West off the coast of Los Angeles, the snorkeling off Catalina Island is popular for its diverse marine life among the rock reefs and kelp forests. During Catalina snorkeling, you may encounter bright orange Garibaldi damselfish, black-tipped reef sharks, Eastern Pacific green sea turtles, abalone, eels, octopus, sea stars, anemones and sea slugs. One thing to keep in...
West off the coast of Los Angeles, the snorkeling off Catalina Island is popular for its diverse marine life among the rock reefs and kelp forests. During Catalina snorkeling, you may encounter bright orange Garibaldi damselfish, black-tipped reef sharks, Eastern Pacific green sea turtles, abalone, eels, octopus, sea stars, anemones and sea slugs. One thing to keep in mind is that the water temperatures are usually quite cold for most visitors, so you may want to rent a thin wet suit. Also, the water clarity is usually pretty low, so don't expect more than 10-15 feet of visibility.
There are several popular snorkeling dive sites close to the main port town of Avalon. Right in Avalon, most beginner and less adventurous snorkelers will dive right at Casino Point Underwater Park (aka Casino Point State Marine Reserve). There are stairs right down into the water and the swimming zone is roped off from the boat traffic. Make sure to look at the map board at the top of the stairs before entering the water - there are several underwater attractions to see. In addition to the plentiful orange Garibaldi fish, make sure to check out the dense kelp forest. The bright orange Garibaldi fish is the official marine state fish of California, and you can tell the juvenile Garibaldi which have iridescent blue spots.
The best snorkeling in Avalon is Lovers Cove Marine Reserve, which is located just southwest of the ferry dock along the coast. Lover's Cove is known to have an incredibly high density of marine life for the cool west coast waters. It is accessible from the Pebble Beach Road access stairs in the middle of the cove, and also from the old abandoned boat launch ramp next to the ferry dock. The main attraction here is the Orange Garibaldi fish and the sea bass, but not much else. Make sure to watch out for the heavy tour boat traffic coming deep into the cove right next to the snorkelers. The visibility is typically 5-15 feet and the water depth also ranges from 5-15 feet where most people snorkel.
For more adventerous snorkelers, it is recommended to rent one of the numerous small boat from the pier in Avalon. The better dive spots are located to the east of Avalon, such as at Toyon Bay where there is a long pier that makes a good artificial reef structure around which to observe marine life, and there are rock reefs on the northern end of the bay. Toyon Bay is known for good water clarity and plentiful marine life. If you do rent a boat, the anchor provided is really poor and only marginally works to keep the boat from drifting away - so either someone has to stay with the boat or you need to take along a better anchor. The only boat rental shop is Joe's Rent-A-Boat on the pier. Wetsuits can also be rented on the pier from the local dive shop and are highly recommended. Rental boats can be taken as far east as Long Point, which is also a good snorkeling spot. On the return from Long Point, the next snorkel spot is Hen Rock where you may find some abalone shells in the deep water near the rock. Toyon Bay is halfway from Avalon to Long Point.
After a long day of snorkeling, grab a cool drink at Luau Larry's right on the waterfront at the main beach near the pier.
Catalina Island is roughly 22 miles from the California coast. The water temperature during the summer tops out around 72F and in the winter it is about 65F. Off the Catalina coast, there are numerous types of sharks including Blue sharks, Mako sharks and Horn sharks. While infrequent, the deeper water does have the occasional great white shark.
To reach the snorkeling on Catalina Island from the mainland, there are several daily ferries available from both Newport and Long Beach (80 minutes). It is recommended to use one of the first ferries of the day in order to get to the dive sites before the afternoon winds kick up the surf. When taking the ferries, don't be surprised if their paid parking is quite far from the actual ferry dock and may require a shuttle bus, so leave plenty of time to make your ship.
Overall, Santa Catalina Island is the 3rd most popular snorkel dive spot of all 12 snorkeling dives in California. Several of the better snorkeling spots are nearby Santa Catalina Island including Crystal Cove State Park, Divers Cove and Shaws Cove.
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