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 (310/510-0330; www.catalinadiverssupply.com) runs a full-service dive shop at the Green Pleasure 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. The two-hour Catalina Guided Snorkel Eco Tour, at Casino Point (www.catalinatours.com/tour/guided-snorkel-and-eco-tour/) takes care of the equipment for you. Snorkeling trips that take you outside of Avalon depart from Joe's Rent-a-Boat (310/510-0455; www.joesrentaboat.com), on the Green Pleasure Pier.
At Two Harbors, stop by West End Dive Center (310/510-4272), which is full-service and PADI-certified. 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. Catalina Island Expeditions (310/510-1226) rents Scrambler XT kayaks, which are designed for scuba use.
Beginners should contact Catalina Scuba Luv (310/510-2350; http://www.scubaluv.com), which offers dive courses for snorkeling, SCUBA, and SNUBA.
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. Pretty much everything wild is controlled by the Conservancy. Visitors can obtain a free hiking permit online or at the Conservancy Office (125 Clarissa Ave.; 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 1924. Their numbers have been capped and conservation measures have so far stunted growth of the herd.
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 38.5-mile trail that transverses the entire island. You're not allowed to hike after dark. To make camping reservations at the designated trail campgrounds, call 310/510-4205.
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 congested in peak season. The recreation zone around Casino Point at Descanso Beach Club (www.visitcatalinaisland.com) can be just as popular because of its food and drink options (unlike in town, you can drink alcohol on its beach), and there, it's possible to rent loungers or cabanas. Be sure to claim your spot early in the morning before it's full. Your best bet is to kayak or Stand-Up Paddle Board (both can be rented here) to a secluded cove that you'll have virtually to yourself.
Also at Descanso Beach Club: a relatively new zip line course (five runs, as much as 600 feet high) and five Aerial Adventure rope obstacle courses through the trees. Both of them can be booked at the activities desk behind the volleyball field at Descanso.