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California North America Outdoors

Things to do in Catalina Island

Catalina Island (also known as Santa Catalina Island) is located off the coast of Southern California, about 24 miles from Long Beach. It has been the location for more than 500 movies and is known for its SoCal sunshine, pristine waters, secluded coves, stunning natural beauty, and so much more. Whether you’re looking for a quick getaway from Southern California or an epic outdoor adventure, anyone can find fun things to do in Santa Catalina Island. Here are the best things to do in Catalina Island.

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How to Get to Catalina Island

The island is accessible by an approximately one-hour ferry ride, helicopter, or private plane. However, the Catalina Express ferry is the fastest, safest, and most frequent form of transportation to Catalina Island. The company operates a fleet of high-speed, high-tech vessels providing up to 30 departures daily year-round. Read more about the Catalina Express safety protocols here.

Take the Catalina Express from Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point to Avalon. It’s about an hour and ten minutes from Long Beach and San Pedro, and about an hour and twenty minutes from Dana Point. During your ride, you may spot some marine Life and land animal sightings. 

If you purchased your Catalina Island tickets with access to the Commodore Lounge you’ll be able to board early. Commodore Lounge tickets give you seating in the Commodore Lounge, priority check-in and boarding, a beverage of choice, and snacks. Click here for pricing information on Catalina Express tickets.

Overnight parking is available at each terminal. Parking fees are as followed:
San Pedro – $20 per day
Long Beach – $22 per day
Dana Point – $20 per day

TIPS:

  • If you get seasick do take Dramamine beforehand.
  • Arriving at least 1 hour prior to departure is recommended to navigate parking and the terminal. You’ll go to the ticket window to pick up your physical tickets before boarding.
  • When you are departing via the Catalina Express from Avalon to Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point arrive at the dock at least 30 minutes prior to departure.

Things to Do in Catalina Island 

There are so many fun things to do on Catalina Island, from riding golf carts around Avalon, to taking a bison tour in the middle of the island and relaxing at Harbor Sands in Two Harbors. “Things to do in Catalina Island” is divided into two sections: “Things to Do in Avalon” and “Things to do in Two Harbors.” For context, the city of Avalon is the most populous part of the island with around 4,000 residents, many restaurants and hotels, shops, tour excursions, and more. Whereas Two Harbors, on the “other side of the island” is more secluded, home to about 200 residents, has one main restaurant, and a few accommodation options. See below for Catalina Island things to do.

Things to Do in Avalon, Catalina

Avalon is the main town on the island and where most people go when visiting Catalina Island. Here are the best things to do in Avalon and from Avalon (some tours will pick you up from Avalon and take you to a different part of the island which is noted below). 

Rent a Golf Cart to Tour Around Avalon

The main area of Avalon is very walkable, however, if you want to tour around to see the most in a short amount of time you’ll need a golf cart. There are only so many cars allowed on Catalina Island so you’ll mostly see residents driving around via golf carts. Golf carts are also available to tourists but you can only rent them for one to two hours. This “drive at your own pace” adventure will take you along the coastline and over the hills of Avalon where you can stop at scenic outlooks with breathtaking views and photo ops of Avalon Bay. Pick up a map before you set off or check out one here to map your route

You can see a lot in a short amount of time. I suggest a two-hour golf cart rental from Catalina Golf Cart Rentals. A reservation is recommended to guarantee you a golf cart. This is highly recommended during the high season and when there is a cruise stopping on the island that day. Renting a golf cart is one of the best Catalina Island tours (self-tour).

MUST KNOW BEFORE RENTING:

  • Drivers must be 25 years of age or older and have a valid driver’s license 
  • The pickup address is 625 Crescent Ave (only a 5-minute walk from the ferry dock)
  • Check in 15 minutes prior to rental time 
  • Don’t forget your camera, GoPro, and other devices as you’ll want to capture all the views

Zip Line Eco Tour 

Get ready to take off on an adrenaline-fueled adventure on Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour. This Catalina zipline tour is one of Catalina Island’s top-rated excursions and a must for the adventure seeker! 

You’ll begin your two-hour adventure with a safety briefing, gear up, and climb aboard a shuttle that will take you to the ridge top of Descanso Canyon where you’ll be greeted with sweeping ocean views! Zip across five separate lines at speeds approaching 35 mph, across the canyon, and through a grove of towering eucalyptus trees. This was one of my favorite activities in Catalina and is a fun and unique way to explore Catalina, ziplining over the canyon with ocean views.

Paddleboarding and Kayaking  

If you’re looking to get out on the water go for a guided kayaking tour! You can also opt to kayak on your own or paddleboard with a rental. Descanso Beach Ocean Sports offers tours and rentals 

Descanso Beach Ocean Sports offers various tours where you can explore the coastline of Catalina Island in a modern, easy to maneuver, stable sit-on-top kayak. And watch out for wildlife, you may spot a harbor seal, a bald eagle, and more. 

TIPS:

  • Arrive at 20 minutes prior for paperwork, orientation, equipment assignment
  • Be dressed to get wet (feet and seat). They have sandals for if you do not have your own
  • Bring you own towels and a change of clothes if needed

Snorkeling at Descanso Beach Ocean Sports 

Descanso Beach Ocean Sports also offers snorkeling gear rentals. For the full experience opt for one of their kayaking and snorkel packages to explore the waters from above and below the surface.

Hiking in Catalina Island from Avalon

Looking for some hikes from Avalon? There are a few trails that you can hike from Avalon including the ones below.

Starts in or near Downtown Avalon 

Starts at or near Hermit Gulch campground

  • Hermit Gulch Trail to Lone Tree Point – 5.9-mile loop trail – 1,509 ft elevation gain – rated moderate
  • Garden to Sky Trail (starts at The Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, there’s a $12 fee to access the gardens) – 2.8-mile out and back trail – 731 ft elevation gain – rated moderate

There are also a handful of hikes you can do from Airport in the Sky and Little Harbor. If you’re staying in Avalon you can take a shuttle to and from Airport in the Sky and Little Harbor with Wildlands Express. Do note that reservations are required.

Hiking outside of Avalon with Catalina Backcountry 

Heading to Catalina and looking for some outdoor adventure? Go hiking with Catalina Backcountry! If you’re looking to get off the beaten path and want to hike outside of Avalon Catalina Backcountry will take you there. 

You’ll get picked up at your hotel in Avalon and be driven to a part of Catalina that not every visitor gets to experience. You can experience the following and more with one of Catalina Backcountry private guided hikes

  • Airport Loop – 2.8-mile hike (3-hour total excursion time)
  • Divide Hike – 5-mile hike (3-hour total excursion time)
  • Little Harbor via the Trans Catalina Trail – 6-mile hike (5-hour total excursion time)
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Things to note when hiking in Catalina:

  • Be aware of rattlesnakes and other wildlife
  • Keep a distance from bison
  • Bring plenty of water, most trails don’t have any shade

See “hikes from Two Harbors” under “Things to do in Two Harbors” below

Check out the Catalina Casino

Whether you check out the Catalina Casino via a tour or from the viewpoint, visiting this iconic landmark is a must. You can opt for one of the tours that take you inside the casino, the Discover the Casino and Behind the Scenes Casino, watch a movie at the Avalon Theatre, or attend one of the Casino galas

If you’re wondering what to do in Catalina and one spending the day in Avalon add the Casino to your itinerary.

Catalina Island Bison Expedition

This two-hour tour will take you to Middle Canyon and Cape Canyon in Catalina’s Interior for an exciting tour where you’ll spot the iconic bison of Catalina. You’ll meet at Bison Expedition Island Tour Plaza in Avalon and travel along a combination of dirt and paved scenic, and windy roads through Catalina’s rugged outback. Keep your eyes out for bison, foxes, and eagles on this amazing off-road adventure. This Bison Expedition is one of the best Catalina tours.

Catalina Ghost Tour

Haunted Catalina offers a one-and-a-half-hour walking tour around Avalon showing you. The entire walk is around one mile and is on flat paved ground. And yes, this tour is wheelchair accessible.

The walk features personal paranormal encounters and verified, yet unexplained, happenings that have happened on the island. This is definitely a fun and spooky Catalina Island to do!

This tour begins at the base of the Green Pier in downtown Avalon.

Parasail with a view of Avalon

Soar up to 800 feet above the water and enjoy beautiful views of Avalon with California Parasail. Each flight can accommodate two or three people at a time. And Parasailing Catalina is dedicated to safety, all captains are USCG licensed.

You can opt for a photo package or bring phones and cameras on the boat. You’ll be advised that your devices can get wet since this is a water activity so plan accordingly. 

The offices of California Parasail are located at 105 Pebbly Beach Road, across from the basketball courts. This is a short walk between town and the ferry dock.

Visit the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden

Did you know that there’s a Catalina Island botanical garden? The Catalina Conservancy’s Botanic Garden start as Ada Wrigley’s (wife to William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum mogul who purchased Catalina Island) private desert plant collection in 1935. The garden became public in the 1970s has an increased focus on the native and endemic species of Catalina Island. The garden is now under the care of the Conservancy and is a great location to immerse yourself in nature on Catalina Island. The garden is about one and a half miles from Downtown Avalon and can be reached by foot, bike, golf cart, taxi, or Catalina Trolley.

Don’t forget to visit the Wrigley Memorial, an iconic landmark that is the centerpiece of the garden. It features local stone and the famed Catalina Tile and offers breathtaking views of Avalon Canyon and across the San Pedro Channel to the mainland.

Ride a Bike around Avalon 

Bellanca offers complimentary bike rentals for guests on a first-come, first-serve basis. Other hotels in Avalon may offer this as well or you can rent beach cruisers, road bikes, e-bikes, and more from Brown’s Bikes* or Catalina Electric Bike Rentals.* If you’re looking for things to do on Catalina Island and a way to get around this is a great option.

*I personally have not rented from these companies but these are highly reviewed and easy to get to so I included them.  

Things to Do in Two Harbors, Catalina

Two Harbors, Catalina Island, is known as “Catalina’s Otherside,” and is an off-the-beaten-path gem! If you’re looking to get away from the crowds and enjoy a piece of paradise that not many get to see then head to Two Harbors.

Need to travel from Avalon to Two Harbors? Take the Cyclone Power Boat! It takes less than 40 minutes and is only available during summer and early fall.

Hiking in Two Harbors

Some of the best hiking trails start in Two Harbors. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure then consider spending some time in Two Harbors. Do note that most of these trails are on the longer side and backpacking is recommended. You’ll want to research the campgrounds that you’ll want to stay the night and book those first before booking or planning any other part of your trip.

Enjoy Beachside Hospitality at Harbor Sands

Harbors Sands offers “palapas” or beach cabanas and lounge chairs so you can comfortably sit and enjoy the views. Feel free to order food and drinks from Harbor Reef Restaurant

Jetski to Two Harbors from Long Beach

For an adventurous one-of-a-kind experience ride a jet ski from Long Beach to Catalina Island with Jetski to Catalina. This is not for the faint of heart. You’ll likely encounter some bumpy water but you’ll be rewarded with incredible views and catch some marine life! Do note that this excursion begins in Long Beach and is only a day tour. 

Camping from Two Harbors

There are three campgrounds that are recommended to stay at if you’re visiting Two Harbors. Each of these will need to be reserved in advance and subject to availability. You’ll want to book online and hhh. Do note that check-in time is 2 pm and you must check-out by 11 am. And there’s a two-night minimum stay on Friday and Saturday night during peak season (Memorial Day weekend through October 31st) at Two Harbors, Little Harbor, and Hermit Gulch Campgrounds. If hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail, you’ll call the office at 310-510-4205 to waive the two-night minimum.

Check out other campgrounds located near Two Harbors here.

Scuba diving and Snorkeling at Two Harbors

Scuba diving and snorkeling are world-class on Catalina! Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center is located at the base of the pier in Two Harbors. They offer rentals for scuba diving and snorkeling. Swim with the Garibaldi fish and enjoy the clear waters of Catalina.

Kayaking, Paddleboarding, Mountain Biking, and more!

Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center also offers kayak and paddle board rentals as well as mountain bike rentals. All rentals are first-come, first-serve unless you’re going to a boat-in-only campsite or are booking for eight rentals or more.

Where to Eat in Avalon, Catalina Island 

Whether you’re heading to Catalina Island for a day trip or a weekend getaway, there are plenty of places on the island to eat. Here are some of the best places to eat on Catalina Island. 

The Naughty Fox

If you’re looking for a restaurant with a view overlooking Avalon Bay then head to The Naughty Fox, Catalina’s newest hotspot for dining and lounging. This open-concept restaurant and bar allow you to enjoy the Catalina sunshine from your table. 

The Naughty Fox menu features seaside classics and elevated café options, perfect for any time of day! Enjoy drinks at the bar that’s stocked with wine, beer, and specialty cocktails, as well as cocktails made to order. Sip on their popular Chili Mango Margarita and the mixologist’s version of Catalina Island’s famous Buffalo Milk.

Maggie’s Blue Rose 

Overlooking Avalon Bay and Crescent Avenue, the main street in town, Maggie’s Blue Rose features authentic Mexican cuisine paired with an extensive margarita selection that will not disappoint. Be sure to try their Catalina Prickly Pear Margarita, the 2022 1st Place Taste Around Avalon “Best Taste of Cocktail” winner! Menu items include Mole Braised Duck Taquitos, Crab & Corn Empanadas and Lazy Enchiladas to Lobster, Spicy Shrimp, Grilled Skirt Steak Street Tacosm and more. 

Descanso Beach Club

Descanso Beach Club will give you “endless summer vibes” no matter what time of year you visit. Nestled in Descanso Canyon just past historic Catalina Casino, Descanso Beach Club is Avalon’s only beachside restaurant and bar. Choose from a fantastic selection of signature appetizers, regional favorites, and classic cocktails while seating on our ocean-view patio, available on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Bluewater Avalon 

For oceanfront dining in the heart of town head to Bluewater Avalon for delicious, highest-quality, fresh seafood. Bluewater Avalon offers an oyster bar, sushi bar, patio dining and full bar with a great wine list and Happy Hour. This is also perfect for the family as there is also a kid’s menu. 

Airport in the Sky Restaurant

For a truly unique experience and for one of the best burgers head to the Airport in the Sky Restaurant. This restaurant is located in the middle of the island and the island’s airport. This spot is frequented by hikers, pilots, and passengers and serves up delicious burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and more! For details on how to get to the Airport in the Sky Restaurant click here.

Where to Stay on Catalina Island

The newly renovated Bellanca Hotel underwent a nearly $4 million transformation and is one of the best places to stay in Avalon! This Catalina Island hotel is located only an eight-minute walk away from the dock, has incredible views, and is incredible value for your money. 

Wake up to ocean views in this contemporary architecture and luxe style hotel and hang out at guest exclusive rooftop lounge with ocean views. The property offers 40 guest rooms including four cabanas and seven suites. 

Bellanca Hotel has also partnered with Avalon Blue Line Baggage, a luggage porter service that can deliver your bags to and from the hotel so you don’t have to lug it from the ferry dock. Bellanca is definitely on of the best places to stay in Catalina Island.

 Best Time to Visit Catalina Island

There isn’t necessarily a bad time to visit Catalina however there are pros and cons to each season. Peak season is from April to October and low season on Catalina Island is from November to March when it tends to be cooler. However, some of the best times to hike on Catalina Island are in November and February, and March. December and January can bring some occasional showers so check the weather before your arrival. 

The peak season does bring the crowds and more cruise ships tend to visit during that time. Hotels are also at higher rates and can sell out, especially on weekends so booking well in advance is a must. 

From ziplining in Catalina Island to walking the Catalina botanical garden and other fun Catalina Island activities, there is something for just about anyone to enjoy! If you’re wondering what to do in Catalina Island or how to get to Catalina Island you’ll find all that information and more here!

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