Playful Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island

Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Plan To See The Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island

Catalina Island was the first stop on our cruise down the California coast with Oceania Cruises. We booked a fast boat trip to see the playful dolphins and sea lions on Catalina Island.

It was a return visit to Catalina Island for us. David seemed to remember little of that first visit, other than the flying fish that landed in our boat on our tour to see Two Harbours. The ship anchored in the harbour off of Avalon. And very quickly, our first visit to Catalina Island came back to us.

We were happy when we booked a fast boat ride for our visit to Catalina Island. On our recent trip to Page, Arizona we loved the chance to rent a speed boat and race over the waters of Lake Powell. While we did not drive the boat on this excursion, we knew the Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) gave us a fun and exciting ride.

Tendering To The Dock In Avalon

There were no large docks in Avalon, so all cruise ships anchored in the bay and guests were tendered into the dock in Avalon. As we approached the town, we saw the small boats in harbour around the large casino on the waterfront.

Avalon Harbour.jpg

Avalon Harbour Casino.jpg

We landed and walked with our tour guide over to the main dock. The semi-submersible boats were all lined up for the tours around the bays by Avalon. The semi-submersible that actually looked like a submarine was far more interesting than the one that looked more like a barge.

Avalon Harbour Semi Submersible Boats Sub.jpg

Our guide gave us the waiver to sign while we waited while the RHIB pulled up. Everyone was bundled up for the ride out to sea.

Avalon Harbour RHIB Tour Boat - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Avalon Harbour RHIB Tour Boat.jpg

We had a small group of about 12 people and we pretty much filled the front and back seats of the boat. Of course, we rode up front to not miss a sight. When the safety briefing was finished, we headed out to search for playful dolphins and sea lions on Catalina Island.

A Fast Trip Along The Shore

Once we cleared the harbour, the boat captain opened up the engine and we sped off. We moved along the sharp cliffs off the coast of Catalina Island. A large rock quarry was easily visible. As we moved out of the lee of the island, the still waters became much rougher.

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour.jpg

Avalon Shoreline RHIB Boat Tour.jpg

Avalon Shoreline RHIB Boat Tour.jpg

As we approached our first stopping point, we clearly saw where the soft sand bottom dropped off. Above the sand bottom we saw emerald coloured water. On the rocks guarding the cove, we saw large flocks of sea birds and pelicans. They provided the first show for us.

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour Pelicans.jpg

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour Pelicans - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour Pelicans.jpg

We enjoyed our fast boat ride along the shore on our excursion to see the dolphins and sea lions on Catalina Island.

Sea Lions And Birds On The Shore

As we approached the shore, we saw and heard the massive colony of sea lions. Harems lazed in separate groups. Pups splashed in the water.

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

The sea lions were found in this spot regularly. The shallower and clear waters were filled with small fish. But the bigger sea predators could also be seen easily. The sheer cliffs behind the cove protected the sea lions from land predators.

While we were stopped, we saw an eagle as it danced in the air with a hawk. Eagle sightings at this spot were a bit more rare.

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour American Bald Eagle - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Our first stop guaranteed we saw wildlife on our search for dolphins and sea lions on Catalina Island. We saw sea lions as they frolicked in La Jolla, Monterey and San Francisco on our spring road trip along the California coast. But we always liked to watch the show.

Searching For Dolphin Pods

Our captain and his mate took up their binoculars as we headed out away from shore. There were large pods of dolphins in the waters around the island. But we just needed to find one. They scanned the horizon looking for the telltale splashing of a large pod.

Just as we thought they were ready to give up, the boat turned direction and raced off. In minutes we were surrounded by a large pod of playful dolphins. They jumped in the waves singly or in large groups. The dolphins did not seem to mind our presence and often came close to the boat.

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Avalon RHIB Boat Tour - Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

We sat and watched the show the dolphins put on. It reminded us very much of the show the humpback whales put on when we went whale watching in Campbell River in British Columbia. To finish this exciting show, we saw a group of sea lions as they swam by porpoising as if they were dolphins too!

We got such an amazing show as we watched the playful dolphins and sea lions on Catalina Island.

A Fun Day With The Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island

Our tour was only booked for one hour. So before we knew it we headed back to Avalon Harbour. It was such a great outing to see dolphins and sea lions on Catalina Island. And a great way to start our cruise along the California Coast.

Our ship pulled up anchor about 6pm and headed south. The next stop on our cruise was a one day stop in Ensenada, Mexico. We had a very different day planned for Ensenada as we headed out into the Guadalupe Valley for wine tasting.

Did you see playful dolphins and sea lions on Catalina Island? Did they give you a great show?

PIN To Pinterest:

Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island.jpg

Dolphins And Sea Lions On Catalina Island

We would love if you could share this!
About TravelAtWill 737 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!


  1. This is awesome! I always love seeing animals in their true natural environment, trying not to disturb them of course! So glad you could experience this amazing adventure!

    • Iris, We were glad that our tour operator had the patience and time to keep searching for the pods of dolphins he knew were around. It was an amazing sight! Linda

  2. This is so cool. I love dolphins and sea lions, they are so playful. I have swam with both of them and I have really enjoyed both the swims. Absolutely amazing to see them in the wild, really cool experience. I am happy you had such a great experience.

  3. I love seeing wildlife when I travel, so long as the conditions are right. I swam with dolphins in New Zealand and it was a great experience. But swimming with seals in Kangaroo Island was even better!

  4. I love this!! I can’t believe you saw so many dolphins. They are always so personable and playful. The sea lions are a bit more lazy, lol, but they are still interesting to see. I’m glad you had the opportunity to do this while in California. So fun!!

  5. Must’ve been quite an experience seeing dolphins and sea lions doing what they do best, up close and personal. Having such kind of sightings is still there on my bucket list. And those submergible boats do look quite a thing.

  6. HI

    A great way to start your cruise along the California coast indeed. The visuals of the dolphin pods were amazing as they were performing some fantastic acrobatics. I guess the experience of the Master from the RHIB( Oceanic cruises ) helped in spotting the dolphin pods. Did you not see any of the sea lion colonies jumping into the water as you approached them. Some fantastic visuals indeed. RHIBs are lways a preferable option when it comes to speed boating and maneuvering

    • We were happy we took the small RHIB experience. It let us move faster to try and find the pods of dolphins. We were happy they were persistent in their searches. Linda

  7. A friend of mine got married on Catalina, and on the way over for a location search trip, our boat went through a huge pod of dolphins, and it was a magical moment. Consequently the wedding ended up having a dolphin theme….

  8. This looks quite exciting experience of seeing Dolphins and sea Lions up close in Personal. I have heard about Pier 36 has lots of them, but never heard about Catalina island of California. The captures are so beautiful, glad to know that your tour operator has patience to find the Dolphin’s pods.

    • Mayuri, We were surprised at how many dolphin pods there were around Catalina Island. A great treat for sure. We have seen sea lions in other places. But still fun to watch them lazing around. Linda

  9. What a cool way to spend an hour! I love that you guys went out in a boat to sit amongst the frolicking wildlife in their home. It’s so much kinder and more authentic than gawking at animals behind bars. I hear that Dolphins really do love to put on a show for the tour boats – whether that’s us just humanising them or not, who knows, but still very cool to witness.

    • Emma, We were so glad we found the big pod. They did seem to be putting on a show. And then it was hilarious when the seals started to mimic the dolphin moves. A fun excursion for sure. Loved the smaller boat to be closer to the water. Linda

  10. Wow i have never seen sea lions and dolphins. The dolphin watching looks so amazing. Would love to visit Catalina island one day. Thanks for this virtual tour. Hope to travel again real soon

  11. Living in Norway I somehow have the sea lions connected with cold climate and it suprised me that you can watch them in California. Silly me! 🙂 Thank you for sharing tips for this lovely place. Do you by any chance know if there are good conditions for free diving or snorkeling?

    • Radka, We have seen sea lions all the way down the coast of California. But this was the first time we found them on Catalina Island. A nice surprise. There is good snorkelling and scuba diving on Catalina Island. Not sure about free diving. But the cliff sides on the shore go straight up in places. We expect the surface under the water to be similar. Linda

  12. I’ll love to have this experience. What an amazing place. I have seen Catalina Island on Pinterest many times, I just didn’t believe how beautiful and breath-taking the place truly is. Reading about your experience makes me want to visit here. The picture of the sea lions and dolphins is just awesome and travelling in a speed boat to get there is simply a dream of mine.

    • Bolupe, This was our second visit to Catalina Island. And we know we will be back. It was nice to get out on the water in a fast boat to chase the dolphin pods on this visit. Linda

  13. Catalina Island looks like an absolute paradise. Getting a glimpse of Dolphins and sea lions would be such a gret treat to the eyes. The only time I have seen dolphins from very close quarters was in Durban in South Africa and their show. The lovely blue waters of the island are so enticing and I can imagine the great time you would have had.

    • Roy, We missed the dolphins when we visited Durban. But I am sure they were fun there too. We loved catching this big group. They sure did put on a show for us. Linda

  14. I have boated through this huge groups of dolphins out by the Channel Islands as well and wow they are just mind blowing. This must have been a really fun cruise and it sounds like you saw som eincredible wildlife and you got some stunning photos.

    • Alice, We were surprised with how big the group of dolphins was. Certainly the largest we ever found. We need to go back and see more of the Channel Islands. Linda

  15. Wow it must be great to see playful dolphins and sea lions on Catalina island as I have seen dolphins in Oman but never seen sea lions in their natural habitat. Those sea lions cuddling on the shore look very beautiful and you have captured them very naturally. It is good you went in a small group of 12 persons in one ship as all could have got beautiful sight of jumping dolphins.

  16. Wow, you saw both Sea lIons and Dolphins in their wild. Would love to do such boat tours. I absolutely love Dolphins and it makes me really excited to see them jumping. I like the idea of opting for small boat tours. Looks like you had so much fun in this tour 🙂

    • Swati, We were so glad we chose the small RHIB boat for this excursion. A great way to have fun. And move about fast. It was great that we were able to see so much on this excursion. Linda

  17. I love boat tours like this! Especially when they’re such small groups! What type of dolphins were they?

    • Leah, We were so happy we took this smaller boat. Fast and able to get closer. The dolphins were just “common” dolphins! But in such a great big group and playful too. A lot of fun. Linda

  18. The dolphins and sea lines are so beautiful and to see them in their own setting is delightful. The semi-submersible boat is really cool. Would love to have a ride in one on Catalina Island. Lovely photos you managed to take.

  19. That’s a wonderful day you spent looking for dolphins and sea lions. This tour in Catalina Island is surely going to my list. I have never seen sea lions in real in my life yet. Also, the RHIB ride seemed to be surely fun. Are there anything else to do in the island?

    • Shreya, There is a lot to do on Catalina Island. We spent 3 days there and found lots to see and do. The RHIB trip was fun. We were surprised with the large group of dolphins. Linda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.