Diving, Snorkeling and Sea Kayaking
Snorkeling, scuba diving, and sea kayaking are among the main reasons mainlanders head to Catalina. Catalina Island's naturally clean water and giant kelp forests teeming with marine life have made it a renowned diving destination that attracts experts and beginning divers alike. Casino Point Marine Park, Southern California's first city-designated underwater park, was established in 1965 and is located behind the Casino. Due to its convenient location, it can get outrageously crowded in the summer (just like everything else at that time of year).
Catalina Divers Supply (tel. 800/353-0330; www.catalinadiverssupply.com) runs two full-service dive shops: one from a large trailer behind the Casino at the edge of Avalon's underwater park, where it offers guided snorkeling tours and introductory scuba dives; and another at the Green Pier, where it launches boat dives aboard the Scuba Cat. The three best locations for snorkeling are Lover's Cove Marine Preserve, Casino Point Marine Park, and Descanso Beach Club. Catalina Snorkeling Adventures, at Lover's Cove (tel. 877/SNORKEL [766-7535]), offers snorkel-gear rental. Snorkeling trips that take you outside of Avalon depart from Joe's Rent-a-Boat (tel. 310/510-0455), on the Green Pier.
At Two Harbors, stop by West End Dive Center (tel. 310/510-4272). Excursions range from half-day introductory dives to complete certification courses -- but note that all are off-shore, not boat-based. It also rents snorkel gear and offers kayak rental, instruction, and tours.
Hiking and Biking
When the summer crowds become overwhelming, it's time to head on foot for the peacefulness of the interior, where secluded coves and barren, rolling hills soothe frayed nerves. Visitors can obtain a free hiking permit at the Conservancy Office (125 Clarissa Ave.; tel. 310/510-2595; www.catalinaconservancy.org), where you'll find maps, wildlife information, and friendly assistance from Conservancy staffers who love to share their knowledge of the interior. It's open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and closed for lunch on weekends. Among the sights you may see are the many giant buffalo roaming the hills, scions of movie extras that were left behind in 1929 and have since flourished.
More than 200 miles of trails beckon both the "tennis shoe" hiker and the experienced trekker. The granddaddy of them all is the Trans-Catalina Trail, a 37.2-mile trail that transverses the entire island.
Mountain biking is allowed on the island's designated dirt roads but requires a $35 permit that must be purchased in person at the Conservancy Office (see above; dial ext. 100).
Unfortunately, Avalon's beaches leave much to be desired. The town's central beach, off Crescent Avenue, is small and completely congested in peak season. Be sure to claim your spot early in the morning before it's full. Descanso Beach Club offers the best beach in town but also gets crowded very quickly. Your best bet is to kayak out to a secluded cove that you'll have virtually to yourself.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.