An Insider’s Guide to the Best Snorkeling Spots in Catalina

The Casino in Avalon on Catalina Island. Photo by Elise Thompson.

Written by David Hamburg, Founder and Chief Editor of Globo Surf

There is a reason why Santa Catalina is so charming–it is filled with beautiful hidden harbors, beaches, and coves, and the waters are brimmed with eye-catching sea life. The best part is that you don’t need to drain your savings to make Catalina your holiday destination. There are plenty of cheap accommodation and things to do, which makes the island an excellent vacation spot on any budget.

If you are a watersports junkie, there are a good deal of activities that you can do in the Marine protected areas. Boaters, swimmers, and scuba divers converge on this part of the world to get close to the elusive sea life. Of course, Santa Catalina is also an awesome place for snorkeling. So here is an overview of the best spots for the sport as well as information on how to stay safe inside your snorkeling mask.

Located just 26 miles off of Los Angeles’ southwestern coast, this scenic island will give you a memorable snorkeling experience. Below are three of the best places for seeing underwater life at Santa Catalina.

1. Lover’s Cove

Lover’s Cove is situated off of Avalon, the largest town in Catalina. It is perhaps the most popular snorkeling spot on the entire island.

Whether you are riding an underwater scooter or just wandering on your own, you are guaranteed to have the time of your life. The only downside is that there is not a sandy beach, so it may not be the best spot if you wanted to include beach activities on the day’s itinerary. However, you will experience a more secluded dive because the area is also a little tucked away from the city center.

You will see plenty of marine life here including garibaldi, rays, rockfish, kelp bass, and if you are lucky, you will have an encounter or two with an octopus. Lover’s cove is a great destination for the whole family. The deepest point is about 16 feet, so make sure to bring a snorkel vest for anyone who is not used to being underwater yet.

2. Casino Point Park

This is yet another mecca for underwater enthusiasts. As the name hints, Casino Point Dive Park is right next to the island’s massive casino. Located on the southeast part of the island, Casino Point caters to both snorkelers and scuba divers.

Like Lover’s Cove, this section of the island is a good spot for couples and for family getaways. The underwater garden boasts spectacular sea creatures, plants, and even shipwrecks. Expect to see tons of marine life such as senorita, garibaldi, sheepshead, sea cucumbers, sea stars, sea urchin, and bass, just to mention a few. You will also get to see plant life like giant kelp. And depending on the time of the year you are visiting, you may even bump into a monster black sea bass. But Casino Point Park is a public sanctuary, and therefore, it is not exclusively for snorkelers. If you decide to go diving here, make sure to be on the lookout for glass bottom boat tourists, heavy-tanked scuba divers, and other underwater enthusiasts.

A nearby beach offers post-diving fun. Play at the casino, enjoy your favorite seafood, and watch movies ’til dawn–all while enjoying a cool breeze from the sea.

3. Two Harbors

If you are looking for a more remote area, away from the city’s hustle and bustle, then this is it. Two Harbors is one of the quietest Santa Catalina diving spots. Being further from the city than Lover’s Cove and Casino Point Park, the area doesn’t have as many visitors as the other two.

The spot indeed does have two harbors, that is, Cat Harbor and Isthmus Cove Harbor. Most snorkeling and diving happens at Isthmus Cove.

Two Harbors is geographically secluded, and the fact that not many people have their holiday destinations at this spot makes the area one of the cleanest in Catalina. With large sections of underwater gardens and a wide variety of fish species, Two Harbors is considered the healthiest marine environment and most serene spot for snorkeling in Santa Catalina.

The area also has a large stretch of sandy beaches that allow visitors to participate in a wide variety of watersports including kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding. So even though you will be away from the city, you can bring a couple of beach toys and enjoy sunbathing after snorkeling.  [Make sure to visit Harbor Reef, inventor of the Buffalo Milk cocktail. -Ed.]

Staying Safe Underneath The Mask

Now that you know what areas to visit on your next snorkeling trip to Santa Catalina, let’s find out how you can stay safe underwater by packing the right mask.

On a trip like this, you will need to choose your snorkeling mask very carefully and chances are you will go for something that covers your entire face – it’s the in thing anyways!

Sure, full face snorkel masks are fancy but being new in the market, they have some limitations too. One major concern is the carbon dioxide buildup. Human beings inhale oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. When your body is active, say, when you are underwater, the rate of oxygen intake increases and so does your carbon dioxide exhalation.

You also have more short breaths and that’s where carbon dioxide becomes an issue. You exhale more carbon dioxide that you take in oxygen, and since you are in an enclosed space it gets harder to push all the CO2 out. The CO2 builds up inside your mask until it becomes toxic. The result? You start to feel lightheaded, dizzy, or even fall unconscious.

Luckily, most full face snorkeling mask manufacturers have started taking this issue seriously and now put human breathing into consideration when designing the masks. Buy your mask from a trusted seller. Only then you will be sure that CO2 is being expelled the right way.

Overall, we feel that Santa Catalina diving spots have a lot to offer. If you are looking for a serene snorkeling destination in LA, you know where to start. Just make sure to purchase your snorkeling gear from a dedicated retailer so you can stay safe underwater. Happy snorkeling!

Previously on The LA Beat:

The Best Places to Eat in Avalon

Massive Black Grouper. Photo by Elise Thompson.

 

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