You’ve all seen them in the travel brochures—deserted island beaches with green hills surrounding a secluded cove. Don’t head for the airport to jump on a plane! We have them right here in Southern California. One of the best is Parson’s Landing on Catalina Island. Once more, there is great snorkeling and diving right offshore. And you can camp right on the beach! As you plan your trips for this summer, put Parson’s on your list for a relaxing afternoon— or a whole weekend.

Parson’s Landing lies just west of Arrow Point on the west end of Catalina’s frontside. It is a long, sweeping cove with a sand and gravel beach ashore and rocky reefs to the east and west. There are some rocks at the center of the cove as well. The anchorage is good on the mostly sand bottom. The cove is protected from most weather except northerly gusts. This is a good cove for mainland private skippers with some experience that want to stretch their sea legs beyond the more protected east end and Isthmus Cove.

And the diving is great, not just for the serious aquaholic, but the family snorkelers are well. There are reefs on the east and west with healthy growths of kelp. Snorkeling is excellent on both sides in 5 to 15 feet of water. Summer sunshine penetrates the kelp canopy and illuminates the many fish below on the shallow reefs displaying colors of garibaldi, opaleye, calico bass, halfmoons, and more. In the shallow rocks you will spot green abalone. Once abundant, they are now protected. Do not disturb. Snorkeling is also good off the beach. In the sand and gravel you will see leopard sharks, bat rays and halibut.

At scuba depths the bottom becomes more varied and life more diverse. Lobsters are abundant, although many are shorts. In the rock holes with the lobster are moray eels. Bring a light to fully explore all the nooks and crannies.

The reef profile rises from a 45-foot sand bottom in the cove to about 25 feet and then bumps up and down in toward shore. On the outside, the rocks end in sand at 55 feet. The outside area is prone to currents, but inside the cove it is generally not a problem. In the center of a cove is an isolated reef marked with a patch of kelp and a small sailboat wreck, less than 30 feet long, slightly to the west, in 40 feet of water. It, too, is marked by kelp growing on the hull that extends to the surface.

This is a great fish dive, most likely due to the healthy kelp forests in the area. For the spearfisher, most of the fish are on the small side, but if you want to try your best bet, other than halibut previously mentioned, would be for calico bass in the kelp forest and yellowtail on the outside. There is abundant sheephead but most are small. Rockfish can be found returning to the outer reef but again, too small.

The photographer will have fun with the excellent kelp vistas mixed with the many fish. Gorgonian sea fans in gold and red accentuate the underwater scene. Water clarity here is not the best Catalina has to offer but it is still very good, averaging 35 feet, with 50 not unusual. Macro photo opportunities come mainly in the form or small fish such as the yellow and black-striped treefish, ghost gobies, blue-banded gobies, and scorpionfish. Nudibranches dot the reef here and there as well.

This is an excellent spot to lounge away an afternoon after multiple morning dives. You’ll notice that on shore are picnic benches and maybe even a tent or two. Camping is allowed here although it is primitive. For information on camping ashore at Parson’s call (310) 510-3577 or visit on the web as there is a fee.

Dive Spot At A Glance

Location: Just west of Arrow point on the west end of Catalina’s frontside. Clearly marked on nautical charts.
Access: Mainly boat although those inclined to hiking (with permit) can access the cove from Two Harbors. In the summer shoreboats will take you to the pier at Emerald Bay then it is a 1.25 mile hike to the cove.
Skill Level: All
Depths: 20 to 55 feet
Snorkeling: Very good
Visibility: Good, averaging 35 feet
Photography: Excellent wide angle in lush, healthy kelp forest with a lot of fish. Good macro mainly for small fish, some invertebrates.
Hunting: Lobster in season. Spearfishing for halibut, calico bass and yellowtail on the outside.
Hazards: Can be rough if north wind kicks up. Current on the outside.
Facilities: Picnic tables, fire rings and chemical toilets on shore for permitted campers. Call (310) 510-3577 or visit on the web.