Things to Do on Catalina Island

Ocean Recreation: Snorkeling

Snorkeling Lets You Instantly Become an Undersea Explorer

If you have even moderate swimming ability, snorkeling has the magical power to turn you almost instantaneously into an undersea explorer. Put on a watertight face mask, insert into your mouth one end of the long breathing tube called a snorkel (the word comes from an old German word for "nose"), and put your face beneath the surface of the water. It's that easy.

And what wonders snorkeling enables you to see during a visit to Catalina Island! Whether you have just a brief amount of time and stay in the main tourist town of Avalon, or venture farther out along the island's perimeter during a longer stay on Catalina, you'll have a chance to enjoy what experts consider some of clearest, calmest waters in Southern California, teeming with beautiful ocean life.

If Avalon remains your base and you are only visiting for the day or staying a night or two, local dive shops nonetheless make it easy for you to enjoy a great snorkeling experience. Equipment rentals are easy. You can rent snorkels, masks, fins (which help you move more easily through the water), a spring or winter wet suit to keep you cozy, a vest to help keep you buoyant, food to attract friendly fish, and even an underwater camera. Lockers and towels are also available. Or you can sign up for a guided snorkeling experience of 1 to 2 hours, complete with a guide who'll quickly teach you the basics and then lead you on a satisfying snorkeling adventure.

Such brief adventures are all the easier thanks to two easy-to-walk-to ideal snorkeling sites flanking Avalon: Casino Dive Park near Avalon Casino and Lover's Cover just southeast of the harbor. In these clear protected waters, you'll have a chance to meet, face to face, such ocean life as bright orange Garibaldis; reddish orange sheephead; mottled grey calico bass; the slender, silvery senorita fish; and many others. You'll also see hypnotically swaying kelp forests and, at the Casino site, four ships that were deliberately sunken to create fish habitats.

If you have more time for snorkeling, an even greater range of opportunities awaits. Tours organized by dive shops, or private charter boats, can take you to such excellent snorkeling sites as Goat Harbor (also a boat-in campsite), midway between Avalon and Two Harbors; Isthmus Harbor, Eagle Reef, Ship Rock, and Bird Rock, all near Two Harbors on the leeward side; Lobster Bay, just west of Catalina Harbor on the windward side; and Church Rock off Catalina's southernmost tip.

Whichever Catalina snorkeling option you pursue, you'll be sure to come away with a deeper appreciation of the beauty of Southern California's ocean life.

Organizing a Snorkeling Adventure
Snorkeling close by Avalon is an ideal activity for families or for anyone who has only limited time on Catalina Island. If you're an experienced snorkeler, local dive shops offer snorkeling equipment rentals for anything you might need. If you or anyone in your group hasn't been snorkeling before but knows how to swim, it's a good idea to book a 1-to-2-hour-long snorkeling tour that includes brief instruction followed by exploration under the supervision of an expert guide. Try to book these tours in advance of your visit, though last-minute places may still be available.

Longer snorkeling trips to more remote sites, ranging from several hours to day-long or overnight adventures, are also organized by local dive shops as well as through private boat charter companies. Unless otherwise specified, most of these are better suited to strong swimmers and experienced snorkelers, since the tours visit deeper offshore sites where currents can be stronger. If you have any questions or doubts at all about your abilities or the suitability of a particular snorkeling tour, ask the tour operator in detail before booking.

Time to Allow: 2 hours to all day.
Reservations are not required.
Prices and availability are subject to change.