Just 45 minutes in a high-speed ferry from the coast of Los Angeles at Long Beach, Catalina Island tempts visitors with a treasure trove of historic buildings, sunny beaches, and quaint shops. But gems lie just beyond the shoreline of this island getaway, like an undersea world of swaying kelp, enormous black sea bass, bright orange garibaldi (the state fish), and two historic shipwrecks.
Local outfitters like Catalina Divers Supply offer scuba and snorkeling rentals, as well as guided trips and fully equipped dive boats. The Avalon Underwater Park, off Casino Point, is a justly popular dive spot; look for spiny lobsters and harmless horn sharks. For a fun alternative that’s great for adventurous kids ages eight and up, head to Avalon’s Descanso Beach to check out the watery world with a guided snuba tour. In this half-breed between snorkeling and scuba, a special breathing apparatus and tube let you breathe normally without requiring your own tank. Or join a Sea Trek adventure, donning a specially equipped diving-bell helmet to breathe normally underwater, spotting schools of fish and maybe even a bat ray.
If you really don't want to get wet, take a ride in the island’s own semi-submersible, the Sea Wolf, which dips five feet below the surface of Avalon Bay. There’s also a fleet of glass-bottom boats offering 40-minute cruises; ask about special night tours.
While in the area, in nearby Descanso Canyon, visitors to the Catalina Falconry Experience can don the glove and receive and cast out falcons, hawks, and owls, and learn about the rowels they play in the delicate coastal ecosystem.