Water Activities on Catalina Island 

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

Off the glistening coast of southern California lies Santa Catalina Island, often called Catalina Island. This idyllic island destination has attracted visitors for over a century with its quaint villages, Mediterranean charm, and unspoiled natural landscapes. But it’s the surrounding Pacific waters that offer some of Catalina’s most beloved activities. With nearly 50 miles of shoreline to explore, the island provides endless aquatic adventures from relaxed family fun to daring sports.

What are some of the best water activities on Catalina Island?

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving Catalina’s Rich Marine Life

Snorkelers and scuba divers flock to Catalina to glimpse its extraordinary underwater ecosystems teeming with colorful fish, swirling kelp forests, playful seals, and even the occasional octopus. The island has numerous shore entry spots and offshore dive sites to explore. 

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

For those new to scuba diving, Catalina’s calm and clear protected coves are ideal for introductory dives. Many local operators, like Catalina Snorkel & Scuba, offer beginner diving courses, during which you can try a shallow shore dive after the briefing. Certified divers can venture on half-day boat trips to iconic spots like Long Point, Ship Rock, and Bird Rock. These rocky outcroppings and kelp beds host Garibaldi damselfish, moray eels, bat rays, leopard sharks, and spiny lobsters.

Snorkelers have excellent opportunities right from Catalina’s beaches. Head to Lover’s Cove to spot brilliant orange Garibaldis and swaying kelp forests below the surface. At Avalon Harbor Beach, you might see slick sea lions chasing fish. Snorkeling tours are also available through companies like OC Sailing & Snorkeling for those seeking a guided experience.

Kayaking and Stand-Up Paddleboarding Along the Jagged Coast 

For aquatic exploration without scuba gear, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) are top choices for discovering Catalina by sea. Rentals and lessons are available from numerous Avalon outfitters, like Descanso Beach Club and Paddle Catalina. Even first-timers can quickly learn to paddle across Avalon Harbor to reach secluded coves and sandy beaches only accessible by water.

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

The prices for gear, kayaks, and paddleboards from wet spot rentals are shown below:

1 hourAdditional hours½ dayFull day
Single Kayak$18$12$50$65
Double Kayak$25$20$75$90
Stand-Up Paddle Board$22$18$65$80

Gear

1-2 hrs (2nd hr is free!)½ dayFull day
Mask, Snorkel & Fins$12$18$25
Short Wetsuit$15$20$25
Full body Wetsuit$20$25$30

More experienced kayakers and SUPers can embark on multi-hour coastal paddling adventures to take in epic views of the island’s windswept shoreline. Pack a lunch and paddle beyond Avalon to the ruggedly beautiful coastlines of fun spots like Little Geiger Cove and Big Fisherman’s Cove, where sea caves, arches, and marine mammals await. Sturdy kayaks handle ocean swells better, but many SUP boards now have attachment points for stabilizer outriggers to handle rougher conditions.

Zipping Across the Harbor on Electric Boats and Eco Tours

If you want to enjoy easy cruising across Avalon Harbor but aren’t up for paddling yourself, book a ride on an electric Duffy boat. These environment-friendly vessels have clean electric motors and are available to rent for self-guided exploring or on narrated history tours. 

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

Family-friendly outfitters like Catalina Adventure Tours and Catalina Tours offer one—or two-hour electric boat excursions. They point out island landmarks and explain the region’s ecology. Tours in the glass-bottom and open-air Duffy boats provide panoramas of the harbor, casino, and Avalon that you can’t get on land.

For a longer eco-tour around the island, companies like the Catalina Island Company provide customizable private charters on comfortable cruisers or swift catamarans. Full and half-day tours with expert guides stop for snorkeling at remote coves and watch for dolphins, whales, and seabirds. Packages often include food and drinks for a first-class island experience.

Parasailing for Panoramic Island Views 

If you want a good view of Catalina’s sweeping coastlines and interior landscapes, book a parasailing flight. Several operators, like Catalina Tours, offer single, tandem, and triple flights. During these flights, you soar hundreds of feet above the ocean for unforgettable vistas.

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

The custom boats used for parasailing have booms extending to the side that hoist parachute-like canopies attached by ropes to harnesses. After a boat ride offshore, you’ll lift off the deck and be towed to your lofty cruising altitude.

The Flying Fish Voyage, a thrilling Catalina Island activity suitable for ages 6 and up, departs from Green Pleasure Pier and lasts approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. With a maximum weight capacity of 450 lbs and a minimum of 200 lbs (which can be combined between two participants), this adventurous tour is available to most guests. However, due to its nature, it is not wheelchair accessible.

Flight OptionAge RequirementPrice
600′ FlightAges 6+$69
800′ FlightAges 6+$79
Ride alongAges 5+$25

Each ticket is sold individually, and guests who prefer to remain on the boat without participating in the flying experience can purchase a Ride-along ticket. However, to accommodate limited space on the boat, only one Ride Along ticket is permitted per flying participant.

The Undersea Expedition on a Glass-Bottom Boat Tour 

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

A classic Catalina activity generations have enjoyed is exploring the vibrant seafloor and local shipwrecks up close from the viewing deck of a glass-bottom boat. Visitors to Avalon can take the popular 45-minute Voyager tour with Catalina Adventure Tours to peek at Garibaldi fish, spiny lobsters, swaying kelp, and bright anemones without getting wet.

Longer tours with companies like the Catalina Island Company provide ample wide-eyed underwater gazing and even stop for snorkeling amidst the kelp and sea stars. Young and old passengers alike will be thrilled to spot brilliant orange Garibaldi darting under the boat and schools of opalescent fish just a few feet below the window.

The glass floor viewing windows offer a uniquely immersive Catalina experience. From an exciting porthole perspective, you can behold the tropical paradise below the waves. You can also spy on the island’s aquatic residents in their natural habitat without any diving required.

Speeding Across Waves on a Zodiac Inflatable Tour 

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

For an adrenaline-packed way to experience Catalina by sea, book a Zodiac boat tour from operators like the Catalina Adventure Company. These high-powered inflatable rafts zip across the water, giving you a wind-in-your-face thrill ride while showing you a fun side of Catalina.

Specialty tours, like their marine life safari Zodiac trip, reach 30-40 miles per hour, taking you to remote spots teeming with dolphins, seals, and even migrating grey whales during certain seasons. Knowledgeable guides identify marine species and fill you in on ecology facts. Other tours focus on coastal geology, island history, or underwater areas accessible only by small craft. 

Sailing Away on a Luxury Sunset Cruise 

A better way to soak in Catalina’s romance and raw beauty is aboard a sunset dinner or cocktail cruise. Visitors can end an island day the luxurious way by sailing off into the glistening golden hourlight with unparalleled ocean panoramas.

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

Larger two-story boats like the Seawolf offer indulgent multi-course meals and live music as you glide past the seaside casino and Avalon’s twinkling lights. Smaller sailboats provide an intimate chartered experience perfect for popping champagne while admiring the brilliant hues streaking across the sky.

Many boats even drop anchor after dark for stargazing at the exceptionally bright night sky above Catalina, where a blanket of stars sparkles unfettered by light pollution. Whether celebrating a special occasion or simply the joy of being on Catalina, a sunset cruise promises lasting memories.

Charting a Course on a Recreational Powerboat

For groups looking for a flexible private boat, renting a powerboat can be the perfect way to customize a Catalina aquatic adventure. Outfitters like Catalina Power Boats supply sporty vessels, from simple skiffs to spacious cruisers capable of circling the entire island. 

Water Activities on Catalina Island 

Head to iconic spots like the dramatically rugged remote coves of the island’s western coastline, which are only reachable by boat. Or spend the day fishing Catalina’s bountiful waters for seasonal catches like sea bass, yellowtail, and rockfish. Wherever the winds and waves call, a powerboat rental lets you captain your Catalina maritime tour.

Don’t forget to pack snacks, water, sun protection, and a beach towel to enhance your time at Catalina’s isolated sandy coves, which are only accessible by boat. Fuel costs, insurance, and concierge services are often included in rentals for convenience. Groups of family and friends will enjoy the flexibility of discovering Catalina by private powerboat.

Safety and Conservation

When visiting Catalina Island for water activities, your safety and protecting the island’s natural marine life are paramount. You’ll find clear guidelines to ensure your well-being and details of ongoing efforts to conserve the unique ecosystems.

Marine Life Protection

Catalina Island’s waters are home to diverse marine ecosystems. Avoiding disruption of these habitats is essential. Adhere to the following:

  • Do not disturb: Keep a safe distance from marine mammals and avoid touching coral reefs.
  • No-take zones: Familiarize yourself with areas where fishing is prohibited.
Water Activities on Catalina Island 

Water Safety Guidelines

Your safety during water activities is crucial. Follow these rules:

  • Wear a life jacket: Ensure it is U.S. Coast Guard-approved and fits properly.
  • Be swim-ready: Never enter the water if you are unprepared or feel uncertain about your swimming skills.

Still have questions? Check out these answers to some commonly asked questions. 

Can you swim in the water at Catalina Island?

Yes, you can swim in the water around Catalina Island. The island is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and has numerous beaches and coves where swimming is possible and popular among visitors.

Does Catalina Island have clear water?

Catalina Island is known for its clear, clean water. The water clarity is often very good, making it ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. However, water clarity can vary depending on weather conditions and the time of year.

Do you need water shoes in Catalina Island?

Water shoes are not typically necessary for swimming or beach activities on Catalina Island. Most beaches have soft sand, and the ocean floor is generally sandy. However, some rocky areas or beaches may have stones or pebbles, so water shoes can provide extra comfort and protection.

Does Catalina Island have a lake?

There is no natural lake on Catalina Island. The island’s main body of fresh water is the Middle Ranch Reservoir, a man-made reservoir used for the island’s drinking water supply. This reservoir is not accessible to the public for recreational activities like swimming.

Where is the best scuba diving and snorkeling on Catalina Island?

Some top spots are Lover’s Cove and Avalon Harbor Beach for easy shore snorkeling. Boat dive sites like Ship Rock, Long Point, and Bird Rock offer kelp forests teeming with Garibaldi, moray eels, sea lions, and other marine life. 

What is the difference between kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP)? 

Kayaking involves sitting in a small enclosed boat and paddling with a double-bladed oar. SUP uses a single long paddle while standing upright on a surfboard-like board for better visibility. Both are great Catalina activities!

How far in advance should I book an eco-tour around Catalina?

At least 2-3 weeks ahead, especially for busy summer months. Boat companies need to arrange vessels, schedules, and staffing. Last-minute tours can sell out.

Can you see fish and marine life from a glass-bottomed boat without snorkeling?

Absolutely. The glass viewing windows in the boat’s floor allow you to clearly see fish, kelp forests, lobsters, and other underwater sights without even getting wet—perfect for kids or non-swimmers.

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