Escape to Paradise: Guide to Catalina Island
Your guide to Southern California's hidden gem
· 9 min read
Are you looking for a relaxing and rejuvenating getaway from the bustling city of Los Angeles? Look no further than Catalina Island, a beautiful and exotic destination located just off the coast of Southern California. In this guide, we will provide you with everything you need to know to plan the ultimate trip to Catalina Island.
Catalina Island was frequently used by Hollywood as a stand-in for various locations across the globe, and it has served as the filming location of over 500 motion pictures, documentaries, television programs and commercials. Today, its white beaches and charming coastal towns are a popular destination for those seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city life.
There are two distinct experiences on Catalina Island: historic and charming Avalon on the east end, and the more rustic and remote Two Harbors on the west end. Most people will spend their time at Avalon where you get a good mix of the beach and bustling town centers, while those who are looking for something more wild and rugged is likely to choose Two Harbors. For those who want to explore the best of both worlds, you could choose to hike along the trans-Catalina trail that will take about. 7 hours, take a taxi, or go on a tour provided by the island.
Getting to Catalina Island
Taking the ferry is the most common method to get to Catalina Island. But if you are up for something more adventurous, there are also other options out there that you could take to get to Catalina Island!
The Catalina Express is the most popular ferry service, offering daily departures to Avalon from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. The ferry ride takes approximately one hour and costs around $84 round trip. Departures to Two Harbour is also available from San Pedro.
Alternatively, another company, Catalina Flyer, also provides services to Avalon with departures from Newport Beach. On this route, you will be riding the largest passenger catamaran on the West Coast. Prices are only very slightly lower than the Catalina Express, so your primary consideration would be your departure and arrival points.
If traveling time is a priority and you wanted a different experience, you can also take the IEX helicopter to the island. Taking the helicopter is the fastest way you can get to the island, with the journey taking only 15 minutes from Long Beach. There are multiple departure stations, possibly making this mode of transport a more convenient option. Departure stations include Long Beach, San Pedro, Orange County, Burbank LAX, Santa Monica, San Diego, and Palm Springs. A round trip from Long Beach costs $349 per pax.
By Jet Ski
If you are up for something wild and adventurous, you can actually also jet ski from Long Beach to Catalina Island! This experience is provided by jetski2catalina, and there are options for either a one-day adventure or packages which allow you to stay overnight at Avalon. Of course, a one-day adventure means that you will spend less time at the island itself, so that is something you might want to consider.
The trip to Catalina Island will take about 2 to 2.5 hours, but along the way, you will get a chance to play with dolphins, snorkel, swim at Blue Caverns, and do other on-water activities! It costs $399 on weekdays and $459 on weekends for a one-day trip; and for overnight trips, $599 for 1 night and $799 for 2 nights (hotels excluded). Take note that this option is very adventurous and might not be suitable for everyone. There is also a minimum age requirement of 16 years old to be able to operate the jet ski alone.
If you are planning to stay overnight at Catalina island, there is a variety of accommodations to suit every budget and preference. Whether you're looking for a luxurious hotel, a cozy vacation rental, or a rustic campground, there is something for everyone.
The Pavilion Hotel is one of the most popular hotels on the island. It is conveniently located in close proximity to the ferry terminal, and is just steps away from the beach. You will get amazing views of the beach and is a great place if you wanted to lounge by the beach.
The Avalon Hotel is elegant, comfortable, and close to the beach. It is a small hotel with only 15 rooms, and is a good option for those who want to fully enjoy the amenities that are provided. The Avalon Hotel is a popular option for those who are looking to just relax.
For something more exclusive, the guest rooms on Mt. Ada is a very good option. There are only 6 rooms, and their locations are generally less accessible, making it the most exclusive accommodation option on the island. At Mt. Ada, you will get stunning views and top-notch amenities. Take note that there is a minimum stay period of 2 nights required.
For those looking for a more budget-friendly option, the Catalina Island Vacation Rentals website offers a range of properties to choose from. From beach houses with picturesque island views to bedroom villas and condos, you will be able to find a vacation rental suitable for you and your company. If amenities like a full-sized kitchen is important for you, or if you are travelling in larger groups, then a vacation rental could be an option that you might want to consider.
For the adventurous traveler, there are a few camping grounds across Catalina Island. Take note that if you would like to camp, you will also have to make bookings online.
The Two Harbors Campground is a great place to pitch a tent and enjoy the natural beauty of the island. You will be able to choose from tent sites, tent cabins, and group camping. In addition, during the fall, winter, and spring, guests can stay at the rustic Catalina Camping Cabins.
The Little Harbor Campground was rated "One of the Best Campgrounds in the West" by Sunset Magazine, and is perfect for campers who enjoy playing on the beach or in the water. It is located about seven miles east of Two Harbors and 19 miles from Avalon, and is a sandy, beachfront campground with lots of opportunities for recreation.
For camping at Avalon, your only option would be the Hermit Gulch Campground. It is the only camping facility located within city limits, and is situated in Avalon Canyon near the Nature Center and the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. Its close proximity to town allows easy access to groceries, shopping, restaurants, tours, sight seeing and nightlife.
For a truly secluded coastal camping experience, you can even consider boat-in camping. Boat-in campsites are accessible only by boat or kayak on the island's leeward shore. There are nine sites that you can choose from — each unique in their location and regulations. There is no running water, shade structures, moorings or sanitation stations. If you are planning to go boat-in camping, you must bring their own equipment and supplies, including a portable restroom, and pack out any trash or waste. Fires are not allowed, so cooking must be done on a camp stove or in a self-contained BBQ. You can refer to the booking site for more information of the various boat-in campsites.
Activities and Attractions
There is no shortage of things to do on Catalina Island. From hiking and kayaking to zip-lining and snorkeling, there is an activity for every interest and skill level. On top of guided hikes and tours that you can go on to explore the island's flora and fauna in a safe and educational environment, here are some other ways that you an explore Catalina Island:
Explore Catalina Island via Zip Line
Instead of simply exploring the island on foot, there are different ways that you can discover the island! For a more adrenaline-fueled experience, try zip-lining with Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour, where you can fly over the island at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. The Eco Tour will take about 2 hours and trained guides will share interesting facts about the island's flora and fauna as you zip down and across the canyon and through a grove of towering eucalyptus trees. If you visiting during summer, there are also night time zip line experiences available.
Undersea Sub Expedition
If you are done with exploring the land, you can move on to exploring the waters and ocean around Catalina Island! Scuba diving is a great way to do so, but no worries if you can’t swim — the Undersea Sub Expedition is just for you! On this expedition, you will cruise five feet below the surface in a spacious, climate-controlled cabin and come face-to-face with one of the healthiest marine environment in the world. You can expect to see an incredible array of undersea creatures, including bright orange Garibaldi, spotted calico bass, urchins, rock fish, and bat rays.
There are also many options for recreational activities for those who just want to have some time to themselves. Here are some other recreational activities that you could do:
Relax at the beaches
Avalon has a number of beaches within walking distance of the city. The Descanso Beach is the most popular beach in the area with a number of activities that you could choose from. In addition to water activities like swimming in the ocean, stand-up paddling, and kayaking, you can also experience swinging through the trees in the challenging outdoor experience of the Catalina Aerial Adventure.
If you are looking for something more relaxing, you can consider going to the Middle Beach instead.
Visit the Catalina Casino
The Catalina Casino is the island’s most iconic landmark. But if you were expecting to gamble here, you might be disappointed. The Catalina Casino is not open for gambling, but rather, is a premier event venue that hosts major events. Visit the Catalina Island Museum and Catalina Casino to experience the rich cultural history of the island. To visit the Catalina Casino, you will have to go on the 45 minute narrated walking tour.
Catalina Island has more than 165 miles of trails of varying difficulty. One of the most popular trails is the 37.2-mile Trans-Catalina Trail, which brings you from Avalon to Two Harbor. You will need a hiking permit if you are hiking outside of Avalon. The permit can be obtained free of charge online at the Catalina Island Conservancy, at the Conservancy House in Avalon, the Nature Center at Avalon Canyon, the Hermit Gulch campground office, Airport in the Sky, and Two Harbors Visitor Services.
Visit the city
Spend some time walking through the town area. Most of the shops at Avalon are in close proximity to each other. You can take a relaxing stroll along the scenic waterfront and discover quaint shops and boutiques.
Catalina Island offers a diverse range of dining options, from fine dining to casual cafes and bars. The Avalon Grille and the Bluewater Avalon are two of the most popular restaurants on the island, offering delicious seafood and stunning views of the harbor. For a more casual experience, try Luau Larry's, where you can enjoy tropical drinks and island-inspired cuisine. Or head to the Descanso Beach Club, which is home to Avalon's only beachside restaurant and bar.
If you are at Two Harbors, your options include casual cuisine at Harbor Reef Restaurant, fresh breakfast and lunch at West End Galley, and signature beach bites at Harbor Sands, a South Pacific-style venue with private palapas, lounge chairs and a waterfront dining deck.
Tips for Visiting Catalina Island
When is the best time to visit Catalina Island?
Catalina has a temperate climate most of the year, so you don’t have to worry about extreme temperatures. Summer is great for beach activities, but that is peak travel season and prices for accommodations will be rocket high. Ocean conditions could also get rough during the summer time. To avoid the crowds but still enjoy the beach with comfortable temperatures, plan your trip during spring (April to June) or fall (September to November).
How long to spend at Catalina Island?
It is possible to do a day trip to Catalina Island. But if you wanted to get the most of the island, you should consider spending at least two nights. That will give you sufficient time to explore both Avalon and Two Harbors without over-packing your itinerary.
What to take note of when visiting Catalina Island?
To make the most of your trip to Catalina Island, be sure to bring comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and a hat. Book activities and accommodation in advance, especially during peak season, to ensure availability. When swimming, be mindful of the currents and never swim alone. And when hiking, stay on designated trails and be aware of the wildlife.