Dolphin Discovery on Catalina Island

Catalina Island may be only a few miles — and less than an hour by boat — from the Southern California coast, but it feels like a world away. It was on Catalina Island where I had my unforgettable dolphin encounter.

Catalina Ocean Rafting hosted me for a two-hour, 20-mile dolphin discovery excursion to explore the Catalina coast.

Dolphins off Catalina Island

Dolphins play off the coast of Catalina Island. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

I was a little uncertain when I first saw the small rubber-sided boat. I love the water. It invigorates me and makes me feel alive. But, I am not a swimmer. Determined to brave the waves, I donned my life vest, zipped my jacket against the early morning breeze, grabbed the arm of a fellow journalist, and climbed aboard.

On the water with Catalina Ocean Rafting

On the water with Catalina Ocean Rafting. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

As is common in the travel industry, Wander With Wonder sometimes receives complimentary products and services. However, you can always count on Wander With Wonder to report with honesty and integrity on those places we believe offer wonderful opportunities for our readers. Wander earns income from ads and affiliate links on our site. Some of those links are for Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, Wander earns from qualifying purchases. None of these practices influence our reporting, but we believe in full disclosure. For further information please visit our legal page.

We headed down the Catalina coast for a few miles before turning out to sea. It wasn’t long before we encountered the dolphin. Not just a few dolphins. We came across a huge pod of dolphins. Our guide estimated close to 200 of the beautiful animals in the pod. I forgot to be nervous about the boat because the water was incredibly deep. It was magical. The dolphin seemed to dance around the boat in a carefully choreographed ballet.

They came right to the boat’s sides, gracefully making arcs around us. Small babies followed in the wake of the larger animals. I even spotted one dolphin with a set of twins following her.

We sat for the longest time watching the graceful parade of dolphins off the Catalina coast. I was so in awe of these creatures. I realized I hadn’t taken many photos. I’d been so busy watching the dolphin play in the water that I never thought about my camera. At that point, I tried to take a few shots, but the dolphin moved so fast that, for the most part, I ended up with pictures of water.

After we enjoyed the dolphin for a while longer, our guide from Catalina Ocean Rafting took us closer to shore to look for more wildlife. The trip was filled with the wonders of that small island. We spotted sea lions, harbor seals, a variety of birds, and a large bald eagle that kept calling to her mate. We explored hidden coves. Bird nests sat high above us on rocky outcroppings.

As we returned to the dock, I realized I was no longer uncomfortable on the little boat. I watched a luxury cruise ship anchored off the island near the shore. The ship would be filled with great food, entertainment, luxury suites. But I had my dolphin. I’d found my wow moment on a little yellow motorized rubber boat, sitting just a few feet above the water.

Thanks to Catalina Ocean Rafting for giving me the chance of a lifetime.

If you go…

Catalina Ocean Rafting
Catalina Island, California
2-hour, 20-mile tours start at $73

Written by Susan Lanier-Graham

Founder and publisher Susan Lanier-Graham has traveled the world for the past twenty years, filling a passport or two along the way. She has wandered through the jungles of Thailand, explored the mysteries of the Great Pyramids, and shared the night with a leopard in Zambia. She sailed in the Mediterranean, sipped her way through Burgundy canals and Champagne caves. She followed Rembrandt’s footsteps through Amsterdam. Susan found her center on the red rocks of Sedona and soaked up an exquisite sunset over the Indian Ocean in Bali. Susan is always looking for wow moments around the world or across the street to share with adventure lovers everywhere. She has authored more than 75 books and hundreds of magazine articles. Susan is an award-winning travel writer and member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). She is a Certified California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). Susan is also the managing editor of North Peoria Lifestyle, a print lifestyle publication in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Susan's work regularly appears in print and online in a variety of publications. These include various AAA publications, Postcards for Travel Leaders,,,,, Paradise Valley City Lifestyle, Scottsdale City Lifestyle, So Scottsdale, Green Living AZ, Modern Luxury,, WHERE Arizona, WHERE Traveler Phoenix + Scottsdale, and more.

You May Also Like…


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest food, wine & travel updates! We look forward to having you Wander with us.

You have Successfully Subscribed!