You might be surprised to know that located just off the coast of Southern California, only an hour by boat, lies an island paradise known as Santa Catalina Island.
Catalina Island is one of California’s eight-channel islands and is just 76 square miles in size. It’s known for its beautiful blue waters, spectacular dive spots, and small island vibe.
To help you make the most of your visit to the island, I’ve put together this weekend guide to Catalina.
Getting To Catalina Island
Just getting to Catalina Island is fun. Daily ferries to the main town of Avalon, or the more remote Two Harbors, operate daily from several California ports, including the following:
- Dana Point Harbor
- Long Beach Harbor
- Newport Beach Harbor
- San Pedro Harbor
Ferry rides typically take about an hour, and tickets cost approximately $40 each way for adults depending on the day of the week and the time of year you choose to visit. Be sure to get a window seat as you will likely spot pods of dolphins along the way or perhaps even a whale if you’re lucky.
Another way to get to Catalina is to splurge on a helicopter ride! Helicopter rides are pricey, but you can fly from Long Beach to Catalina in just fifteen minutes!
Where To Stay On Catalina Island
From luxury hotels to private rentals and even campgrounds, there is no shortage of places to stay on Catalina Island. One of the best places to start is the Catalina Island Company.
Avalon is the main city and offers more options of accommodation than anywhere else on the island. Some of the most popular hotels and bed & breakfasts line Crescent Avenue, the main street surrounding Avalon Bay.
There are also a multitude of places to stay, lining the streets running perpendicular to Crescent. The hotels of Avalon are all quite charming, many painted in pastel shades or offering ocean views with outdoor fire pits.
The town of Two Harbors to the north also offers accommodations, although there aren’t quite as many options as Avalon.
Additionally, the island has designated campgrounds for those who want a more rugged island experience in Avalon and Two Harbors. There is primitive camping along the Trans-Catalina Trail at Black Jack and Parson’s Landing, which offer a unique experience in the secluded, more remote parts of the island.
Hotels and Vacation Rentals
Catalina Island has lots of accommodation options. If you are looking for budget-friendly accommodation here are 5 mid-range and budget Catalina Island hotels and villas:
- The Avalon Hotel – A three-star hotel with 15 rooms, a rooftop terrace, a garden and is located close to Catalina Island Museum.
- The Pavilion Hotel – The Pavilion Hotel offers 73 rooms ranging from kings rooms to rooms with two double beds. The three and a half star hotel is located close to the beach and just a one-minute walk from the Avalon Pier.
- Hamilton Cove Villa – This historic condo has an open floor plan, with three bedrooms and stunning ocean views.
- Ocean View Home – This three-bedroom home has been newly remodeled with modern amenities. It is within walking distance of the city center and even has a BBQ deck.
- Hamilton Cove Villa 2 – Imagine bi-folding doors, an incredible view from the balcony and enough space to sleep six people in two bedrooms.
The primary mode of transportation on Catalina Island is by golf cart. Visitors are not allowed to drive cars on the island and most residents rely on golf carts to get around. Although you can walk to most places in Avalon, there are plenty of golf cart rental shops there.
Renting a cart for the day is a great way to get the lay of the land and an overview of Avalon in a short period of time. Just note that Catalina’s interior is off-limits to golf carts, so a 2-hour rental is usually plenty of time if you want to explore.
The city of Avalon also has a public bus service through the Avalon Transit as well as Dial-A-Ride for Seniors 55 and older and those with disabilities who require assistance.
Things To Do
Catalina Aerial Adventure
The Catalina Aerial Adventure is also located near the Descanso Beach Club, which is basically an obstacle course nestled amongst the Eucalyptus trees high above with 5 different self-guided courses.
The courses include networks of rope ladders, balance beams, zip lines and bridges. There are 2 beginner courses, 2 intermediate courses and 1 advanced course, perfect for all skill levels.
Avalon’s Golf Gardens Mini Golf is an 18-hole mini-golf course that’s been an island staple for fun for almost 50 years.
If you book a bison tour or a 4-wheel drive eco-tour, it’s a perfect way to end the day because the tours drop you off right next to the golf course.
Catalina Island is home to a herd of approximately 120-150 American Bison. The Catalina Island Conservancy works to protect these magnificent creatures and you can see them up close and personal by booking a two-hour, 4-wheel drive Bison Eco Tour.
Seeing them is quite incredible, plus this is a great way to get a glimpse of some of the more remote stretches of the island’s interior.
Descanso Beach Club
If you are looking to spend the day relaxing, toes in the sand, a drink in hand, then Avalon’s Descanso Beach Club is just what you’ve been waiting for. The Beach Club offers white sand beaches surrounded by palm trees swaying overhead in the ocean breeze.
From the center of town, stroll along the waterfront past the iconic Catalina Casino to reach this private beach open to the public. The Beach Club is the island’s only beachside restaurant and bar where you can sit and have cocktails right on the sand.
Whether you prefer an ocean-view table, a chaise lounge, or a private cabana rental, your food and drinks will be delivered right to you. The club also offers live DJs playing every Saturday during the summer and is open daily from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Looking for an adrenaline rush? Experience the thrill of soaring above the tree line at heights up to 600 feet above sea level on a Zip Line Eco Tour.
There are five high-speed zip lines to choose from, some of which travel up to 40 miles per hour with a bird’s eye view of the island.
Catalina Rock Climbing Wall at Descanso
Located near the Zip Line Eco Tour base camp is a 32-foot rock climbing wall with 8 color-coded routes designed for skill levels ranging from novice to advanced.
Using a high-tech system that manages the lines, the wall offers novice climbers the ability to be lowered safely and slowly during descent, so it’s perfect for those with no experience and young kids. It also has more challenging routes up for those who are pros so that the experts won’t get bored.
Arcade & Mini Bowling
The Three Palms Avalon Arcade offers games, prizes and big-screen TVs. It’s a fun spot to play or watch a game. It is also home to the Island Style Bowling, a mini-bowling alley with miniature bowling balls where you can order food, beer, and wine while you play.
Discover the underwater world of Catalina Island and its unique protected marine habitat by booking either a glass-bottom boat ride or a semi-submarine tour at Avalon Bay.
The glass-bottom boats offer windows into the world below full of colorful fish and sea life as you explore the Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve. Both rides are typically 45 minutes long.
A great way to spend the day, especially in the summer when water temperatures are an average of 70°F, is to go snorkeling. You can bring your own gear or rent it at several locations. There are also guided snorkeling tours that you can book.
Some of the best spots to observe an array of underwater marine life in Avalon are at Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve or the Casino Point Dive Park. You can also head to Two Harbors on the other side of the island to escape the crowds and explore one of the world’s best snorkel spots.
Wrigley Memorial And Botanical Gardens
The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens is located up Avalon Canyon, a 30-minute stroll from the center of town. The city bus can also take you to its entrance.
The grounds are beautiful and home to the popular Garden to Sky Trail. The monument itself is the centerpiece of the gardens honoring William Wrigley, Jr., an island resident who was probably best known for his chewing gum.
While standing at the top of the monument, you will have a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area and can even see the other side of the island in the distance.
Catalina Island Museum
The Catalina Island Museum opened its doors in 1953 and was previously housed in the historic Catalina Casino. In 2016, it moved to its new home in the Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building.
There are over 18,000 square feet of exhibition space and its exterior design represents both the Spanish Mission style and the Art Deco influence of the 1920s. It houses exhibits related to the island’s unique history and is a fun place to explore.
The Catalina Casino is one of the best-known historic landmarks on the island, often photographed for travel magazines, but it’s actually not a casino at all. The Catalina Casino is actually a large gathering facility with a movie theater and ballroom that used to house the Catalina Island Museum.
It’s a great spot for a leisurely afternoon stroll, especially if you are heading over to the Descanso Beach Club.
Have More Time?
If you have more than a weekend and are looking for something more adventurous than window shopping the palm tree-lined streets and sipping Pina Coladas in a cabana on white-sand beaches, then the Trans Catalina Trail might be just what you’re looking for.
An astonishing 88% of Catalina Island is protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy, including the Trans Catalina Trail that traverses the island, covering 38.5 miles. The trail typically takes 4 days to hike.
It takes you across the rugged island interior through the West End of the Island with camping stops next to beautiful, pristine beaches that are otherwise not easily accessible.
End of the conclusion paragraph: I hope you can see that Catalina Island is an incredible place to visit with so many diverse activities and sights. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation, exciting water sports, or just want some peace and quiet away from it all – this island has something for everyone!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Catalina Island, California. If you have any more questions about what activities are worth doing on your trip or how to get there don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below. We’ll do our best to answer them as soon as possible. Until then…have fun exploring Catalina Island!
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