Just off the coast of Southern California in the waters surrounding Catalina Island resides an underwater civilization as awe-inspiring as the city above. To see it, the experienced divers of Catalina Snorkel and Scuba outfit explorers of all skill levels to swim over the marine landscape, leading journeys into the protected Casino Point Underwater Dive Park, the kelp forest, and Lover's Cove—which made Coastal Living's Top Spots to Snorkel. In addition to guiding tours, Catalina Snorkel and Scuba also rents snorkeling equipment and leads classes that range from introductory dives to advanced, postcertification scuba training to become the next Aquaman.
Disguised in wetsuits, flippers, and diving masks, humans almost seem indistinguishable from the scores of aquatic life that thrive among the San Diego coastline. In the water, curious sea lions tug playfully at divers' fins, and thick stalks of kelp wave like Queen Elizabeth telling the gathered crowd to go home already. With access to five separate sites in which to see such wonders, the guides at San Diego Excellent Adventures tailor their adventures—whether snorkeling, diving, or paddling—around the experience level of each tour group, ensuring an easy assimilation to undersea life.
During guided dives along La Jolla Shores, swimmers peer in on frolicking creatures such as lobsters, octopuses, and leopard sharks, and standup paddleboards grant access to Mission Bay's shoreline views previously seen only by terribly lost Venetian gondoliers. Currently the largest manmade bay in the country, Mission is known for its calm waters suited to beginners just learning to explore the ocean.
At La Jolla Water Sports, guides undergo extensive training before captaining snorkeling excursions into the calm, crystalline waters of the Pacific. The experts escort 6 to 12 patrons at a time on shark tours of the shallow, sandy flats where small-mouthed leopard sharks up to 5 feet long lounge on their easy chairs of sand. Snorkeling tours of the La Jolla cove grant participants, including beginners and kids, a siren's-eye view of rock formations, underwater flora, and marina critters including garibaldi fish, sea cucumbers, anemones, and starfish. The most action-packed of La Jolla Water Sports's offerings are the spearfishing tours in which leaders expound on the importance of safety and proper form as customers skewer fish before schlepping them home for dinner or as treats for pet grizzly bears.
At La Jolla Shores, the ocean bottom slopes gently out to sea and the waves roll gently toward the beach, where seals can be found sleeping in the sun. This unique ecology makes the area an ideal entryway into the ocean, which the native La Jollan owners of La Jolla Kayak take full advantage of, leading kayaking excursions past the steep cliffs and through the secluded sea caves where humans first learned to douse fire. Alternatively, snorkel tours allow explorers to dive into the 6,000-acre Underwater Park to spy the leopard shark, garibaldi, and dolphins swimming underfoot. To facilitate journeys, La Jolla Kayak transports visitors' kayaks to the beach straight from its outfitting shop, which also houses complimentary lockers and rents out wetsuits to keep love-struck sea lions from slipping notes into divers' pockets.
Kayak and dive shop Everyday California, formerly OEX, wrangles an experienced team of experts to escort patrons on scuba-diving and snorkeling tours. The shop as been lauded by publications including the Chicago Tribune for its exploration of the earth's watery expanses that offer glimpses of marine creatures such as sea turtles, sea lions, seals, dolphins, and cormorants. Kayak tours take paddlers out on a variety of adventures, including destinations such as seven sea caves, the paths of migrating gray whales, and underwater kelp forests. The PADI 5 Star–certified shop also rents out scuba-diving gear suitable for all experience levels, as well as kayaks, snorkel gear, surfboards, paddleboards, and saddles for baby belugas.
Enthusiastic instructors at OEX Mission Bay invite beginning and experienced adventurers into the cerulean waters of the Pacific. The outpost began as a kayak and freediving center, but has since branched out to include standup paddleboard, outrigger canoes, and poker tournaments with local sea bass. Staff members happily help sea student get fitted with the perfect-sized gear and train them in basic safety before their expedition over and under the blue bay waters.
Over the course of its 22-year existence, Ocean Experience Surf School has helped somewhere in the neighborhood of over 15,000 students to safely discover and refine their passion for watersports. Students 6 or older hop atop surfboards, paddleboards, and kayaks for on-the-water practice under the care of experienced instructors during private lessons and group classes.
The local press and community showers the school's companion retail outlet with praise, which won both the Best Surf Shop and Best Skate Shop in CityBeat's 2010 Readers' Poll. In an effort to give back to the community, the organization runs an afterschool sports program offering surfing and skateboarding lessons to kids up to 18 years old and adults with a note from a certified kindergarten teacher.