September 12, 2021

Photo Essay: Off the Shore of Avalon, A Cove for Lovers and Tropical Fish

California's Catalina Island may offer more than 60 miles of coastline—but among its most popular and secluded beaches is Lover's Cove, located between Avalon Bay and Pebbly Beach. 

The rocky shore off Pebbly Beach Road near the rock formation known as Abalone Point leads you to the Lover's Cove State Marine Conservation Area, a protected ocean habitat where sportfishing is prohibited.

Lover's Cove and Abalone Point may not have their own boat moorings—but that doesn't mean you can't get there by boat. 

In fact, there are two guided boat tours offered by the Catalina Island Company that take you to Lover's Cove—both accessible from the Green Pier (or "Green Pleasure Pier") in Avalon. 

And on my recent day trip to Catalina (as a guest of Catalina Island Company and Catalina Express), I got to ride them both—starting with the Undersea Sub Expedition.

I boarded the Sea Wolf Semi-Submersible pretty much immediately upon my arrival to the island...

...and climbed down into its "submarine"-style lower level...

...which positions passengers 5 feet below the ocean surface to sit eye-to-eye with entire schools of fish.

From this vantage point, you get to see the orange garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus, California’s state saltwater fish) shimmering as the sunlight hits the water...

...and some of the other fish will even curiously approach the porthole windows to say hello, too. 

It helps that the captain shoots off cannons of food to attract the fish to the underside of the boat.

But fish are so plentiful in the kelp forests of Lover's Cove Marine Reserve that reportedly you can see them—especially the garibaldi—through the water while just standing on the beach. 

Most of the "Undersea" ride is, as the name suggests, with underwater viewing—but towards the end, you get to come up to the boat's deck and get oriented as to where you are in Avalon Bay. 

After lunch, it was time for me to get back on the water for my second boat cruise of the day, this time on the the MV Moonstone...

...a glass bottom boat that took me on yet another 40-minute voyage into Lover's Cove. 

It’s a continuation of a century-old tradition—which started out in 1896 when fishermen replaced the bottoms of their boats with glass to better target their "catch of the day."

Eventually, tourists took notice and asked the fishermen to take them out—and it's been a popular activity ever since.

On the Moonstone, which was first launched in 1987... can peer through rectangular portholes in the floor to watch garibaldi, calico bass (Paralabrax clathratus), opaleye (Girella nigricans), and more... they swim right below the boat's hull (again, drawn to cannon-shot fish food) and through the "undersea gardens" of Lover's Cove. 

One of the advantages of the glass-bottom boat over the submarine is that when your captain tosses some food off the side of the boat, you can see the fish leaping to the surface. 

The gulls, however, may seem unaffected...

...going about their days as usual...

...looking for their own snacks where they can. 

Lover's Cove is also a popular destination for shallow-water snorkeling (but not SCUBA) and even parasailing—although it reportedly got its name from the "lovers" who used to escape to this part of the shoreline for a little privacy. 

There wasn't a paved road from Avalon yet—but they could walk, ride a stagecoach, or take the Santa Catalina Island Incline Railway down from the amphitheatre (a.k.a. the Band Stand or Avalon Bowl) on the hill above. Unfortunately, funicular service ceased in 1923 and the amphitheatre was demolished in 1931.
The above was adapted loosely from my KCET article "Seven Best Places to Visit in and Around Avalon on Catalina Island."

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