Snorkeling Catalina Island Lover's Cove & Avalon Underwater Park, California
Garibaldi at Avalon Underwater Park
I wanted to share our experience with snorkeling Catalina Island, California, 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 three day visit with the intent of snorkeling both Lover's Cove and Avalon Underwater Park. It is located 22 miles offshore from Long Beach.
The first 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 two 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 three 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 first 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.