Travel Destinations

Monday, June 2, 2014

Exploring Catalina Island’s Deep Blue Sea

Avalon Catalina Island California
Taking in the views of Avalon while preparing for our Catalina ocean activities.
Perhaps the most iconic Catalina Island activity is the Glass Bottom Boat.  There’s even a song and a movie bearing the name.  Travelers to Catalina Island can still take a ride on the tide with the Glass Bottom Boat, but there are a number of additional water activities in which visitors can partake to enjoy Catalina’s deep blue sea and view Catalina’s sea life as well.

Submerging Under the Sea in the Nautilus

A fun way to view the underwater sea life without having to get wet is by taking a ride in Catalina Adventure Tours' newest attraction, the semi-submersible SS Nautilus.  Looking like The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, the Nautilus is partially submerged so guests can look out of portholes into the underwater world beyond. 

Riding in the Nautilus is a great activity for families.  The atmosphere is very Disney-like with announcements made over the sound system, video, and lots of bubbles outside the windows when the submarine is “diving” into the depths below.  One small boy on our trip told his mom he wished we could dive down even further, all the way to the bottom of the sea.  

Catalina Adventure Tour Semi-Submersible Catalina Island California
Inside the SS Nautilus.
The Nautilus’ most exciting feature is fish food torpedoes.  During the 45-minute journey the Nautilus makes two stops in Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve.  For an extra charge, guests can buy varying amounts of fish food torpedoes to shoot while visiting these two spots.  The green light turns on when the torpedo is loaded and ready to fire.  Young ones (or the young at heart) will have a great time firing fish food torpedoes which cause a fish feeding frenzy to occur in front of your porthole.  Four or eight fish food torpedoes will suffice.  My purchase of 16 fish food torpedoes was a bit excessive.

Fish Feeding Frenzy Catalina Adventure Tour Catalina Island California
Firing a fish food torpedo caused a feeding frenzy outside our porthole.
The views of the undersea garden are phenomenal, with forests of broad-leafed kelp waving in the current and schools of fish, including California’s official state marine fish, the bright orange garibaldi, and calico bass swimming by.  Pictures of the local fish and their names are shown on the video screen and the Nautlius guide helps identify fish as well.  Keep a lookout for the California Opaleye, whose eyes glow an iridescent blueish-green.

California Opaleye Catalina Island California
California Opaleye
Garibaldi Catalina Island California
For more information on price and departures and to buy tickets, visit Catalina Adventure Tours' website.

Soaring Over Swells on a Quest for Dolphins

The Santa Catalina Island Company’s Dolphin Quest is an adventure for speed lovers.  Guests practically fly out into the ocean in a rigid inflatable boat, reaching speeds of over 40 miles per hour.  Surprisingly, even when it felt like we were literally soaring through the air when we hit a large swell, I never felt like I was going to catapult out of the boat, and the saddle seats are very well padded with a lot of give, so I never lost contact with the seat. 

Unfortunately our quest for dolphins was unsuccessful, as dolphin sightings cannot be guaranteed, but the ride was still exhilarating.  Our quest for wildlife was not a complete bust, as we got to visit some sea lions sunning on a large buoy.  A fellow guest on our trip told us she joins the Dolphin Quest every time she visits Catalina Island.  She has taken the Dolphin Quest tour over 20 times and said she has seen dolphins more often than not.

Sea Lions Dolphin Quest Catalina Island California
We didn't see dolphins, but we did find this pod of sea lions.
For more information on price and times and to buy tickets, visit the Santa Catalina Island Company’s website.

Paddling Above Leopards and Lions

Leopards and Lions Kayak Tour Descanso Beach Ocean Sports Catalina Island California
Kayaking along Catalina Island's coast.
Our final aquatic adventure while visiting Catalina Island was exploring the blue waters by kayak.  We joined Descanso Beach Ocean Sports’ newest guided kayak tour.  The Leopards and Lions kayak tour seeks leopard sharks and sea lions.

Our guide Scott led us along the coast of Catalina Island while we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife both in the water and on land.  While we paddled along Scott also told us more about Catalina.  We learned how expensive it is to lease mooring cans off the shore.  We also passed abandoned boats that are slowly sinking into the water, but which no one can legally touch.

Abandoned Boat Catalina Island California
An abandoned boat slowly sinking into Catalina's sea.
Our first wildlife spotting was a group of leopard sharks swimming in the calm waters at the base of a canyon leading into the water.  Even though they are sharks, leopard sharks are harmless to humans, so feel free to put your arms in the water as they swim beneath.  They may even come up to say hello.  Many of the birds of Catalina were nesting during our visit.  We got to see some blue herons near a nest on the seaside cliffs.  In the water we also spotted garibaldi and a frolicking sea lion.  

Underwater Kayak View Catalina Island California
My underwater fish photos weren't so great, so here's an underwater kayak photo instead.
Scott was very knowledgeable about the animals that can be found on and around Catalina Island.  He also told us about other kayaking options, including kayaking around the island and camping at different camp grounds along the way.  While Catalina Island is most popular during the summer, Scott shared with us that winter is actually the best time to visit if you want to spot dolphins and other wildlife.  As the water is much colder in the winter, Descanso Beach Ocean Sports also rents wetsuits. 

For more information on price and times and the phone number for reservations, visit Descanso Beach Oceans Sports’ website.  If you get Scott as your guide, he will also take pictures and video and provide them free of charge.
Kayaking Catalina Island California
Photo courtesy Scott Bryan
Whether you like adventure and speed or prefer exploring the sea’s treasures in dryness and warmth, Catalina Island offers a myriad of activities for enjoying the island’s sea life. 

Thank you to the Santa Catalina Island Company and Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau for hosting our trip to Santa Catalina Island and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Travel the World: Travelers to Catalina Island California can choose from a number of water activities.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.