Last Updated: February 13, 2023
California has some of the best diving locations and dive schools in the country, but there are a few places that certainly have a bit more magic to them. If you want to see some of the most beautiful seascapes that the state has to offer, then Catalina Island should definitely be near the top of your list.
Not only is it a stunning place to enjoy a vacation or a long weekend, but the island has some incredible scuba opportunities for divers at every possible level. You could dip your toes into the water here for the first time ever, or you could enjoy new sights and experiences as a veteran diver.
In this article, I’m going to take a look at some of the best sites to explore when scuba diving in Catalina Island, what the conditions are like and when to get out in the water, how much it might cost, and the operators I recommend on the island itself.
There’s a lot to talk about but, first and foremost, let’s dive straight into the incredible sites that you can find around the island (pun intended).
Best Dives Sites in Catalina Island
1. Casino Point Dive Park
Casino Point is perhaps the most famous place on Catalina Island, and for good reason. It was actually the first non-profit underwater park in the country (and, arguably, the entire world) that opened to the public and it is located right next door to the very iconic Casino Building.
There are around 2.5 acres of space to play in, with a whole host of different things to see beneath the waves. There are numerous wrecks and monuments, as well as multiple reefs that are teeming with octopus, lobsters, eels, and abalone. They even have a resident eel named “Fang”.
The water is very clear and is best known for the incredible examples of giant kelp that you can weave your way in and out of as you swim. These kelp forests are an absolute haven for wildlife, playing host to senorita fish, blacksmith, garibaldi, kelp bass, and even angel sharks and bat rays at times.
Casino Point is large enough that they typically have multiple dives happening at the same time, and it is perfect for beginners. Its very self-contained, clearly marked, and well-protected.
WATCH VIDEO: Scuba Diving at Casino Point, Catalina Island
2. Farnsworth Bank
For an experience that is a little more off-the-beaten-path, Farnsworth Bank (also known as Farnsworth Wall or Farnsworth Pinnacles) can be found about five miles southwest of the Island itself.
The most dramatic appeal of this site is the colossal pinnacles that rise up from the ocean floor 200 feet below, with their peaks reaching around 60 feet in depth. Diving on this more western side of Catalina Island is noticeably different from the lush green waters to the east; cleaner and more silver but still stuffed with remarkable wildlife.
The depth and distance from land do mean that diving here is a little more advanced, but it is without a doubt a special experience. The pinnacles are covered in coral, urchins, limpets, and more, the structures themselves are a joy to swim around, and the water is generally clear as crystal.
You might also be lucky enough to see Bat Rays, Harbor Seals, Giant Bass, and Electric Rays – and jellyfish make an appearance relatively often as well.
WATCH VIDEO: Farnsworth Bank - Catalina Island
3. Blue Cavern Point
Slightly east of the well-known Isthmus Cove, you will find Blue Cavern Point jutting out into the Pacific. Its volcanic rock is absolutely riddled with caves, and you can even see the remains of lava that once flowed down the hillside and into the sea.
The waters of Blue Cavern Point are highly protected. Nothing can be taken, and nothing can be left behind, which makes it a highly pristine and special environment to explore. The strict rules do make it a little tricky to get out here, though, as even anchoring is forbidden.
With the right operator, you can anchor up a little outside the reserve on the northeastern side or stay adrift on a live boat while you dive.
The center of this site is dominated by a wall that extends from around 30 to 75 feet down, with lots of caves to poke around in. There is also a reasonable amount of kelp that brings in even more wildlife, and you might be lucky enough to see leopard sharks or rays in the open water.
WATCH VIDEO: Blue Cavern Point Dive, Catalina Island
4. Italian Gardens
Italian Gardens is a site that’s perhaps better known for its campsites and beaches than for its diving, but it has as much to offer below the waves as it does at the shoreline. The area is accessible by boat and is named after an Italian fisherman who used the beaches as a spot to dry out his nets.
You can kayak, camp, swim, snorkel, and dive at Italian Gardens, and it is a great place for families or less experienced divers to have some fun.
The water is not excessively deep and there aren’t a huge number of distinct landmarks, but it is a very popular spot for hundreds of different species of fish and crustaceans to relax in the relatively calm waters.
WATCH VIDEO: Italian Gardens Dive Spot at Catalina Island
5. Bird Rock
If you’re looking for somewhere on the island that offers a little bit of everything, Bird Rock might be your best bet. There are shallow reefs teeming with life, there’s an underwater arch to swim through, and there is a steep wall to swim over as well.
Bird Rock itself is a large domed rock just inside of Isthmus Harbor, and each side of it has something a little different to see. The shallow areas are very calm and full of colorful fish, making them excellent for less-experienced divers but, for something more challenging, the wall on the other side plunges to around 70 feet down.
Stretching away from the rock and the wall is quite a large boulder field and the iconic arch, around 55 feet under the surface. There are often kelp forests around Bird Rock as well, although it does depend on the time of year that you arrive.
WATCH VIDEO: Bird Rock Scuba Dive
6. Valiant Wreck
For some people, wrecks are the most exciting and interesting sites to be around undewater – and The Valiant is one of the most accessible in all of California’s wreck dives.
This 160-foot-long luxury yacht sank in December of 1930, just 4 years after she was built. She was anchored in Descanso Bay when the gas generator ran out of fuel, and an unfortunate spark during refilling caused a fire that ultimately led to the Valiant sinking down to her current resting place.
You can find the wreck just outside of the Avalon Underwater Park, and it sits around 100 feet down. You will need to get permission from the harbormaster before you go, and the depth and conditions make it quite an advanced dive.
It has been in the water for a long time, so the ship has been almost completely reclaimed by the sea, to the point where it is even covered in tall strands of kelp for much of the year. Many fish like to swim in and out of its various crevices, and large parts of the structure have started to deteriorate, making for excellent photo opportunities.
WATCH VIDEO: Valiant Wreck Diving
7. Isthmus Reef
Isthmus Reef can be found very close to Bird Rock, and it is known for being one of the easiest dives on the island. If you have younger children with you or are wanting to get into the water for the first time, this is usually seen as the best place to do it.
In fact, Isthmus Reef is where most instructors like to carry out their lessons because there is a lot to see but the water is relatively shallow and usually very calm.
The reef is around 1500 feet long and 800 feet wide, never reaching below 60 feet in depth. Beyond the reef and all of the coral and creatures that inhabit it, there is also a very small wall to the south and a rocky slope to the north.
Sometimes larger marine life, like rays, will venture onto the reef but it is usually occupied by numerous schools of smaller fish.
WATCH VIDEO: Diving Isthmus Reef on Catalina
Catalina Dive Sites Map
Other great spots to dive include: Indian Rock, Eel Cove, Big Gieger, Little Gieger, Little Farnsworth, Church Rock, Seal Rocks, Lion’s Head, Eagle Reef, Ship Rock and West End Cove.
Diving Conditions and Best Time to Dive Catalina Island
Depending on which side of the island you are exploring, and what time of year you visit, the conditions around Catalina Island can change quite a bit.
In late summer, the temperatures generally range from 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit – reaching their hottest in late September and early October. In the winter, however, you will probably want a wetsuit or drysuit as it can be between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with March usually being the coldest month.
As for visibility, the average is around 40 feet, although that can be much better in the winter and a little worse in the summer. In some areas and at certain times of the year, visibility can almost reach 100 feet, and it is very rare that it will be less than 30 feet.
You can dive on the island all year round, but September to December generally offers the best combination of high visibility and warm water temperatures.
Catalina Scuba Diving Prices & Certification
Depending on the time of year that you dive, the equipment you need to hire, and the company or location you choose, diving around Catalina can vary in price.
The average cost per person for a single dive is about $135 with equipment, but it can be as little as $100 for a guided dive or as much as $220 for a full day.
In terms of certification, a PADI course can be around $500 for the course that requires you to continue diving with a professional, or $650+ for Open Water Diver training that qualifies you for independent dives up to depths of 60 feet.
Top Catalina Island Dive Operators
#1. Catalina Divers Supply
Catalina Divers Supply in Avalon is one of the most popular dive operators on the island, and they offer everything from gear rentals and sales to boat dives and classes. You can find them on the pier in Avalon Bay.
They have been in the industry for more than 60 years, and the Casino Point Underwater Park was built, maintained, and preserved primarily due to their efforts.
#2. Diving Catalina
Diving Catalina offers programs in snorkeling and scuba diving for people at every level, as well as all of the gear you could need. They are also located in Avalon and are very well-reviewed by customers.
They are also right at Casino Point Dive Park, so you can enjoy one of the best dive sites in the area while getting some guidance from a professional who is very familiar with the area.
#3. Catalina Scuba
On Casino Point, you will also find Catalina Scuba offering diving tours, classes, freediving, and professional training. The dive shop has been owned and operated by instructors for more than 20 years, and they have a great reputation.
From a beginner to an expert, you will be supplied with the best equipment and receive individualized training that is catered to your goals with an emphasis on safety and pleasure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Go Scuba Diving in Catalina Island?
Not only is scuba diving possible on Catalina Island, but it is highly popular and available all year round.
Do You Need a Wetsuit for Catalina Island?
Depending on the time of year, you may need a wetsuit or a drysuit when you are scuba diving around Catalina Island. In the winter months, the water temperature is often below 59°F.
Are There Sharks in Catalina Island?
The waters of the California coast are known for their sharks, and Catalina Island is no different. You might see Blue Sharks, Makos, Horn Sharks, White Sharks, Leopard Sharks, and more.
Are There Jellyfish in Catalina?
Catalina Island is not always surrounded by jellyfish, but there are quite a number of different species that are seen occasionally. Some are less than an inch across, like the euphysa japonica, while others, like the Pacific sea nettle, can be more than 3 feet in diameter with tentacles that trail as far as 15 feet.
How Deep is the Water Around Catalina Island?
Around Catalina Island, the water at most dive sites is between 60 and 100 feet deep. Between the island and the mainland, though, the water reaches a maximum depth of around 3,000 feet.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.
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The best underwater visibility at Catalina Island is from July to December, with visibility peaking from September to November, 50-60ft visibility. Black sea bass and large baitballs visit in the summer and fall.Does Catalina Island have good scuba diving? ›
Catalina Island provides some of, if not the best diving conditions in Southern California. Currents are generally mild and there's always a calm and clear site to dive. Farnsworth is one of the most sought-after dive spots in California.What is the golden rule of scuba diving? ›
If you had but 30 seconds to teach someone to scuba dive, what would you tell them? The same thing Mike did — the Golden Rule of scuba diving. Breathe normally; never hold your breath. The rest, in most cases, is pretty much secondary.What is the number one rule of scuba diving? ›
1. Breathe continuously while on scuba. Never hold your breath. There is no way, you would have missed that one.At what age should you stop scuba diving? ›
Officially, there is no upper age limit, but diving is an extreme sport and therefore we must take into consideration the aspects of physical health and mental ability that may change as we get older. Diving is a strenuous activity, especially before and after the dive when hauling heavy equipment around.Where is the most beautiful place to scuba dive? ›
- Great Blue Hole, Belize. ...
- Barracuda Point, Sipadan Island. ...
- Maaya Thila - South Ari Atoll, Maldives. ...
- Richelieu Rock, Thailand. ...
- Santa Rosa Wall, Cozumel. ...
- SS Thistlegorm Wreck, Egyptian Red Sea. ...
- SS Yongala Wreck - Great Barrier Reef, Australia. ...
- 1000 Steps, Bonaire.
Scuba diving and snorkeling enthusiasts who come to enjoy clear waters and abundant sea life find it free of mainland pollution and surf. The depth ranges from the rocky shoreline to 95 feet deep. Primarily the park consists of the fastest growing plant in the world, Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera).Do you need a wetsuit for Catalina Island? ›
Yes, you will definitely need a wetsuit to dive around Catalina Island. Some people will be comfortable in a 5mm wetsuit during summer, but most will be better off in a 7mm wetsuit or a drysuit since the average water temperature in summer is in the mid-70s, and during the winter it is in the mid-50s.What are the 5 most important rules of scuba diving? ›
- Never dive without a buddy.
- Never dive if you have a cold or are congested in your ears or nose.
- Always plan your dive, and always dive your plan.
- Check your diving equipment to make sure it works. ...
- Do not drink alcohol or take drugs before diving.
Never hold your breath
As every good entry-level dive student knows, this is the most important rule of scuba. And for good reason — breath holding underwater can result in serious injury and even death. In accordance with Boyle's law, the air in a diver's lungs expands during ascent and contracts during descent.
- Flying After Diving. Flying after scuba diving is one of the more widely known risks to divers. ...
- Mountain Climbing. ...
- Ziplining After Diving. ...
- Deep Tissue Massage. ...
- Relaxing in a Hot Tub. ...
- Excessive Drinking. ...
- Freediving After Scuba Diving.
Common contraindications are asthma, epilepsy, diabetes and heart disease. If you have any of these or other illnesses, which might cause similar problems, consult a doctor before diving.It is not recommended for people with the following conditions to scuba dive: People with breathing problems.What is the hardest dive to do? ›
The most difficult dive to perform, for the record, is the reverse 1½ somersault with 4½ twists off the 3-meter board. It has a 3.7 degree of difficulty.What happens if you cough while scuba diving? ›
It's perfectly alright to cough into your regulator until your airway is clear. If you feel that telltale tickle in the back of your throat, try to move into an open area where you won't bump into anything. Also, be aware of your buoyancy when coughing while scuba diving, as you may unknowingly hold your breath.Is 65 too old to learn to scuba dive? ›
Diving is an activity that is perfectly suited for people over 60s, even if they are just starting out. However, care should be taken to adapt it to the person's health and/or fitness.Can senior citizens scuba dive? ›
Whether you are 60, 80, or even 100 years old, it is entirely possible to become a certified scuba diver. The current record holder for the oldest regular scuba diver is 102 years old. So if you are younger than that, now is the time to start!Can you scuba dive if you are overweight? ›
Does Scuba Diving Have a Body Weight Limit? No, there are no scuba diving weight limits. At least, there is no official bodyweight limit. Diving is an inclusive sport, it can be done by anyone from 13 years old and up regardless of age, weight, or size.Where do Navy Seals go to dive school? ›
The Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC), located at Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida, is the largest diving facility in the world. NDSTC trains military divers from all services.Does Catalina have great white sharks? ›
Although great white sharks are rare close to the shores of Catalina Island, undergraduate researcher Audrey Looby sighted one during a research dive.Are sharks common in Catalina? ›
Encounter: Blue sharks, Makos, and off Catalina's shore line; Horn sharks and occasionally Angel sharks, swell sharks, Bat rays, and White sharks. There are two distinctly different styles of diving around Catalina Island. The first is an open ocean (blue water) encounter with Blue sharks and sometimes Mako sharks.
On beautiful, clear days here on Catalina Island, taking a stroll down the pier is the perfect way to spot our elusive friend, the leopard shark! These shy guys love to hang out in Catalina's shallow coves and search the sand for benthic, or bottom dwelling critters like crabs, shrimp, and rockfish.What is the best time of day to go scuba diving? ›
The higher the angle, the more light can penetrate. Taking this to a practical level, the highest light penetration, and the best visibility, normally occurs when the sun is at an optimal angle — between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.What is the best time of day to go diving? ›
Most morning divers are treated to ocean conditions without wind, waves, current, and visibility is also noticeably better earlier in the day. This means easier dives, lower air consumption, longer dives, and more to see!Where is the safest place to scuba dive? ›
- Buck Island, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
- The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.
- The Big Island, Hawaii.
- Palau, Micronesia.
- Palawan, The Philippines.
- Solomon Islands.
- Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
- Isla Holbox, Mexico.
For women you can wear a sports bra and some sort of compression shorts, or you can wear a swimsuit. You do not want to wear something cotton-based which holds water because it will increase your chaffing. Also, do not wear underwear. Underwear will not dry out and will cause a sore saddle.Do you wear any clothes under a wetsuit? ›
If you're going to rent a wetsuit, you'll probably want to wear something beneath it for hygiene purposes. You can opt to wear undergarments with minimum covering (swimsuits, diving shorts, bikinis, etc.) or nothing at all in warmer locations and waters.Can you wear normal clothes under a wetsuit? ›
The quick answer to the question of what to wear under a wetsuit is – it can be either nothing at all, a thin garment like a rash vest, compression shorts or bikini for comfort or for extra warmth a thermal hooded rash vest.What not to do before diving? ›
- Never drink and dive.
- Never go diving without telling someone what you are doing and when you expect to be back.
- Never eat a big meal before diving and wait for at least two hours after eating before you start scuba diving.
- Never dive outside of your comfort level.
- Never dive with broken equipment.
Scuba diving and life expectancy are likely to be prolonged, studies show.What is the most important thing in diving? ›
1. Never hold your breath. This is undoubtedly by far the most crucial of all safety rules for diving because failure to adhere could result in fatality. If you hold your breath underwater at the depths at which scuba divers reach then the fluctuating pressure of air in your lungs can rupture the lung walls.
As the temperature increases, gases usually become less soluble in water solutions (such as blood). Thermal stress can contribute to bubble formation, which makes it one of the contributing factors in decompression sickness risk.What foods to avoid before diving? ›
Avoid heavy meals and food that are difficult to digest such as red meat and fatty dishes. We also discourage drinking too much coffee before the dive because it could make you anxious and trigger stress.Why should you not drink before diving? ›
If you drink before diving, the increased blood flow could cause greater nitrogen absorption than that predicted by your computer (or tables). Therefore, this might increase your susceptibility to decompression sickness even if you are within the no-decompression limits.Why do I feel drunk after scuba diving? ›
Once divers swim deeper than about 100 feet, the increased pressure can alter these gasses. When inhaled, the altered gasses can produce unusual symptoms that often make a person appear to be drunk. While nitrogen narcosis is a temporary condition, it can have serious health consequences.Why do divers shower right after a dive? ›
Why divers shower. According to Brehmer, the answer comes down to one thing. “Divers shower in between dives typically just to keep themselves and their muscles warm,” he says. They usually rinse off in water that's warmer than the pool.What is the best food for scuba diving? ›
During diving, aerobic metabolism increases, so it's important to supply our body with a source of complex carbohydrates, like cereals, rice or pasta, and fat, such as Greek yogurt, nuts, almond, dark chocolate, and olive oil.What is the most common injury in scuba diving? ›
The most common injury in divers is ear barotrauma (Box 3-03). On descent, failure to equalize pressure changes within the middle ear space creates a pressure gradient across the eardrum.What disqualifies you from diving? ›
Your respiratory and circulatory systems must be in good health. All body air spaces must be normal and healthy. A person with coronary disease, a current cold or congestion, epilepsy, a severe medical problem or who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs should not dive.Is scuba diving good for your lungs? ›
GOOD FOR RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
You must know the golden rule of diving in breathing; slowly and deeply. This is a good exercise for the muscles and heart and gets the blood pumping without putting pressure the heart. Therefore, scuba diving is a great exercise for the respiratory system.
While the recommended maximum depth for conventional scuba diving is 130 feet, technical divers may work in the range of 170 feet to 350 feet, sometimes even deeper.
Submarine Rescue and Saturation: Navy Divers perform saturation diving operations in support of deep ocean recovery and submarine rescue to a depth of 2000 feet.What is the deepest a human can safely dive? ›
It takes training, practice, and discipline. Deep diving is defined as a dive that exceeds 60 feet (18.28 meters). That means that most people can dive up to a maximum of 60 feet safely. For most swimmers, a depth of 20 feet (6.09 meters) is the most they will free dive.When should you not dive? ›
Basic scuba diving safety is that your respiratory and circulatory systems must be in good working order. A person with heart trouble, a current cold or congestion, epilepsy, asthma, a severe medical problem should not dive. Another time not to dive is if your ears or nose are not clear.Should you take Sudafed before diving? ›
Nasal decongestants are generally not a good idea under water: most wear off too rapidly and you may wind up with a 'rebound' effect, and in worse condition than when you started. People who require decongestants in order to dive are already at increased risk of injury due to higher pressure (barotrauma).How long should you not drink before scuba diving? ›
Tips for a Safe Dive
Avoid alcohol at least 8 hours prior to diving. Limit your drinks to 2 or 3 the night before and have a nonalcoholic drink in between them.
Diving Season: October to May is the best diving season, with lower rainfall, calmer seas, and better visibility. Skill Level: Some experience in stronger currents is recommended.How warm is the water at Catalina Island diving? ›
Water temperature ranges from 70-74 degrees in the summer to 55-59 degrees in winter, with September to mid-October being the warmest. It's not uncommon to enjoy 100' visibility in the late summer to early fall.Is it worth going to Catalina Island in the winter? ›
Catalina Island is definitely worth a visit, especially in January when crowds are much smaller than in the summertime. In short, Catalina Island is a beautiful California gem located close to the Los Angeles area that offers tons of fun for solo travelers, couples, and the whole family.Is the water at Catalina Island warm? ›
Average annual water temperature on the coast in Santa Catalina Island is 62°F, by the seasons: in winter 59°F, in spring 60°F, in summer 66°F, in autumn 65°F. Minimum water temperature (56°F) in Santa Catalina Island it happens in January, maximum (69°F) in June.What should I avoid after scuba diving? ›
- No flying after diving. Flying after scuba diving is one of the more widely known risks to divers. ...
- Don't go zip-lining after scuba diving. ...
- Avoid heavy drinking after diving. ...
- No mountain climbing after diving. ...
- Avoid massages after diving.
On beautiful, clear days here on Catalina Island, taking a stroll down the pier is the perfect way to spot our elusive friend, the leopard shark! These shy guys love to hang out in Catalina's shallow coves and search the sand for benthic, or bottom dwelling critters like crabs, shrimp, and rockfish.Are there sharks off Catalina Island? ›
Encounter: Blue sharks, Makos, and off Catalina's shore line; Horn sharks and occasionally Angel sharks, swell sharks, Bat rays, and White sharks. There are two distinctly different styles of diving around Catalina Island.What is the best month to go to Catalina Island? ›
Summer is great since the water is very warm to swim in but the prices for accommodations will almost double during the months of June-September. For the best time to visit Catalina plan your trip from April-May or late September-October.
Many famous actors and celebrities were spotted on Catalina Island and off the coast in their palatial yachts.
The water is safe to drink. Some water trucking operations will continue on the island, as they are a routine and necessary component of the overall water system operation and critical to ensuring that water is available at certain remote locations on the island.Can you drink in public in Catalina Island? ›
It's home to Catalina's only beachside restaurant and bar and one of the last private beaches in California open to the public. It's also one of the few places where you can legally have a drink in your hand and your feet in the sand…at the same time.Can you swim with dolphins in Catalina Island? ›
No, it's illegal to swim with wild dolphins in California.