see part of the ship sticking up out of the water from the beach.

9. King Philip

The King Philip was a large sailing ship, called a clipper, that was used for carrying goods across the ocean in the 1800s. 

One day, in 1878, it got stuck in the sand near Ocean Beach in San Francisco during a heavy fog.

The crew tried to save it but the King Philip was too damaged and was left to sink into the sand. 

Over time, the ocean and sand buried the ship, hiding it from sight. But the King Philip isn’t gone forever. 

Charles Law / Flickr

Very occasionally, when the tides are low, the remains of the shipwreck can be seen sticking out of the sand. It’s an impressive sight!

Plus if you walk along the beach, you might see the old, wooden bones of the King Philip which look like a skeleton of a once-great ship. 

It’s a pretty impressive shipwreck when visible and is said to be one of the most complete remains of its kind.

Seeing the wreck is a rare treat that gives us a peek into the adventurous past of sailing ships.

10. SS Tennessee

The SS Tennessee was a steamship that met its end when it got into trouble one foggy day near Marin County, close to the Golden Gate area. 

This ship sailed many years ago, in the mid-1800s, and was used for carrying both people and goods. 

In 1853, the SS Tennessee got stuck in a spot now named Tennessee Cove, after the ship itself. 

Luckily all 550 passengers made it onto land but the SS Tennessee was destroyed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean and couldn’t be saved.

Today, most of the wreck of the SS Tennessee lies hidden beneath the sands and waters of this cove. 

So if you visit, you might not see the ship right away because most of it is buried. 

However, during low tides, pieces of the shipwreck, like old wooden planks and metal parts, peek out from the sand at the south end of the beach.

The cove is only accessible via a 1.7-mile hike from the parking lot which you’ll find at the end of Tennessee Valley Road.

11. USS Milwaukee

The USS Milwaukee was a U.S. Navy ship built in 1902 that became a shipwreck off the coast of California.

It was originally built to serve in the Navy but met its fate in the waters at Samoa, near Eureka.

This shipwreck occurred in 1917 during a mission to help another ship that had run into trouble. 

The ship was then abandoned and a year later, a storm struck which broke the ship into two parts.

Today, what’s left of the USS Milwaukee lies mostly buried beneath the sand but some parts of the ship can be seen sticking out of the water at low tide.

Some of the things you might spot are large metal parts of the ship’s structure including a few bulkheads although approximately two thirds of the ship are buried beneath the sand.

You’ll find the shipwreck around one-and-a-half miles south of the west end of Samoa Bridge.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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