Sheltered cove, open sandy beach, camping availability, easy anchorage, good diving. Sound like a plan? Have a boat? You need to head to Catalina Island’s Goat Harbor. Located amidships the lee side of Catalina Island (about the middle facing the mainland), Goat Harbor provides a safe anchorage during a storm and a darn nice camping site pretty much anytime.

The “U” shaped harbor is about half a mile wide with well-formed reef structure on either point and a sandy beach in the middle. It’s one of those simple places that’s not really noted for anything extraordinary. Diving is good but it’s no Farnsworth Bank; however, it has so many comfortable attributes that it’s really fun to visit, especially when rest and relaxation are the primary objective. The boater can easily anchor in the calm waters and wade or swim ashore, or take the dingy. At Goat Harbor you can spend the night on the boat or sit by the light of the campfire and perhaps go for an evening dip in the clear water.

There are no moorings at the cove so it’s up to the individual to anchor sensibly, especially being considerate of others. There is room for 8 to 12 boats depending on the size and how cozy you prefer to be. Fees vary depending on length of boat and length of stay. Contact the Catalina Harbor Dept at 310/510-2683 to make reservations and check the web site for a price list and other information about this and other anchorages around the island.

Diving at Goat Harbor is leisurely and relaxing. The greatest stress the diver faces is deciding which side of the cove to explore, then hiking down the beach to get there. Granted it’s possible to swim to the dive sites, but boat traffic within the cove is a definite reason for caution. Reef structure begins at the shore and extends perpendicularly to the beach out to a depth of 60+ feet. The way the reef is situated shelters the cove from most currents so the diving experience seems more like an aquarium than the ocean. The reef consists of large boulders that provide a foothold for the resident kelp forest and security for the inhabitants. The fish population is consistent with small reefs offering a variety of rockfish, kelp bass, blacksmith, and ever-present garibaldi. Peering out of the cracks, an occasional lobster can be spotted, but be careful where you put your hands—moray eels live here, too. The thing to remember about diving these reefs is that most of the critters are small and to observe them you need to slow down and take your time in exploring. If you bring fast-paced freeway mentality to this area you will only end up with a severe case of “reef-rage” and overlook all the possibilities that abound. This is particularly true when exploring the sandy areas adjacent to the reef. To the uneducated this might appear like an underwater desert until you slow down, look carefully, and experience an angel shark, a ray, a halibut, or the myriad of filter feeding animals that call this area home.

If scuba is not your forté, snorkeling is great along the edges of the reef. It is somewhat limited due to the depth of the water, but close to shore a myriad of opportunities await. Words of caution however, don’t snorkel away from the reef because of boat traffic. It can be a busy place and a snorkeler is just too hard to see.

Photographers will have a great time here. It’s easy getting in and out of the water, and with minimal current you won’t feel like you’re playing bumper cars with the reef while trying to capture an image. Bring along a macro lens to capture nudibranchs and juvenile fish within the reef. Your wide-angle lens is also appropriate for kelp and its inhabitants. Schools of baitfish within the kelp forest are always spectacular. If you want a challenge, then try your hand at photographing the sand dwellers—normally a backscatter nightmare—but less painful without current. Typically, you will find a variety of crabs, various filter feeding organisms like sea pens, and the occasional flounder willing to pose. (I suggest adding a little weight to your belt to anchor yourself on the bottom.)

There are lots of above water photo opportunities as well. I’ve never seen a goat in the harbor (although sheephead are plentiful on the reef), but fox frequent the campsite.

Boat-in camping is popular here. Sites are well spaced and roomy enough to spread out a little. If this is on the agenda, then you need to plan accordingly as there are a limited number of sites available (about 10). These are reserved on a first come basis. Call ahead. Authorities check the harbor regularly and collect unpaid fees and eject those who exceed the harbor’s capacity. If you want a campfire, bring your own wood; there is none available here, although it might be found in a store at the Isthmus. Also, there are no “facilities” here—use the head and shower on your boat. Be prepared with food, beer, ice and water, etc., as there are no supplies here either.
All of your needs can be filled at the Isthmus, but it’s a really long haul in a dingy and a hassle to pull anchor, trek to the Isthmus, then return only to find your spot taken just because you forgot the burger buns. Also no compressor either; bring plenty of tanks.

There is something very appealing about spending a night on your boat, grilling steaks on the BBQ and enjoying the evening stars overhead after a relaxing day of exploring the Catalina reefs. And nothing tastes quite as good as fresh coffee and breakfast as the sun welcomes another day in paradise. If you have the means, then you owe yourself this treat.

Dive Spot At A Glance
: South side of Catalina Island N 33.41.65 W 118.39.61.
Anchorages/moorings: 10-12 depending on size of boats.
Closest services: Two harbors at the Isthmus. Groceries, marine hardware, dive shop.
What to bring: Everything you think you will need.
Diving level: Novice to intermediate.
Depths: 10 to 70 feet.
Visibility: Good.