On clear days, Catalina Island looms far in the distance off the Southern California coast, a mysterious rocky mass disrupting the otherwise uninterrupted vast expansiveness of the ocean. It is said that the island has been home to a series of settlers for over 7,000 years, though it is now primarily a tourist attraction for Southern Californians looking for a quick getaway. And while I’ve lived in SoCal for 15 years, I never went, mainly because cheapo me didn’t want to pay for the pricey boat ride.
Thanks to their free birthday ride special and a girlfriend with a summer birthday, off we went, cruising towards Catalina on a beautiful Thursday morning.
For both of us, Catalina was a trip of firsts. We had carefully planned our activities to 1) maximize exploration of the island during our limited time stay and 2) fulfill our sense of adventure by doing things we’ve never done.
Yep, we have both never done these activities…have I been living in hermitland? But by the end of this little trip, I was happy to have a few more things checked off of my adventure list.
DAY ONE – EXPLORE BY SEA
Snorkeling in Lover’s Cove – I don’t know why I’ve never snorkeled before this! Maybe it’s due to my lack of tropical vacations. While Catalina is definitely not a tropical island (be forewarned – the water is cold and wetsuit required!), I have never been in waters so clear… a stark contrast to the murky LA waters that leave nothing to be desired. Upon donning the snorkel mask, we were immediately transported to a magical underwater world where colorful fish live amongst the thick kelp forest. I never would have guessed that such beauty existed under the surface just literally feet away from the shore! And the colors! Seafoam green and emerald morphing into a dusty blue as visibility diminishes… Billowing golden leaves of kelp and bright orange garibaldi darting about… The real world faded away as I fully immersed myself in this enchanted world under the sea. The only thing that eventually forced me out was the bitter cold of the water.
Snorkeling Catalina tour, $42/person, Birthday special: two for the price of one. This was definitely worth it and a must-do.
Kayak “Journey to Frog Rock” – We spent the afternoon on a kayak paddling into the ocean breeze in an attempt to reach Frog Rock and the more secluded shores (no one told us kayaking was so hard!) The route back had us peacefully drifting on the waters past the rocky cliffs as our tour guide regaled us with history about the island and did her best to point out ocean life. Aside from scores of fish, the other creatures seemed to be in hiding that afternoon, though we did manage to spot one bat ray and one leopard shark. But I later heard that the shallow waters were swarming with leopard sharks that morning, and I could only imagine what an awesome sight that would have been.
Kayak guided tours $48/person. Birthday special: buy one get one 50% off. It was nice to have a guide though in retrospect, it wasn’t necessary as kayak rentals are available and much cheaper.
Flying Fish Night Tour – When the sun sets and moonlight dances across the rippling ocean surface, the Catalina flying fish comes out to play. The best way to see them is by boarding the almost century-old wooden vessel, Blanche W, which was built for this very purpose. This boat hauled-ass along the pitch black coast while scanning a 40 million-candlepower searchlight across the water surface to entice the fish to jump out. Even though the night was chilly and the ride was bumpy, all was forgotten when we caught sight of the jumping fish – dozens of little silver dancers flitting about in the light of the boat! It was truly Catalina’s best nighttime spectacular (honestly Catalina is pretty dead at night otherwise). And during the rare sightings of a flier dashing across the surface, everyone, young and old alike, squealed with amusement.
Flying fish tour $28/person. We signed up for this tour after reading reviews that the fish really do fly, even right into the boat! Well after taking this tour, methinks there is a fat chance of that.
We ended the night dreaming about gentle waves and orange fish. But, that was enough of water activities for we had the land part of the island to explore the next day. Continue on to day two – explore by land!