Snorkeling on Catalina Island
Catalina Island (also known as Santa Catalina Island) is located off the coast of California about 22 miles from Los Angeles. Catalina Island is pretty small, only about 22 miles long and 8 miles wide, yielding an area of about 75 square miles. It enjoys a very mild climate, technically "subtropical", with warm temperatures year round.
Although Catalina Island is only 22 miles from LA, it's a completely different experience from the vast metropolitan urban jungle. In order to get to Catalina Island, you will either have to take a ferry from one of multiple locations, such as Orange County, Dana Point, Long Beach, and San Pedro. Additionally, there is an airport on Catalina Island as well, and a common route of air travel is taking a helicopter from either Long Beach or San Pedro.
One thing to note, which you may consider either an advantage or disadvantage, is that you can't drive a motor vehicle on Catalina Island unless you have a specific permit, and if you're only visiting, you probably won't have that permit. This doesn't mean you can't have a set of wheels, as lots of people get around by golf cart. This may be something different than you're used to, but it also provides a unique experience that may be a welcomed change from a fast-paced and congested urban center.
Generally speaking, Catalina Island is a tourism hot spot, but isn't overly touristy or tacky. It provides a great escape to a subtropical environment, which could be a great option for those who reside on the West Coast of the United States or those who are also visiting mainland California. Of course, there's also really good snorkeling on Catalina Island, which is the primary focus of this article.
Therefore, we will provide an overview of the snorkeling on Catalina Island below, as well as a summary of some of the best snorkeling spots on Catalina Island and best snorkeling tours on Catalina Island as well.
The Best Snorkeling on Catalina Island
Although the area is quite small, it definitely helps knowing where the best and most popular snorkeling spots on Catalina Island are in advance, at least if you're only planning a short trip. Below is a summary of snorkeling spots on Catalina Island.
Lover's Cove is arguably the most popular spot to snorkel on Catalina Island. It's designated for snorkeling, whether it be by boat tour or simply wandering down on your own. The main disadvantage to this spot is that there isn't any sand, so it may not be preferable if you plan on doing other sandy beach activities as well. However, if you're strongly prioritizing snorkeling, then this is a bonus.
Lover's Cove is a convenient spot to snorkel because most hotels recognize this is a nice area that has become an attractive snorkeling destination, so it's often easy walking distance depending on where you are staying. Also, the small size of the island naturally helps that as well.
In terms of conditions and marine life, it's a little hit or miss. Assuming the conditions are ok, it's always a nice spot to snorkel, but the variety and amount of marine life can vary. There is lots of underwater vegetation that provide great shelter and nourishment for marine life, as well as a stunning setting in general. For example, kelp forests that gently wave in the currents and the giribaldi that like to hang out close by. The conditions vary day by day, with the swell often being the most variable, but the visibility is usually quite good.
Most Lover's Cove snorkeling tours will feed the fish somewhere along the way to bring them closer to the boat. Although we aren't huge fans of this, it's definitely an attractive option for snorkelers looking to get really close to the marine life, even to the point where you can touch the fish by feeding them yourselves (gloves recommended). This constant feeding by humans has resulted in the local marine life being very tame and comfortable with snorkelers, but whether this is detrimental to their long term survival remains to be seen. Overall, Lover's Cove is a great spot to snorkel especially if you live relatively nearby!
Casino Point Dive Park / Avalon Underwater Park
The name makes this snorkeling spot on Catalina Island sound a little gimmicky, but it's actually quite nice. One of the nice aspects of this snorkeling location are some of the tours that are offered here. You can take advantage of local experience that will provide lots of cool information about the marine eco-system as well as tips on where to go and how to experience the best snorkeling.
Casino Point Dive Park is a marine sanctuary that is protected by the State of California. There are tons of fish and invertebrates to see in the area, and best of all, it's easy walking distance from the center of town. Some of the marine life you can expect to see include giribaldi, senorita fish, bass, sheephead, sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and much more. If you're lucky, you may even spot an octopus, but this is a little more rare. Additionally, there are lots of plants, including the giant kelp.
There is a little more beach space at Casino Point Dive Park compared to Lover's Cove, but again, it's better if you are prioritizing snorkeling or scuba diving. Most people enter the water via designated entry steps, but just be aware that this is a fairly high traffic area. If you are there with your kids, just look out for the scuba divers' tanks, as they are quite heav and could cause some damage if people aren't paying attention. Generally speaking, if you are mindful of the fact that there are other people here trying to have the same awesome experience, then everything should work out ok.
Generally speaking, Casino Point Dive Park is a great snorkeling spot that is convenient to access. The marine life and conditions are similar to Lover's Cove. The main difference is that Lover's Cove is for snorkeling only, whereas Casino Point Dive Park is public, and therefore there is a mix of scuba diver and snorkelers, which can be a bit much for some.
Two harbors is a little further out of the way, located on the more northern aspect of Catalina Island, just at the isthmus. Given that it was voted the world's healthiest marine environment by Scuba Diving Magazine, it's easy to image the water is clear, and more importantly, clean.
The marine life and conditions here are very similar to Lover's Cove and Casino Point Dive Park, but it's a little more secluded and the surf conditions tend to be slightly more favorable. It's also a little more "hit" and less "miss", as the marine life thrives here, including the massive kelp forests that are really cool to explore.
The main difference is there is more sand, which leads to better beaches to hang out on and explore. So even though it's a little further from busy areas like Avalon, you can pack a few toys and other things to enjoy the beaches as well.
Overall, we definitely recommend Two Harbors for some good snorkeling, but before you head all the way out there, try your luck at on the more convenient locations if you want to get a sense of the marine life that you can expect to see.
Catalina Island Snorkeling Tours
Similar to all of our other snorkeling destination articles, we would like to provide an overview of some of the best and most popular snorkeling tours in Catalina Island.
However, unlike some other popular snorkeling destinations around the world, you can select to either snorkel on your own at Catalina, or pay to go on a snorkeling tour. We acknowledge that expert snorkelers may not be too keen on the tours, but we often recommend them because you get lots of extra information and local advice on the specific spots to check out.
Just make sure to double check the cost before you go, as financial stress is something that you don't want to worry about when going on a cool trip like this! The Catalina Island snorkel tour information can be found below:
Diving Catalina Snorkel Tours
Destination: Casino Point Dive Park
Snorkeling equipment and instruction included.
Instructors will dive down to gather marine life from the ocean floor to pass around for those who can't make it down (e.g. sea stars, sea cucumbers, sometimes even octopi, etc).
Each trip includes feeding the fish, which draws hundreds of fish around the snorkelers.
Snorkeling tour lasts about 90 minutes and costs $49 per person.
Power Snorkeling Tour also available. This involves the use of individual diver propulsion vehicles that allow you to cover more distance. This tour lasts about 75 minutes, costs $69 per person, and previous snorkeling experience is definitely recommended.
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (310) 510-8558
Santa Catalina Island Company / Two Harbors Dive and Recreation Center
Rentals, lessons, and guided dive trips available.
Snorkel gear rentals available from Two Harbors Dive and Recreation Center. Rentals are for 24 hours. Full set costs $35 with wetsuit, $19 without wetsuit, cheaper options for individual components.
One boat tour available includes walking along the ocean floor with specialized full face helmets. Don't need to be a certified diver or even know how to snorkel. Destination is Descanso Beach. Cost is $109.
Many other types of tours available.
Phone: (310) 510-4272
Snorkeling Catalina - Snorkel Tours
Owned by two locals who have tons of experience snorkeling in Catalina as well as providing diving instruction.
Snorkeling classes that you can pick from include a 1 hour guided snorkel tour, 1 hour guided night snorkel tour (requires previous snorkel experience), 1 hour non-swimmer snorkel class, and a 1 hour free-dive introduction. Destination is Lover's Cove.
Boat snorkeling trips include a 2 hour snorkeling tour along the coastline, but destination can vary. Snorkel gear included, but must be able to swim.
Also available is a 1.5 hour dolphin/sea lion/ Avalon Canyon excursion. Destination is Seal Rock, but does NOT include snorkeling!
Private boat charters also available.
Click here for all pricing and reservation information
Email: Click here for contact form.
Overall, we think Catalina Island has lots to offer, especially if you live in the Western US and want something a little more convenient. It's always amazing what you can find in your own backyard, and Catalina Island is no exception. We hope you found this information useful. Happy snorkeling!