The Ultimate Guide To Catalina Island
Santa Catalina Island often called Catalina Island or just Catalina
More commonly known as Catalina Island, Santa Catalina Island is an island off the shore of southern California, located just 22 miles south-southwest of Los Angeles. The Island is small in size, but it’s beautiful! It’s about 20 miles long and approximately 48,000 acres (about 76-square miles) in area.
Catalina Island has a long history, initially claimed by the Europeans, then turned over to Mexico and then finally to the United States. Catalina Island’s journey to becoming a world-famous resort destination also has a long story behind it. Before William Wrigley Jr. bought the Catalina Island company, two other entrepreneurs and visionaries, James Lick and Banning brothers, tried developing the Catalina Island resort. But both the entrepreneurs gave up after a few failed attempts and once due to fire destruction.
Finally, the founder of the largest chewing gum manufacturing company in the world, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, William Wrigley Jr. bought and developed Catalina Island, with a vision of creating a gathering place for all. Soon Catalina Island started attracting several filmmakers, Hollywood stars, and other celebrities. Today Catalina Island is a world-famous resort destination, a “gathering place for all.”
With beautiful weather year-round and endless things to do in Catalina Island, including beaches, wildlife, museums, golf, spas, land & boat tours, makes it a must-see in California.
You can visit Catalina Island for a day or can stay overnight to explore more of the Island.
Here is my ultimate guide to Catalina Island, featuring major attractions, things to do in Catalina Island, Catalina Island ferry services, and Catalina Island hotels.
Getting To Catalina Island
The fun starts even before reaching Catalina Island; you either take a ferry or fly into Catalina Island. It takes around one hour to reach Catalina Island by boat and about 20 minutes to take a helicopter or charter flight into Catalina Island.
There are two main ports in Catalina Island, Avalon and Two Harbors.
Avalon is more popular amongst visitors! It has a visitor center, public restrooms, paid lockers, and several tour companies offering various tours and activities. It’s also the starting point of several land & boat tours, and this is also where you can rent golf carts & bikes.
Two Harbors is a quaint and charming island village, a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and the best choice if you’re interested in camping, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, or just relaxing in tranquility.
I would recommend Avalon to all first-timers.
Two companies offer ferry services to Catalina Island: Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer. I have always used Catalina Express because they have more frequent departures from three mainland ports than Catalina Flyer’s single departure from one mainland port. However, there is not much difference in the price and the time taken to reach Catalina Island.
Catalina Express provides ferry services to Catalina Island with departures from three mainland areas in California: San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point. Once you have decided on which mainland port you’re departing from and which Catalina Island port you’re going to, it is better to reserve your tickets online at Catalina Express.
Catalina Express’s mainland ports offer long-term onsite parking at an extra cost. Once you park and go inside, you need to get your boarding passes. There’re restrooms, cafeterias, and a waiting area with maps and other Catalina Island details in the lobby.
Once your vessel’s departure is announced, you need to line up, and in no-time, you will be on board! The boats are very well maintained, have comfortable seating, and you can buy refreshments on board.
Approximate Round Trip Fare – $75 Adults, $59 Children (2-11 years), $6 Infant (under 2 years)
There are charter flights and helicopter services to Catalina Island offered by IEX Helicopters departing from Long Beach, Orange County, San Pedro, and Burbank in California.
Even though Catalina Island is small in size, it has an airport with a short runway known as the “Airport in the sky.” There are taxi services available at the airport that would take you to your hotel or to the town.
The helicopter rides are reasonably priced, and for the charter flights, you would need to contact them by filling up a form online at IEX Helicopters.
Approximate Round Trip Fare – $300 Per Person
Getting Around Catalina Island
There are no rental cars, Lyft, or Uber service in Catalina Island. In fact, there’s a waiting list for residents to own a car on the Island. So most of the residents have golf carts, and that’s how they get around the Island.
But don’t worry, there’re a lot of other fun ways to get around Catalina Island:
Walking: The two major cities, Avalon and Two Harbors, are quite accessible by foot, and if you’re planning to stay within the city limits, you can simply walk around! But I highly recommend that you go beyond the city limits, onto the hills above the town to get a real sense of Catalina Island.
Sightseeing Tours: I highly recommend sightseeing tours to all first-time visitors. This is the most convenient way to see and explore Catalina Island, learn about the history and culture, all at the comfort of your seat in a well-narrated and guided tour. You will find more details about different tours in the following section – Things to do in Catalina Island.
Golf Cart Rentals: Yes, even you can rent and drive around a gas-powered golf cart. There are many golf cart rental companies, and all you need is your drivers’ license and proof of auto insurance. Island Rentals and Catalina Island Golf Cart Rentals are the two major golf cart rental companies in Catalina Island. I highly recommend making reservations online in advance.
Bike Rentals: You can rent mountain bikes, electric bikes, and even tandems in Catalina Island. I have used Brown’s Bike rentals in the past and was very happy with their collection and service, but there are other bike rentals companies on the Island.
Public Bus: There’s a fixed-route public bus service in Avalon, The Garibaldi, starting at the port and stopping at all major attractions, including the Casino, Wrigley Memorial, and the Botanic Garden.
Hotel Shuttles & Taxis: Many hotels provide complimentary shuttles for their guests; please check while making your reservation. You would also find a taxi stand with cabs serving major attractions and the interiors of Catalina Island.
Traveling between Avalon and Two Harbors: Many people visiting Catalina Island spend most of their time in Avalon, but if you have time and are staying for a couple of days, I would highly recommend visiting Two Harbors. It’s a quaint little town offering some incredible picturesque views of the coast. There are several ways to commute between Avalon and Two Harbors, including a Cyclone Boat service and a Safari Bus tour offered by Catalina Island Co.
Things To Do In Catalina Island
There are endless things to do in Catalina Island, whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway, sightseeing, recreational water activities, hiking, parasailing, you name it, Catalina Island has got it!
I recommend the guided sightseeing tour of the Island to everyone, whether you’re visiting for a day or a couple of days!
Once you do the guided tour of the Island, you will have a better sense of the Island and can better plan the rest of your day/s and activities.
There are several tour companies in Catalina Island, each offering some great and unique ways to explore the Island. I have compared and evaluated each tour company’s offering and will point out the right tour company for each type of activity and tour.
Catalina Adventure Tours and Catalina Tours both tour companies are great for sightseeing tours in Catalina Island. Below I have listed different tour types, companies, and specific tours that I like and recommend.
Land Tours: Catalina Adventure Tours offers several land tours, including Safari Island Adventure, Inside Adventure Tour, and the Enchanted Island Tour. I recommend the Inside Adventure Tour or the Safari Island Adventure tour as you get to explore the interiors of Catalina Island, whereas the Enchanted Island tour covers only famous landmarks and sites.
Catalina Tours’ Skyline Drive Tour is an equally fun land tour and a great way to explore Catalina Island in depth.
Boat Tours: Catalina Adventure Tours offers two unique ways to explore the diverse marine life found on the coast of Catalina Island, the Semi-Submarine Excursion and the Coastal Eco-Cruise.
Catalina Tours also offers two excellent boat excursions, the Glass Bottom Boat Voyage and the Undersea Expedition.
Catalina Island Top Sights & Attractions
While the tours are a great way to explore Catalina Island, but being on a schedule, you may not get enough time to explore the places in depth. So I recommend that you plan out the areas you would like to revisit while doing the tour and then either rent a golf cart, bike, or just walk to those places to explore more.
If you’re renting a golf cart, you will be given a proper area map indicating the roads you can enter and the nearby attractions.
The following are my favorite and must-see in Catalina Island:
Catalina Island Museum: The Catalina Museum is a great way to learn about Catalina Island’s history and culture. The museum has a great collection of photographs and artifacts documenting life in Catalina Island since the 1880s.
Catalina Island Casino: The iconic Casino in Catalina Island first opened its doors to the public in 1929, but it was not meant for gambling. The Casino in Catalina Island was a gathering place, where people would come from the mainland to enjoy the nightlife, to watch movies, dance, and dine. Today the Casino is accessible via guided tours offered by Catalina Tours.
Catalina Island Beaches: There are some gorgeous beaches in Avalon! Public beaches include South Beach, Middle Beach located either side of the Green Pleasure Pier, Step Beach located near the Via Casino Arch, Pebbly Beach located past the ferry terminal. Private Beach: Descanso Beach, though a private beach, is accessible to the public for a minimal fee, offers dining, chaise lounges, and cabana rentals.
Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden: The Wrigley Memorial is a memorial built to honor William Wrigley Jr., the founder of the largest chewing gum manufacturing company in the world, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company. William Wrigley Jr. also played a vital role in the development of Catalina Island. The Botanical Garden was built under the supervision of Mr. Wrigley’s wife, Ada. The Botanical Garden houses several plant species from all around the world and a massive collection of desert plants.
Three Palms Scenic Overlook: This area once had three palm trees, and thus the name Tree Palms Overlook. This is one of my favorite overlooks in Catalina Island, offering breathtaking views of the coastline along with the Casino building.
Catalina Island Outdoor Recreational Activities
Catalina Island is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts! With an array of activities to select from, Catalina Island has something for every age group.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling: Catalina Island’s crystal clear coastline, perfect year-round water temperature, and diverse marine life make it an excellent spot for scuba diving & snorkeling. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced diver or a first-timer, there are two companies that offer guided scuba diving & snorkeling programs in Catalina Island: Catalina Tours and Diving Catalina.
Parasailing: Glide through the air and experience the beautiful coastline of Catalina Island from above! It’s a one-of-a-kind experience, and with stunning views, perfect weather, and water temperature, Catalina Island is an ideal place to parasail. Catalina Tours, Island Water Charters, and California Parasail offer parasail rides in Catalina Island.
Kayaking: It’s yet another excellent way to explore the gorgeous coastline of Catalina Island at your own pace. Catalina Island Tours and Catalina Island Expeditions both companies offer some great kayaking excursions.
Zip Line: You can soar through Catalina Island’s canyon on a zip line tour, Zip Line Eco Tour, offered by Catalina Tours.
Flying Fish Tour: The flying fishes in Catalina Island do really fly! Catalina Tours and Afishinados Charters & Catallac Tours offer a nighttime boat tour, where you will actually spot fishes flying around!
Golf: Catalina Island has a beautiful tournament-level golf course overlooking the ocean and a mini-golf course, Golf Gardens Mini Golf, offering mini-golf circles for families. If you plan to golf, I highly recommend that you call ahead and reserve in advance.
Catalina Island Lodging & Dining
If you’re planning to stay overnight on Catalina Island, I highly recommend staying in an oceanfront hotel!
Hotel Vista Del Mar: It’s absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful interiors and spacious guestrooms overlooking the beach; Hotel Vista Del Mar is on the top of my list! They offer continental breakfast, beach mats & chairs, and have several packages and specials, including Birthday, Romance, Zip Lin, VIP packages, and more.
Pavilion Hotel: Resort-style amenities, beautiful ambiance, just a few steps away from the beach, located right at the heart of Avalon City, Pavilion Hotel is another excellent lodging option in Catalina Island.
Hotel Metropole: Incredible views, luxurious oceanfront guestrooms, rooftop jacuzzi & hot tubs, and Spa services, makes Hotel Metropole a great choice in Catalina Island.
You might not find many big banner chain restaurants in Catalina Island; there are still several options to select from, ranging from a quick bite to exquisite waterfront dining options.
Breakfast & Quick Bites:
Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co.: It’s a great place to get your coffee/tea fix and grab a quick bite, including muffins, biscuits, croissants, pretzels, and more!
Original Jack’s Country Kitchen: It’s known for its all-day old-fashioned country breakfast, burgers, fries, and pies.
Lloyd’s Confectionary: You can’t miss this, a huge assortment of chocolates, ice creams, fudge, caramel apples, and the famous saltwater taffy.
Lunch & Dinner:
Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret: Old fashioned, rustic setup, offering indoor and outdoor waterfront seating, with peanut shells all over the ground, Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret is one of my favorite restaurants in Catalina Island. There’s a lot to select from, pizzas, pasta, seafood, and several family-sized appetizers.
Avalon Grille: With a warm & classic ambiance, live music, indoor and outdoor seating with harbor views, Avalon Grille is yet another favorite of mine. It’s known for its housemade pasta, prime stakes, roasted chicken dinners, seafood, and a central bar serving world-class wines.
Descanso Beach Club: For an authentic island beachside dining experience, look no further than Descanso Beach Club. With open patio seating, private chaise lounges, cabanas, and a great selection of drinks and food, including margaritas, deep freeze, tacos, burgers, sandwiches, and seafood, Descanso Beach Club is a great place to relax and dine by the beach.
I have dined in the above restaurants during my visit to Catalina Island. But there are few other dining options that you could try in Catalina Island that have some excellent customer reviews, including Steve’s Steakhouse, Bluewater Avalon, Mt. Ada, Luau Larry’s, and the Lobster Trap.
Catalina Island Day Trip Itinerary
With so many sightseeing and recreational activities to select from, it becomes quite challenging to decide what to do and what not to do on your Catalina Island trip.
To help you decide and plan your trip, I have compiled a sample day trip itinerary for Catalina Island.
I have included my favorite tours, recreational activities, and restaurants, along with the approximate duration for each activity. If you’re going to Catalina Island just for a day, I highly recommend you get an early start so that you can get the most out of your trip.
8:00 AM – Depart from Catalina Express’s Long Beach Port
9:00 AM – Reach Catalina Island, purchase your land tour & activity tickets, and reserve your golf cart
9:30 AM – Grab your coffee & breakfast at Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co.
10:00 AM – Board your land tour bus; you can either do the Inside Adventure Tour or the Skyline Drive Tour (Duration – 2 hours 30 minutes)
12:30 PM – Head to Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret for lunch
2:15 PM – Board your Nautilus semi-submarine excursion or any other activity of your choice
3:30 PM – Grab an ice cream at Lloyd’s and hop onto your golf cart. Leisurely explore Catalina Island, stopping at the Casino, Museum, Descanso Beach, Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden, and at the Three Palms Scenic Overlook. (Duration – 2-3 hours)
6:30 PM – Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the sights of beautifully lit Catalina Island at night.
7:30 PM – Depart from Catalina Island
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I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Catalina Island, and I hope this will help you plan your perfect trip to Catalina Island.
Happy feeding your soul!
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Catalina is beautiful! I had no idea how many activities there are to do there. I’m going to have to look at taking a trip down to Catalina!
Yes, Catalina Island is gorgeous and a must-see in California!