If you want to experience some of the best scuba diving in California, then look no further than a Catalina Island scuba diving experience. The island is home to some of the best west coast diving and some of the best diving in California.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is not tropical diving. The waters are colder, ranging from the low 50f/10C in the winter months to the mid 70sF/23C in the height of summer. That being said, the cooler nutrient-rich waters are home to a huge and diverse array of marine life, and visibility can be excellent, varying between 12-18m/40-60F. While you can dive the island year-round, the best time in terms of visibility is in the winter months, when visibility is at its best, and the number of divers and visitors is at its lowest.
The easiest way to get to Catalina Island is via ferry. There are multiple services that operate between several cities in orange county and the island. On the ferry, keep an eye out for the odd whale sighting.
Casino Point Dive Park
One of the best and most popular Catalina Island scuba diving destinations is Casino Point Dive Park which gets its name from its location next to the old Hollywood casino. The park boundaries are marked out in buoys, and it covers a 2.5-acre area making it ideal for several dives in a day. The depth at the site varies from the shore to an impressive 95ft/28m. due to the depth and location and general diving conditions, the site is perfect for all levels of divers.
Local laws restrict taking and salvaging from the site, which has made it home to rich marine life over the years. The star of the show is the Giant Kelp which is fascinating to swim through. Amongst the rocky reef, you can find senorita fish, abalone, lobsters, and more.
The show’s other star at the Casino Point Dive Park is the giant sea bass. These enormous creatures reach an impressive 2.5m/8.5ft in length and weigh in at a huge 560lb/254kg. Watching these gentle giants glide through the giant kelp is one of the highlights of any Catalina Island scuba diving trip.
Farnsworth Bank is home to Purple Hydrocoral (Allopora californica) and is one of the few locations where this cold-water coral grows. This rare species is one of the few purple hard corals that grow in cold water. Experts indicate that the coral species to be found at Farnsworth is unique to this site alone.
Farnsworth Bank is one of the deeper dives you would undertake on your Catalina Island scuba diving trip. The dive site starts at a depth of 66ft/20m and reaches a maximum depth of 150ft/46m. the depth on conditions makes this dive unsuitable for inexperienced divers.
While the Purple Hydrocoral (Allopora californica) is the star of Farnsworth Bank, the site has so much more to offer. You can also encounter schools of barracudas, sea lions, giant sea bass, and even electric rays amongst all the other critters and life at the site.
Johnson’s Rock Pinnacles
One of the best-kept secrets of any Catalina Island scuba diving trip. Johnson’s Rock Pinnacles area is a closely guarded secret by some boat skippers. The site is a serious deep dive to a series of near-vertical pinnacles that rise from the seafloor and terminates underwater.
One of the main pinnacles tops’ is at 75ft/23m, while another peaks’ at a depth of 65ft/19.5m. The pinnacles rise from the seabed at a depth of 140ft/42m. the vertical faces of the pinnacles make for an interesting and challenging dive. Sadly, like some of the best other dive sites off Catalina island, this makes Johnson’s Rock Pinnacles a dive suitable only for advanced divers.
The dive site has some interesting geography and marine life. There is a large overhang and cave on the saddle between the pinnacles. On the dive, you can encounter a range of marine life ranging from rocky reef fish to lobsters, scallops, and other critters.
Blue Cavern Point
One of the highlights and hidden gems of Catalina Island scuba diving, Blue Cavern Point is a stunning dive site teeming with marine life. Due to its location and being one of the strictest nature reserves in California, the site is virtually pristine and offers one of the best reefs off Catalina Island.
The site is a drop-off peppered with caves, caverns, and tunnels; most of these are on a section of drop-off that ranges from 30ft/15m to 75ft/25m. due to its protection, you cannot anchor at the site making this an interesting and challenging drift dive. Dropping in and picking up from a live boat and drift diving along a wall with a strong current is an interesting challenge that generally requires divers with at least some experience.
The site features an outstanding array of marine life and coral, including spectacular hanging gorgonians. Diving Blue Cavern Point, you can encounter harbor seals, sea lions, giant sea bass, soupfin shark, calico and sheepshead bass, lobsters, and a host of other fish.
If you are planning a Catalina Island scuba diving and are an experienced diver, then adding Blue Cavern Point to your itinerary is a must and a dive you will not regret.
Catalina Island Scuba Diving Gem: Valiant Wreck
The Valiant wreck is the perfect dive that combines an incredible dive with a hint of treasure hunting, making it one of the most exciting dives on any Catalina Island scuba diving trip. The luxury yacht sank after a fire in 1930. Located just outside Avalon Harbor, there is in decent shape for a ship that has been in the water for nearly 100 years.
The myth of treasure aboard the valiant comes from a substantial insurance claim made after the ship sunk for diamond jewelry worth several thousand dollars. So far, there have been no reports of the treasure being found, so maybe it is still there waiting for a lucky diver.
The 162ft/50m wreck lies upright on a sandy slope with her stern at 70ft/21m and her bow at a depth exceeding 100ft/30m. Due to the depth of the dive, the Valiant makes for a perfect nitrox dive. Diving the Valiant is generally only possible in the winter months since she lies in an area of heavy boat traffic, making it too dangerous in the summer months.
The wreck’s hull is peppered with holes, and over the years, lots of gorgonians have sprouted up non the wreck. The wreck is populated with lots of marine life, including mollusks and lobster. The way the light shines through the holes in the wreck makes the Valiant a dream dive site for underwater photographers and a memorable Catalina Island scuba diving site!
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