Tangfish wrote:...Some things I hope to see: photogenic/playful pinnipeds, kelp forests, good vis for wide angle...
...oil rigs and of course girls in bikinis.
Not Monterey. Bring your drysuit, and warm clothes for post-dive.
Pt. Lobos and/or the Carmel area should be high on your list. Better vis, better color, and better critters than in Monterey Bay. However, rough sea conditions can prevent the charter boats from getting out there.
Pt. Lobos is a state park/preserve, and has shore-dive access. There's a list of rules you need to be aware of when diving here, and they are enforced. Find their website for details and to make reservations (highly recommended), as they limit the number of divers per day. Getting weekend access can be very tough. You MUST have a buddy to dive the site - and he/she must check-in at the park's main gate with you. The park ranger will require your C-card upon park entry, too.
The charter I've used in Monterey is no longer doing dive trips. There's a good info on charters at http://montereydiveboats.com/
. I know that Beachhopper II will do charters inside Pt. Lobos. Again, there are some state park rules they must follow in order to do this - check their site for details.
I just found a new charter that looks to provide a more private, less cattle-boat, experience: Monterey Blue
. I don't know anything about him, but he might be your best bet to get to Pt. Lobos during a weekday and/or if you aren't bringing a buddy along with you. With his boat (that looks like he can launch at the small ramp in the park) you will have access to areas of the park that would be too to far to swim to from shore.