Snorkeling Catalina Island Lover's Cove & Avalon Underwater Park

by Bob
(Southern CA)

Garibaldi at Avalon Underwater Park

Garibaldi at Avalon Underwater Park

I wanted to share our experience with snorkeling Catalina Island, CA, specifically Lover's Cove and Avalon Underwater Park.

Living near the cold waters of southern California my wife and I have only snorkeled a few areas such as La Jolla Cove, Sandy Beach and La Jolla. Often I have read that Lover's Cove on Catalina Island was a must do on any snorkeler's list. So we planned a 3 day visit with the intent of snorkeling both Lover's Cove and Avalon Underwater Park. It is located 22 miles offshore from Long Beach, CA.

The 1st day at Avalon was spent with the usual check in's and scouting out the locations. Swells were small and water clarity was great from what we observed from the shore, Kelp Bass and Garibaldi were plentiful.

Day 2 we grabbed our gear and headed for Lover's Cove, an easy walk from almost any hotel in town. Swells were noticeably larger this day but water visibility was still good. There are picnic tables at the road which are good to use to gear up before hitting the beach.

Entering the water is via stairs down to a very rocky shore. You will need sandals or shoes to enter the beach area which at best consists of a few feet of river rock before the water line, no sand to be found. The cove is designated as a snorkeling only sight but the fine print is the cove belongs to the glass bottom boat tours and they have the right of way so be aware of this as you are swimming.

As for variety of fish we saw Garibaldi, Bass, Sheep Head, and maybe one or two other small common fish. What was the most exciting is that you get swarmed with them. Each tour boat that comes through the cove feeds the fish to draw them in for the tours. Consequently the fish figure you are there to feed them as well, which makes for great swimming and pictures. Also abundant was plant life including the kelp forest, sea fans, eel grass, and many others that I have not yet learned to identify. Water depths start shallow and go to around 20 feet in the cove.

Day 3 we went to Avalon Underwater Park which is also an easy walk from almost any hotel. Swells were even larger this day and water clarity was greatly reduced but visibility was still a good 50 feet or better.

Entering the water is done by a stairway located behind the Avalon Casino with plenty of areas to gear up. Walk down the stairs using the hand rails, the last few steps are slippery. At the bottom of the steps you can slip on your fins and kick out.

The fish and plant life were the same as what can be found in the cove. Water here is much deeper. The depths start at around 15 feet and quickly drop to around 100 a mere 30 feet from the stairs. Our map shows wrecks and other objects at the bottom in the deeper areas but due to the visibility we were not able to locate them.

Overall impressions were good but for our 1st snorkel at Catalina we did not see the variety we expected and the attitude of the locals was hit and miss. We would still recommend this trip as part of a vacation but not sure it would be worth it as a one day trip with the cost of the boat required to get you there at $75 per person round trip.

Comments for Snorkeling Catalina Island Lover's Cove & Avalon Underwater Park

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Sep 09, 2013
Thank you!
by: Nicole & Galen

Bob, thank you for taking the time to write this report for us. It's great to have information about water entrances, water depths and what creatures and plants you can see there.

This was a summertime trip, in August or September, correct? So the water conditions are for that time of year, for anyone planning a visit.

For more information on snorkeling in La Jolla Cove or La Jolla like Bob and his wife have done, read our Snorkeling in California page.

Sep 09, 2013
Water temps
by: Bob

Thanks guys, and yes this trip was the 1st week of September right after Labor Day. It is my understanding in talking to many locals that water temperatures only vary about 15 degrees F. Winter temps are supposed to average around 58 give or take a few degrees both ways and summer temps around 68 with the same variation.

Sep 04, 2014
Snorkeling Catalina from Hamilton Cove Villas
by: Pat from San Diego

Catalina snorkeling is chilly, so you want to plan short excursions or wear a wetsuit (I only had a rashguard and leggings) but it's SO worthwhile! There was a good healthy forest of kelp, and literally thousands of baby fish, schools of them. We did see a Leopard Shark, sting rays, Bat Ray, Brittle Stars, Garibaldi, Kelpfish, Senorita Fish, Opaleye and schools of little goldeny fish and some sort of bluish tiny fish, and larger schools of hunters! FUN. Oh, and a yacht with it's own helicopter was there, too.

We researched where to stay, which ended up dictating where we snorkeled. My husbands co-worker recommended the Hamilton Cove Villas. We couldn't have been happier. The views are so totally amazing, you're looking down into the private beach cove, (all rocks, no sand) and can even see Garibaldi in the water. We were the only people snorkeling in that private beach cove and it was AWESOME. Next time (yes, good enough for there to be a next time) we will snorkel around to the casino, which we could see around the corner from our cove.

Sep 08, 2014
Additional comments on Catalina/Avalon
by: Pat

I should have mentioned, this was a summer June 2014 trip. If it were any colder, I would have HAD to wear a full wet suit.

Also, for me, shoes were a must to enter the water, the beaches there are mostly all rocky, though the rocks are pretty smooth. Because of that, I just used fins that could slip over my shoes.

Gel anti-fog for your mask is also critical, as the water IS colder, and you'll fog up faster without it. Our favorite is Sea Gold.

Aug 05, 2016
Does Avalon still have good snorkeling?
by: Joe

I haven't been to Catalina Island since June of 2010.

Then, the snorkeling was phenomenal at Dive Park and Lover's Cove as well as on the other side of the island the boats take you to.

The kelp forests were then in full bloom.

I have heard however that over the past 5 years an invasive Japanese sea weed has more or less destroyed the kelp forests that now so far as fish are concerned it's basically barren.

What a tragedy.

That place used to be exploding with fish.

So, how bad is it? Is it really now kelp-less with few fish?

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