The water surrounding Catalina Island could be dubbed SoCal’s Galapagos: a saltwater mecca brimming with abundant sea life and bird life: garibaldi, zebra fish, leopard sharks, stingrays, sea lions, dolphins, and maybe even a bald eagle. The best vessel for getting up close to such a metropolis of wildlife is a kayak. Take a two-hour guided tour (or rent your own kayak) and paddle 1.25 miles up the coast from Descanso Beach to Frog Rock. Stick to shallows and scan the underwater forest of giant bladder kelp, one of the fastest growing plants on earth. It’s easy to spot the bright splashes of orange belonging to the garibaldi. Paddling northwest from Avalon, you’ll face Long Point, the part of Catalina Island that sits closest to the mainland. And there’s no way to miss Frog Rock, a 20-foot tall, tan boulder jutting out from the shoreline like a frog ready to leap into water. The cobblestone beach just beyond the rock is a good place to pull up your kayak for a quick break. Walk along the water’s edge and see how many turban shells and hermit crabs you can find (if you’re on the tour, your guide will provide a bottle of water and a snack, along with plenty of keen insights on wildlife in these parts). The waves on this sheltered side of the island are gentle, making for beginner-friendly fare. Paddle up for a wild time!WHERE TO STAY:
For a classic Catalina experience, the Hotel Atwater
(125 Sumner Avenue, half a block from Avalon Harbor) offers rustic and simple rooms with dark wood furnishings. The halls of the hotel could double as a photography exhibit, decked with archival images of early island tourists that were collected when the hotel opened in the 1920s. Camper’s can stay at Avalon’s only campground, Hermit Gulch Campground
. There are 40 sites, which may be reserved, as well as tent cabins. Tents, sleeping bags, lanterns and stoves can be rented from the campground.The Journey to Frog Rock kayak tour begins from the Descanso Beach Club at the northwest end of Avalon, just past the Casino (map). To make a reservation call, 310-510-1226. Tours depart daily at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. The tour lasts about two hours and costs $48 per person. Kayaks can also be rented without a guide for $22 per hour, $40 for a half day, or $52 for a whole day.