Snorkeling on Catalina Island

by Eileen Strauss on April 16, 2022

CaliCase Waterproof Phone Case for Snorkeling Catalina Island



The crystal clear waters around Catalina Island are known as great spots for snorkeling. Officially known as Santa Catalina Island, the tiny island, located off the shores of Los Angeles, California in the Pacific Ocean, has plenty of protected coves, harbors, and beaches–and the warm waters are brimming with exotic sea life!


Snorkeling is a great way to explore the undersea wildlife around Catalina Island with many protected areas to safely swim, snorkel,  and play in the Pacific. And with plenty of tours and affordable lodging options, Catalina is a great destination for watersport lovers on any budget.  


There are a handful of hotels and campgrounds on the island, but a snorkeling adventure can be a great day trip while visiting Long Beach, Newport Beach, LA, or other SoCal destinations. 


To get to the island, ferries depart regularly from several points off the California coast. There are also airplane rides available. Cars are not allowed on Catalina without a permit, but there are car services and golf cart rentals available—and suggested—to help you get around the island. 






The closest point on the island to the mainland is the town of Avalon, Catalina’s largest town that wraps around Avalon Bay on the southeast end of the island.


High-speed ferries from the mainland dock at the Cabrillo Mole boat landing, just a short walk to the main part of town. 


Marked by a massive casino, Avalon is home to many points of interests, marine sports, and popular entertainment spots offering a Mediterranean vibe.

CaliCase Waterproof Phone Case Snorkeling Casino Point Dive Park on Catalina Island


Top five snorkeling destinations on Catalina Island


1. Casino Point Dive Park


Located just off Avalon, Casino Point is a mecca for underwater explorers.


Also known as the Avalon Dive Park, this marine preserve caters to snorkelers and scuba enthusiasts, with easy-access stairs into the water, as well as booths and shops offering equipment rental and guided tour possibilities. 


With a  roped-off area to keep swimmers safe, the  “underwater garden” is packed with colorful sea life and shipwrecks. There’s also lots of post-snorkeling activities to explore on the nearby beach. A perfect spot for families and newbies, visibility is great and the surf is usually calm.  


Because this is a public protected sanctuary, not exclusive to snorkelers, boat tours and divers also use the marine park, so keep your eyes open.



Marine life: Schooling fish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, spiny lobsters, horn sharks, tree fish, black sea bass, mackerel, and colorful Garibaldi.



Snorkeling Catalina Island



2. Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve


Located in Avalon near Casino Point, Lover’s Cove does not have a sandy beach attached to it. Because it’s a little further from the center of Avalon and there are fewer non-snorkeling activities, Lover Cove makes for a much more secluded snorkeling experience. 


The crescent-shaped cove is a protected area with large swaths of giant kelp “forests” and abundant marine life.  While you can go on your own if you have snorkeling experience, local tour companies offer unique adventures. To attract marine life, hand-feeding the fish is permitted on some tours. Other guides will throw bait from the boat, drawing plenty of marine life around you once you jump in. 


For experienced snorkelers, nighttime snorkeling tours provide a great way to take a dramatic look at the reef under the moonlight and get a close-up view of the more sunlight-shy sea life. Recommended for individuals and couples traveling without kids.



Marine life: Calico bass, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, orange Garibaldi fish, colorful schooling fish, mackerel, and lobster.



CaliCase Waterproof Phone Case for Kayak Snorkeling Catalina Island



3. Two Harbors - "Catalina's Other Side"


Located on Catalina’s west end, Two Harbors is only 22 miles from the Southern California mainland. This rustic village sits on a narrow strip of land that separates Isthmus Cove on the leeward side of the island from Catalina Harbor on the windward side. 


Guests coming from San Pedro on the mainland typically arrive via a high-speed ferry, but there are more than 700 moorings for rent to dock private boats. 
Tthe second-largest village on the island, there’s a lot less hustle and bustle on "Catalina's Other Side." 


Two Harbors’ relative seclusion and geographic protection make the water on this part of the island particularly clean. Recognized by Scuba Diving Magazine as “The World’s Healthiest Marine Environment,” with underwater visibility of up to 100 feet, there are impressively large sections of kelp forests, along with abundant fish and invertebrate life.


Most snorkeling is done off the shore of Isthmus Cove, on the northern side of the isthmus.  Large stretches of sandy beaches make it possible to start your snorkeling session by simply wading into the water. A very popular activity, kayak-snorkeling allows you to paddle out to the ideal location, then enter the water to snorkel. 


The dive center offers tours and rents snorkel equipment, paddleboards, kayaks, beach umbrellas, and diving equipment.



Marine life: Calico bass, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, orange Garibaldi fish, colorful schooling fish, mackerel, and lobster.



Fun upcoming activities:

JULY 2, 2022: Children's Festival and Dinghy Parade

JULY 3, 2022: Two Harbors Fireworks Show 

JULY 10, 2022: Wine Festival

SEPTEMBER 10, 2022 – Microbrew Fest

OCTOBER 6 - 8, 2022 – Buccaneer Days

DECEMBER 31, 2022 - New Years Eve Celebration




CaliCase Waterproof Phone Case Snorkeling Catalina Island



4. Catalina Harbor


Catalina Harbor, the other of the “two harbors” in Two Harbors, has a public dock and a small spit of land from which snorkelers and divers enter the water. Although you’ll need to carry in your own gear or rent it elsewhere, the area, known by locals as “Cat Harbor” is the most protected cove off Catalina.


Marine life: Calico bass, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, orange Garibaldi fish, colorful schooling fish, lobster, and mackerel.



Bring Your Underwater Camera when Snuba diving on Catalina Island



4. Descanso Beach Club 


Home to Catalina's only beachside restaurant and bar, Descanso Beach is open to the public and it's one of the few places where you can legally have a drink in your hand and your feet in the sand!


Located just west of Avalon, Descanso Beach Club offers a few different snorkeling opportunities including  “snuba,” a  popular combination of snorkeling and scuba that does not require certification like scuba diving, allowing you to snorkel to greater water depths. 


Marine life:  Sea lions, schooling fish, and large schools of anchovies and mackerel.



Additional snorkeling destinations including Gallagher Beach, Emerald Bay, Moonstone Cove, and White’s Landing are all magnificent and teeming with marine life. 


Insider Tips for Snorkeling on Catalina Island


  • For novice snorkelers, going on a guided tour is always a good first step.

  • Full-face masks are recommended as group leaders are likely to dive down to bring up some of the more elusive sea life and bring bait to help you safely witness a feeding frenzy.

  • No cars are permitted on the island. Renting a golf cart is recommended. 

  • Bring a waterproof camera. Check out CaliCase for an easy way to make your own phone waterproof.