Sitting only 22 miles offshore from the LA, Catalina Island offers a great escape for day trip or weekend outing.
Getting to the island just requires booking a ferry ride and enjoying the one-hour cruise to the island. Once on Catalina, there are a variety of activities for any level of excitement or age group, and some great spots to stay for the night.
Avalon, the only city on the island, retains its vintage charm while offering a modern resort community for visitors to enjoy. Upon arriving at the Port of Avalon, guests are met with the quaint downtown area and a relaxed vacation island vibe. Rides can be arranged to get to hotels but many lodging options, restaurants, and shops can be reached with a brief walk down the harbor and into town.
Lodging on the island ranges from tent camping to beautiful beachfront hotels and vacation homes. The Catalina Canyon Resort and Spa is Catalina’s only full-service resort, with a spa and fitness center on the property. However, there are also many options for hotels in close proximity to the waterfront. A few favorites are The Edgewater, which has ocean-views suites and private porches and is just a short walk from the Avalon dock; the Hotel Metropole, with its rooftop jacuzzi and suites with fireplaces; and the Pavilion Hotel, which has an open-air lounge 14 steps from the beach and serves up complimentary wine and cheese in the afternoon.
The Hermit Gulch campground has close access to hiking trails in the hills while remaining conveniently close to restaurants and a grocery store. Personal tents can be pitched or tent cabins can be booked which sleep up to six people.
Catalina is a popular destination for weekend adventurers. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and “snuba” diving are popular watersports on the island, but for those who prefer to avoid the full-immersion experience, submarine and boat tours offer another up-close look at sea life.
Parasailing and jet ski rentals offer another unique option to experience Catalina, and a zip line above the trees (the only zipline anywhere in Los Angeles or Orange County) is an exhilarating rush that rivals anything LA amusement parks have to offer.
Kayaking is a great way to explore the edges of the island that in some places are otherwise unreachable, and stand up paddleboarding is a fun way to check out what’s below the water and get a great workout at the same time. Wet Spot Rentals rents out kayaks and stand up paddling boards right by the Avalon landing by the hour or the day, and 24-hour rentals are available for kayaks at the more private beach of Little Harbor.
At the Two Harbors Dive and Recreation Center, kayaks for one or two people can easily be reserved online. For a guided kayak excursion, Descanso Beach Ocean Sports offers daily tours with a focus on the natural history of the island and it’s animal inhabitants.
Biking and hiking are good ways to cover ground on the island, and Avalon has over 20 miles of paved roads for doing so. Brown’s Bike’s has a variety of bikes to choose from including beach cruisers, mountain bikes, tandem bikes, and electric bikes. Catalina Tours also offers electric bikes to rent for taking some of the legwork out of the ride.
The Two Harbors area is a popular place for hiking due to its expansive views and many options based on experience level and desired length of hike. Hiking permits can be acquired at the Two Harbors Visitor Services Office.
For offshore fishing off of Catalina, chartering a boat for a day trip is always an option. Fishin’ Funatics offers daily trips on a former Navy patrol vessel with lots of deck space for serious fishing. Adam’s Memory Maker Fishing Charter offers private boat trips for sport fishing with amenities like a TV, stereo system, and a kitchen for downtime, and all the fishing equipment you could need including rod holders and a fish finder.
Spa Treatment & Shopping
For those looking to relax, Catalina has several spas that pamper guests with massages and facials. The Catalina Canyon Resort has a day spa that offers couples massages and treatments, including honey masks and sugar exfoliating scrubs for the body. The spa at the Aurora Hotel has a signature massage called the Mermaid’s Kiss, which is a blend of a few styles including deep tissue, Thai, Swedish, and reiki. The Catalina Sea Spa makes house calls (or hotel calls) for massage treatments without leaving the room, and additionally offers package deals for massages and dinner arrangements at Steve’s Steakhouse.
Along the streets in Avalon a variety of galleries and shops can be found. The Ruth Mayer Fine Art Gallery has paintings on display, and Catalina Pottery offers homemade soaps, candles, and body lotions. Ciao-Baci Fine Gifts is a good stop for gourmet food items and specialty gifts that capture the flavor of the island. The Stare Case has clothing, from beachwear to formal wear, and Catalina Kid’s has clothing for the young ones as well as ocean-themed toys.
There are a wide variety of dining options on the island, including a Taste of Catalina Food Tour when experiencing a range of the food is the goal. The three-hour tour is led by local guides who share information about the island’s history as well as food and drinks at six different restaurants and specialty food shops. The tour covers about a mile of Avalon and stops, include C.C. Ghallagher’s sushi and saki spot, the Lobster Trap, Steve’s Steakhouse, Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden, the seafood serving Bluewater Avalon, Coffee & Cookie Company, and Mexican food from Coyote Joe’s.
Another favorite is Original Antonio’s Deli, an authentic 1950s style pizza place with a fun and casual family-friendly environment. The Descanso Beach Club offers a more upscale experience with cocktail and food service to lounges and cabanas on the beach, complete with fire pits to keep warm on cool nights. Blue Water Avalon is a New England style seafood house with locally caught fish and signature cocktails like margaritas and mojitos, plus a wine tasting option twice a month.
Catalina has a cap on the number of cars allowed on the island and the waitlist is a long one, so golf carts are the preferred way of transport for many people.
The island has a rich amount of history in its past and in its architecture, so taking a tour of the island is well worth the time on a visit. For example, there is a healthy population of bison on the island that were supposedly brought over in 1924 to be apart of the movie set for a silent film called Western Tale. They were never removed and they remain a fun reminder of the island’s past.