Looking to escape to an island paradise…without leaving California? Then look no further than Catalina Island. Located just 22 miles off the Southern California coast, there are plenty of things to do on Catalina Island, whether you are looking for thrilling outdoor adventures, a romantic getaway, or a relaxing beach vacation.
I first visited Catalina Island in seventh grade. My mom was in Japan at the time, and my dad and I were bored and looking for something to do one weekend. We spontaneously decided to go on a day trip to Catalina Island.
Unfortunately, our getaway was so spontaneous that when we strolled up to the ferry, it turned out that the only tickets left would basically leave us with only two hours on the island – basically, just enough time to eat lunch. Still, I fell in love with the island and its natural beauty, its laid-back island vibe, and the charming town of Avalon, and vowed to return someday.
Well, it took over 20 years to get back, but it was well worth the wait! My boyfriend and I recently planned a weekend getaway to Catalina Island, and it was just like escaping to the Mediterranean – except much cheaper and much closer (only an hour and a half via ferry from our home in Orange County).
Catalina Island can easily be visited as a day trip or weekend getaway from the Los Angeles area, yet it feels like a world away. It’s got such a different vibe from the mainland and was such a perfect little getaway without being too far from home.
There are so many things to do in Catalina island to suit any kind of traveler. Relaxing on the beach? Check. Outdoor adventures? Check. Delicious food? Check. Incredible photogenic views (some of the best in Los Angeles)? Check. A unique history? Check. Luxury accommodations? Check. This island has it all.
Keep on reading for all of the best things to do on Catalina Island!
**Disclosure: Thank you to the Catalina Island Company, Catalina Express, and Catalina Island Golf Cart Rentals for hosting our trip. As always, all opinions are my own.
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About Catalina Island
Located off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island (officially known as Santa Catalina Island) is the southernmost island of the Channel Islands.
The island measures 72 square miles (22 miles across, eight miles wide), with the incorporated city of Avalon (population 4,000) on the east end, and the unincorporated village of Two Harbors on the west end (population 298).
Catalina Island was originally home to the Native Americans known as the Tongvas (later known as the Gabrieliños), who inhabited the island for almost 7000 years. There were an estimated 2,000-3000 Tongvas who once lived on the island, in villages consisting of extended family members, each numbering 50-100. The site of these villages would later become Avalon, Two Harbors, Empire Landing, White’s Landing and Toyon Bay.
Over the years,Catalina Island has been occupied by explorers, smugglers, gold diggers, pirates, hunters, the Union army and missionaries. Eventually the island was taken over by Spanish colonialists, then turned over to Mexico, then eventually the United States. It has also served as a strategic stronghold for the US military during World War II, and has even served as a training camp for what would eventually become the CIA.
Catalina Island’s history as a resort destination dates back about 125 years. In 1864, the island was owned by James Lick, then known as one of the wealthiest men in California. After he failed to develop the island into a resort destination, the island was sold to the sons of Phineas Banning in 1891.
The Banning brothers created the Santa Catalina Island Company (now known as the Catalina Island Company) and began developing building hotels, attractions, and roads into the island’s rugged interior. They also built the Banning House Lodge, and operated stagecoach tours around the island. However, a tragic fire burned down half of the structures in Avalon; while the brothers tried to salvage their investments, the island was sold again in 1919 to chewing gum entrepreneur William Wrigley Jr.
Wrigley had a vision for creating a “playground for all” on the island and is largely credited with the development of the island and turning it into a world-class island resort. He built infrastructure, a reservoir, Hotel Atwater, Bird Park, and other attractions. In addition, he made the island the spring training home for the Chicago Cubs (which he also owned).
In 1929 the iconic Catalina Casino was built, creating a gathering place and a hub of nightlife on the island. The island also became a popular destination for Hollywood elite in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and was also a popular filming site for production companies.
Upon Wrigley’s death in 1932, ownership of the company was passed on to his son Philip Knight Wrigley, who continued his father’s vision. The Wrigleys still own the island through the Catalina Island Company, which today controls about 11% of the island and still carries on the original vision of the island as a world-class resort destination.
In 1972, the Wrigleys created a land trust in the Catalina Island Conservancy, which manages about 88% of the island’s interior and coastline, promoting “a balance of conservation, recreation, and education.”
When is the best time to visit Catalina Island?
Catalina Island has a Mediterranean climate, meaning that it experiences mild temperatures year-round, making any time a good time to visit. Summer highs hover around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, with winter temperatures averaging around 60 degrees. However, it does get breezy at night, so come prepared with a cardigan or light jacket!
May through December is the island’s tourist season, with its peak season in the summer months. This is when crowds and accommodation prices are at its highest.
Spring and fall are a great time to visit Catalina Island – we visited in early March and really enjoyed our time there! The weather in the daytime was pleasant (in the mid-upper 60s Fahrenheit), although it did get pretty chilly at night (layer up and bring a jacket!).
While there were a few things closed because it was the offseason (i.e. the Cyclone boat to Two Harbors), the island had a super chill vibe and was not crowded. It was really nice to be able to enjoy the beauty of the island without fighting all of the crowds!
If you want some peace and quiet on the island, consider visiting midweek as there are times that you almost feel like you have the island to yourself (especially if there is no cruise ship scheduled to dock that day).
Catalina Island also is a perfect destination for a winter getaway – you’ll get to escape to the island life and still enjoy the sunshine that Southern California is known for! Visiting during the winter months also means that you’ll find the best deals, as there are midweek boat and hotel packages offered that can help you save up to 50% off! You can see the available packages here.
However, do note that the waters tend to be the choppiest during the winter, so if you’re prone to seasickness, I suggest visiting at another time of year.
How to Get to Catalina Island
Catalina Island is located only 22 miles from the mainland and is easily accessible via Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The only way to reach Catalina Island is via sea or air.
For those of us (like me) who don’t have access to a private boat, plane, or helicopter, the easiest and most affordable way to reach the island is via passenger ferry. Two ferry companies serve four different ports in the LA and Orange County areas: Long Beach, San Pedro, Newport Beach, and Dana Point.
Taking a ferry via Catalina Express is the best way to get to the island – you will have the most flexibility, as it has the most daily departures to the island. Frequent service is offered to Avalon from Long Beach, which is also the fastest option (the trip takes about an hour). You can choose to sail from San Pedro and Dana Point as well. Service to Two Harbors is also offered out of San Pedro.
We took the Catalina Express from Dana Point (which was the most convenient port to us), and enjoyed our trip to the island! The trip takes about an hour and a half, and was super comfortable and relaxing. We were even able to spot a few whales and dolphins on the way, which made the trip extra fun!
A round trip fare costs $83.50 from Long Beach and San Pedro, and $87.50 from Dana Point.
Another option for getting to the island is via the Catalina Flyer, which offers one daily round trip out of Newport Beach.
The ferry will drop you off in the center of Avalon, a hop and a skip away from all of the best Catalina Island activities. Many accommodations are only a few minutes’ walk away as well. Some hotels also provide baggage service and will help you take your stuff to the hotel.
Be sure to book your ferry tickets in advance, as they could sell out, especially during the peak seasons!
Via Private Boat
Catalina Island is also accessible via private boat. Moorings are available in Two Harbors, and there are several boat-in campgrounds around the island. For more information, see here.
While Catalina Island does have an airport (which is nicknamed the “Airport in the Sky” because it is located at 1,602 ft in elevation), there are no commercial passenger flights available. However, you can reach the island via private plane.
The island is also accessible via helicopter.If you feel like splurging, helicopter service is offered via IEX Helicopters. The trip takes approximately 15 minutes, with departures from Long Beach, Burbank, or Orange County. A round-trip fare costs $179 each way.
How to Get Around Catalina Island
One thing that you’ll notice about Catalina Island is that there are not many cars. This is because vehicles measuring over 120 inches require a permit – and because there are only 800 issued, there is a 17 year wait for one!
So, how does one get around Catalina Island?
Most locals get around via golf cart and you too can rent one for a few hours (it’s actually one of the most popular things to do on Catalina Island – I mention it later on in this article!). There are no overnight rentals, however, it is fun to take one around for a few hours. Some vacation rentals also provide access to one (especially if it’s a property that is further out from the main part of town).
It’s a great way to explore the areas that are a little further out from central Avalon, which are up in the hills – which you can *technically* walk to, but it’s much easier just to drive a golf cart to!
However, since Avalon only covers one square mile, you can easily walk to get around to all the best Catalina Island attractions. This will also allow you to really take in all of the beauty of the island (trust me, you’ll stop for tons of photos!).
Bicycling is also a great way to get around the island – you can even bring your own on the ferry (however, it does require you to reserve space on the boat). Otherwise, there are many companies on the island who offer bike rentals, including electric bikes.
Do note that you need a permit through the Catalina Island Conservancy to hike or bike in the interior areas of the island.
The Avalon Transit serves the city, and makes stops at various points of interest. Currently, service is offered between 8am-6pm on Saturdays and Sundays. The fare is $2 per ride.
There is no ride share service, but taxis are available. Keep in mind that fares are on the high side due to the high cost of fuel on the island.
If you need to get to the interior areas of the island, you can take the Wildlands Express shuttle from the Catalina Island Conservancy, or hire a private interior shuttle.
You can also get around to other areas of the island via boat. The Cyclone boat takes visitors from Avalon to Two Harbors. Other options include chartering a private boat, or using your own vessel.
How Long Should You Spend on Catalina Island?
Catalina Island is a popular day trip destination from Los Angeles or Orange County (as well as a port destination for cruises), and you can definitely see the main highlights in the day.
However, to fully take advantage of what to do on Catalina Island, I suggest staying at least overnight and even longer. Catalina Island makes the perfect weekend getaway! We stayed two nights and it was the perfect amount of time to see all the main sights, take a few tours, and have some time left over to relax.
You’ll also get to experience the peace and tranquility in the mornings and evenings, when there are no day trippers or cruise ship passengers aren’t on the island and you almost feel like you have it to yourself.
If you wish to do some hiking or explore the interior of the island, you will need at least a few days. If you want to backpack the Trans Catalina Trail, you will need at least a full week.
Want to plan an amazing weekend getaway to Catalina Island? Here’s the perfect itinerary!
What to Pack for Catalina Island
- Comfortable Walking Shoes: You’ll probably be doing a lot of walking around the island! Allbirds are my new favorite travel shoe – you’ll stay comfortable all day! If you want to look cute and be comfortable, Rothy’s are my go-to as well.
- Flip Flops or Sandals: For the beach. A pair of Rainbows are super comfy!
- Cardigan or light jacket: The evenings get breezy here. I just threw on a denim jacket during my stay. You can also bring this packable windbreaker, which you can fold up and throw into your bag! For cooler days, a packable puffer is ideal.
- Hat: The sun can get super bright, so I highly recommend having a hat. A straw hat like this one not only keeps the sun out of your eyes (and is perfect for the beach), but also looks cute in photos (this one is another favorite for photos!), but a standard baseball cap will also do.
- Sunglasses: I love the polarized pairs from Goodr.
- Beach Tote: like this one
- Sunscreen: Slather on a reef-safe sunscreen that will also protect marine life on the island. This one is also my favorite face sunscreen (and this one is great as top off).
- Battery pack: I never travel anywhere without this one. It can charge up to five times on one full charge!
- Camera: Sure, a phone camera will do – but you can really capture the island’s beauty with my favorite travel camera.
- Reusable water bottle: I have this one on me at all times.
- Motion sickness meds or bands: For the boat ride over, if you’re prone to seasickness.
Is Catalina Island expensive?
Yes, keeping it real here – things are a bit more expensive on Catalina Island than it is on the mainland. It is an island after all.
However, just keep this in mind – you still get a taste for the island life and can enjoy those stunning Mediterranean-style views – for a fraction of the cost of an expensive plane ticket!
If you’re looking to visit but are on a budget, consider visiting during the offseason or midweek. For example, the island offers a number of midweek boat + hotel packages that offer a hefty discount off ferry fare and accommodations in the winter months – you can save up to 50% off! You can see all available options here.
Another way to save money is to get food (and wine) at the grocery store. There are plenty of beautiful spots around the island (beaches, viewpoints, etc) that are perfect for picnicking!
More Catalina Island Travel Tips
- While you will generally have cell service in downtown Avalon, it is kind of spotty and gets pretty unreliable the further inland you go. To help you navigate around the island, I highly recommend downloading offline maps before you arrive.
- Because of older filtration systems, the tap water on the island is not the greatest. Most locals don’t drink the tap water, and restaurants only serve bottled water. I would recommend bringing or buying some water and then filling up your reusable water bottle.
Where to Stay on Catalina Island
During our stay on Catalina Island, we stayed at the Hotel Atwater. The property is conveniently situated a block away from the beach, right in the heart of Avalon and close to some of the best things to do in Catalina Island.
Hotel Atwater was originally opened in 1920, and was the first hotel built under the direction of William Wrigley Jr. after he purchased the island. It is named after Helen Atwater Wrigley, the wife of Phillip Knight Wrigley, William’s son. It was once a popular getaway spot for Los Angeles’s and Hollywood’s elite. The historic hotel still has symbols of the Wrigley family’s legacy.
Hotel Atwater was renovated in 2019, and the entire property still looked super new and sparkling clean! The hotel has a tropical chic meets Art Deco theme, echoing elements of its Hollywood glamour past and the island life. I couldn’t get over the decor here – I immediately wanted to move in (and was sad to leave since I basically made myself at home).
Some amenities include welcome bottles of champagne (waiting right in our fridge when we arrived – such a fun way to kick off a getaway!), as well as a $20 dining credit redeemable at the Descanso Beach Club or Bistro at the Atwater (perfect for a quick breakfast and some coffee), 15% off activities and tours from the Catalina Island Company, complimentary beach towel rentals, free wifi, and a digital tablet concierge.
Looking for a bit of luxury? Consider staying at Mt. Ada. This is at the former home of William Wrigley Jr. and his wife Ada. The luxury property features six guest rooms, all featuring spectacular views of Avalon. Staying at the Mt. Ada is the only way to see the property!
There are many amenities included, including a complimentary breakfast lunch, a wine and cheese plate, and complimentary snacks, soft drinks, and beer & wine; complimentary golf cart rentals; complimentary pickup from the boat terminal, helipad, or airport; and more.
Things to Do On Catalina Island
Drive a golf cart around the island
This is one of the most popular things to do on Catalina Island – pretty much anyone I talked to said I needed to do this!
We rented a golf cart through Catalina Island Golf Cart Rentals. Rentals are charged by hour – a four passenger cart is $60/hour, and a six passenger cart is $80/hour. There is also a $60 cash deposit required. Drivers must also be at least 25 years of age with a valid drivers license.
Renting a golf cart around the island is one of the best Catalina Island activities, especially if you are limited on time, because it will allow you to see all the highlights of the island in a short amount of time! Catalina Island Golf Cart Rentals will give you a map and suggest a route when picking up the golf cart.
The suggested route takes you along the water on Pebbly Beach Road, then up into the hills (called “the heights” of Avalon). You’ll have the opportunity to stop at the botanical gardens and Wrigley Memorial (highly recommended), and drive by several scenic lookout points, as well as the iconic Casino and Descanso Beach.
It takes about one hour to do the entire route without any stops, but I suggest renting the golf cart for two hours so you can stop for photos at the viewpoints and the botanical gardens.
You’ll get a map to help you navigate the route, but it can be a bit confusing at some points – so also download offline maps, just in case. Make sure you stay on the route and don’t make any wrong turns, as some roads are off limits to rental carts.
If you don’t want to drive your own golf cart, or you want some added commentary about the island, you can even take a fun private golf cart tour.
Go on a bison expedition
This ended up being one of our favorite things to do in Catalina Island! Did you know that Catalina Island is home to a herd of approximately 150 bison?
The Bison Expedition takes you into the rugged interior of the island to try to spot some of the herd. Along the way, you’ll encounter some incredible ocean views, see some of the wildlife and plant life in the area, as well as get a peek of the Airport in the Sky, situated 1602 feet above sea level.
You’ll go on a thrilling ride in an open-air Hummer, across windy, hilly dirt roads – it really does feel like an expedition! It was almost like being on the real-life Indiana Jones ride (one of my favorites at Disneyland!), and it was SO much fun! (Note: This tour is not recommended for pregnant individuals or those with neck or back problems.)
So how did the bison even end up on the island? The herd that remains on the island today are descendants of a herd left on the island from a movie shoot gone wrong in the 1920s. At one point in time, over 600 bison grazed the island’s interior; today, only about 150 remain.
We were able to spot several bison during our expedition and it was so exciting! We were even able to see a herd off in the distance in the hills. Being able to observe these creatures in their natural habitat was such a unique experience, and I highly recommend it as one of the best things to do on Catalina Island!
Chill at the Descanso Beach Club
One of the best things to do on Catalina Island is to chill at the beach, and what better way to do it than at a beach club? Located just past the Casino, the Descanso Beach Club is home to the island’s only beachside bar and restaurant, as well as one of the last publicly accessible private beaches in California.
You can opt to enjoy a beachside meal and drinks at a table in the restaurant. If you want to hang out in the sun and relax, you can also rent a chaise lounger (highly recommended!), which starts at $60/day on the weekends or $75/day during the week (you must be booked in pairs). Complimentary bottled water and beach towels are included in the rate.
Beach cabanas are also available, which start at $325/day on weekends, or $280/day during the week. You can even upgrade to the Presidential Cabanas or Hillside Cabanas, which come with a beach butler, as well as complimentary smoothies and other amenities.
We were able to rent the chaise loungers and it totally reminded me of lounging at a resort in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. It was so nice to be able to hang out and relax for a few hours – plus the food and cocktails were absolutely delicious!
This is the perfect spot to enjoy a fruity, frozen cocktail or to try out the island’s famous Buffalo Milk. My boyfriend had a Mai Tai and said it was the best he’s ever had! For food, we ordered a poke bowl and some ceviche and both were amazing as well.
1 St Catherine Way, Avalon, CA 90704
Go ziplining across Descanso Canyon
The Zip Line Eco Tour is one of the most thrilling things to do on Catalina Island! It takes you up to the ridge top 600 feet high in Descanso Canyon. From there, you will speed down five zip lines back to the Descanso Beach Club.
This was such an exhilarating experience! The zip lines reach speeds up to 35 miles per hour, and stretch up to 1000 feet long. It was so fun to zoom by over some stunning views of the ocean and the casino, and this is such a cool way to see the island’s flora and fauna as well. The guides were also super fun, friendly and helpful, which truly made this one of our favorite Catalina Island activities.
Seriously y’all, this was SO. MUCH. FUN!
For a unique experience, try booking the last slot of the day – you’ll get to see these stunning views at sunset which I’m sure makes this even more epic.
Admire the amazing views
There are no shortage of incredible vistas around the island, and stopping at a few viewpoints is one of the best things to do in Avalon. You’ll find a number of scenic overlooks around Avalon and its surrounding areas, overlooking the downtown area, waterfront, and the Casino.
You will oooh- and aaah- over the views of the sparkling aquamarine waters in the bay, as well as the colorful buildings nestled within the hills of Avalon. You’ll swear you’ve teleported yourself to Italy or Greece!
Some of the best scenic overlooks are below:
- Tremont Scenic Overlook: You’ll find incredible views of Avalon Bay here. Country Club Dr, Avalon, CA 90704
- Buena Vista Point Scenic Overlook: The name just about sums it up – this is arguably the best view on the island! Amazing views of the harbor, the clifftop homes, and waterfront. Wrigley Rd, Avalon, CA 90704
- Three Palms Scenic Overlook: Breathtaking views of the Avalon Bay, hillside, and Casino. Wrigley Rd, Avalon, CA 90704
- Ocean Scenic Overlook: Amazing views of the blue waters. Wrigley Rd, Avalon, CA 90704
- Catalina Chimes Tower: Scenic views of Avalon Bay and downtown. Chimes Tower Rd, Avalon, CA 90704
If you plan on renting a golf cart, the suggested route should already include these stops. If you don’t wish to (or can’t) rent a golf cart, an alternative is to book the Discover Avalon Tour. We did both and enjoyed the commentary on the tour of the history of Catalina Island, but enjoyed having flexibility to make stops and take photos with the golf cart. If you are looking for a good workout, you can hike to them as well.
These viewpoints are also great spots for a sunset picnic!
Visit the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens
Located about a 30 minute walk from downtown Avalon (or a quick golf cart ride away), the 37.85 acre Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens. The garden was originally the idea of Ada Wrigley, who supervised Pasadena horticulturalist Albert Conrad, who planted the garden’s original collection in 1935.
In 1960, the garden shifted its focus to primarily showcase the California island endemic plants. These plants are exclusive to California’s Channel Island, and many of them are on the endangered species list. The garden is especially focused on six Catalina endemics, including the rare Catalina Ironwood.
The garden is also the starting point for the Garden to Sky trail, one of the island’s most popular hikes.
The centerpiece of the botanical gardens is the Wrigley Memorial, dedicated to William Wrigley Jr., who is largely credited with playing an instrumental role in the history and the development of the island.
The stunning memorial was designed by the architectural firm Bennett, Parsons and Frost, who also designed Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain. It was built using primarily materials that were sourced on the island and was adorned with tiles made by local artisans. I enjoyed admiring all of the architectural details on the memorial!
From here, you can see incredible views of the gardens and Avalon Bay – which makes the uphill climb and stairs totally worth it!
1400 Avalon Cyn Rd, Avalon, CA 90704
Visit the Catalina Museum
The Catalina Island Museum showcases interesting and engaging exhibits focusing on 7000 years of the island’s history. The exhibits depict life on the life and its inhabitants, from the natives who originally lived on the island, to the rich-and-famous who once called the island home.
The museum displays a large collection of Catalina pottery made between 1927-1937, 10,000 photographs depicting island life, boat models, sport fishing items, and Tongva and Gabrielino artifacts uncovered from archaeological digs on the island.
217 Metropole Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
Stroll down the waterfront
Avalon’s waterfront is dotted with charming shops, beachside restaurants, and plenty of scenic views. Be sure to set aside a couple of hours to take a walk along the waterfront. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s still one of the best things to do in Avalon!
Start from Pebbly Beach (and admire the crystal clear waters) and continue along the water towards the casino. Check out what’s going on at the Green Pleasure Pier, where you can also find the island’s visitor’s center, as well as several tour operators, water activities, and diving companies. Continue down Via Casino (and snap a photo with one of the arches in the tunnel – it will frame the Casino perfectly!).
We strolled down the waterfront around sunset time and the views were so pretty (especially with the Casino as a backdrop) – the waters were so calm and it felt so peaceful!
Check out the iconic casino
The Catalina Casino is not only THE most recognizable landmark on the island, it’s also steeped in history. Did you know that the Casino was not built as a place for gambling? In fact, the original Italian meaning is “a little house.” Specifically, it means a gathering place for social amusements.
The Casino was built in 1929, ten year after William Wrigley Jr. purchased the island. It was the centerpiece of his vision for the island to be a “playground for all” in paradise. In its heyday, the Casino was a hub of nightlife, and millions made the journey dinner, movie, and dancing here. The highlight of the Casino is the magnificent ballroom, which is large enough to accommodate 4,000 people (or, the entire population of Avalon).
Today, the Casino has been brilliantly restored and still stands as an ode to the glitz and glamour of the island’s history. Tours of the Casino are offered and I highly recommend doing one to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most famous Catalina Island attractions and to learn more about the history of the island.
You’ll also get to see the stunning movie theater (the first of its kind built specifically for the advent of talking movies!), the grand ballroom, and the outside balcony, which overlooks the harbor and has some beautiful views.
At the very least, I highly suggest just admiring the Casino from the outside. The Art Deco details on the facade are incredible (and award-winning)! There are also some beautiful murals on the outside foyer that are worth a look as well.
1 Casino Way, Avalon, CA 90704
Go on a parasailing adventure
Taking a parasailing tour is one of the most exciting Catalina Island activities! You’ll soar high above the island at heights up to 800 feet, giving you a unique birds-eye perspective of Catalina.
We took a parasailing flight from California Parasail, and loved our experience so much! The tour lasts about an hour, with around 10 participants. In the warmer months, you also have the option of being able to dip your toes into the water upon landing.
We spent about 10 minutes up in the air, and were surprised at how calm it was up there! It was a bit breezy on the ground that day, so we were afraid that it was going to be absolutely freezing up in the sky, but it was actually much more pleasant up there! We were surprised that we could have an actual conversation at a normal volume haha.
The views of the island, the harbor, and downtown Avalon were so incredible from high up in the air, and made for an unforgettable experience! I highly recommend parasailing as one of the must-do Catalina Island activities!
Discover the marine life
Catalina Island’s crystal clear waters host a variety of marine life. The island has a number of marine protected areas that are home to abundant marine life in all forms.
The island is a favorite of scuba divers, who consider it to be the best spot for diving in Southern California. There are plenty of diving opportunities for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced. It is also a popular spot to get certified. The Casino Point Dive Park, just past the Casino, is a popular spot for diving and the home of several diving outfitters. Learn more about diving on the island.
Catalina Island is also considered to be one of the best places to go snorkeling. You’ll find plenty of snorkeling vendors all over the island, especially on the Green Please Pier. Both guided and self-guided tours are available, as well as equipment rental (or you can bring your own) Some of the best snorkeling opportunities are at Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve, Casino Point Dive Park and the waters around Descanso Beach. Learn more about snorkeling on the island.
This is something we would love to do the next time we return to the island – we were considering snorkeling, but the waters were still freezing cold during our stay!
Explore the waters by kayaking or SUPing
Catalina Island has 52 miles of pristine coastline, and one of the best ways to explore it is by kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. The island is full of scenic coastline, hidden coves, and vibrant marine life.
You’ll find plenty of kayaking and SUPing providers along the waterfront in Avalon.
If you’ve been around here a while, you will know that I’m awful at rowing activities (see: that time in Tempe, AZ), but if I were to kayak somewhere it would definitely be on Catalina!
More information about kayaking and SUPing around the island.
Go on a boat tour
Going on a boat tour is another fantastic activity to discover the marine life on the island.
You have a few options – the first of which is an underwater submarine expedition, in which you will board a semi-submersible vessel. It’s one of the only boats of its kind in the county, and allows you to get up close and personal with the island’s marine creatures, including the bright orange Garibaldi fish, spotted calico, sea urchins, rock fish, bat rays, kelp, and more that live underneath the ocean’s surface.
You can also take a glass bottomed boat tour, which gives you a peek into the creatures that live under the waters of Lover’s Cove. You’l get to see a variety of colorful fish and marine life that call Catalina Island home, and why it’s considered to be one of the healthiest marine environments in the world.
Play a round of mini golf at the Golf Gardens
You might be thinking, “why on earth are you telling me to mini golf? That’s cheesy AF!” Why yes, dear reader – that was my initial thought too. Add to the fact that I’m AWFUL at mini golf (Like…wtf is par? It takes me at 5x the number of strokes) and EVERYONE makes fun of me every time we go
But folks, the Golf Gardens isn’t your average miniature golf course. There are no tacky clowns or windmills here. In fact, it’s known as one of the best and most beautiful courses in the world amongst miniature golf enthusiasts.
Mini golfing at the Golf Gardens is sort of like golfing in a garden oasis. There is lush plant life everywhere around you. There are signs at each hole that point out the flora ad fauna, and give you an insight into the island’s history. Seriously, it is beautiful and unlike any other miniature golf course you’ll see and a fun way to spend a couple hours!
I’m still terrible at mini golf, but I still found this to be one of the most fun things to do in Avalon!
10 Island Plz, Avalon, CA 90704
Try Buffalo Milk
No, not actually milk from a buffalo! A Buffalo Milk is basically the official cocktail of the island, made out of Creme de Cocoa, Kahlua, Creme de Banana, vodka, and cream . It’s kind of like a banana smoothie and I loved it!
Pretty much any restaurant and bar on the island has Buffalo Milk on their menu, but you can find the best at the Buffalo Nickel. It’s located about a mile away from downtown Avalon, next to the helipad, but you can call them for a shuttle to take you to and from town (or you can walk). It’s where the locals hang out, and has a really fun, quirky vibe.
Take an interior tour
While there are plenty of things to do in Avalon, it only takes up a tiny fraction of the land on the island. The island’s rugged interior offers a completely different side to Catalina, and I highly suggest you take at least a bit of time to explore it!
While you can hike or bike around the island, the best way to explore Catalina’s interior is to take an interior tour. This two-hour tour will take you 10 miles into the island’s protected interior, and make stops at the Airport in the Sky, the Nature Center, and even peers down at one of Catalina’s original Native American gathering sites.
You’ll even have the opportunity to spot some of the wildlife that call Catalina Island home – if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the island’s bison or foxes.
Along the way, you’ll catch some stunning views as well!
Catalina Island boasts 165 miles of trails just waiting to be explored. The island has hiking opportunities ranging in difficulty, suiting all ages and ability levels, making hiking one of the best things to do in Catalina Island.
You’ll find dozens of trails, whether you are looking for a short, easy hike, or a multi-day backpacking adventure. If you are interested in the latter, the Trans-Catalina Trail traverses the rugged interior of the island, covering 38.5 miles with camping stops at pristine beaches. On average, it takes about four days to complete the hike. Permits are required – here’s how to get one.
If you are looking for something much shorter, you’ll find plenty of opportunities around the island. There are ample hiking opportunities to explore the island’s interior here’s all of the hikes on the island), but you can find several hikes in Avalon as well (here’s a hiking guide and map).
One of the trails that I would love to do on a future visit to the island is the Garden to Sky trail, which starts at the botanical garden in Avalon, and stretches and is one of the most popular hikes on Catalina Island. You’ll find several trail options for the hike, at varying lengths and difficulty levels. The hike allows you to see two different sides of the island, and is an ideal option for day trippers.
Another hike that is on my bucket list is the Airport Loop trail, which allows you to explore the area surrounding the island’s “Airport in the Sky.” You’ll find incredible summit views as well as a glimpse of cultural history on this trail.
Do note that for hikes in the island’s interior, a permit must be secured through the Catalina Conservancy. Permits are free of charge, and can be obtained from the Trailhead visitor center (on Crescent Ave. in Avalon), Nature Center, Airport in the Sky, and Two Harbors Visitor Information Center, or online. If your hike’s trailhead is in the interior and you don’t want to hike/bike there, you can also take the Wildlands Express shuttle.
More information about hiking on Catalina Island.
Take a trip to Two Harbors
While there are plenty of amazing things to do in Avalon, taking a trip to Two Harbors gives you a different glimpse into the island.
Located on Catalina’s west end, Two Harbors is a small village that sits on a narrow piece of land that separates the leeward and seaside side of the island. Two Harbors has a cozy, quiet vibe, showing visitors a different side of the island than the touristy Avalon.
On Two Harbors, you will find a beach club, a restaurant, a lodge, and a general store. It is also a haven for outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, and more. You’ll also find rugged natural beauty here, with turquoise waters and rolling green hills.
You can visit Two Harbors from Avalon via the Cyclone boat, which provides regular service during the island’s tourist season (May through October). Unfortunately, the Cyclone was not running during our visit, but it is at the top of my list for next time!
Where to Eat and Drink on Catalina Island
Descanso Beach Club
I mentioned Descanso Beach Club earlier, but felt it should get another mention here. You can’t go wrong with delicious food and drinks right on the beach! Even if you don’t want to hang out on the chaise loungers or a cabana, it’s still an awesome spot to stop for lunch.
We ordered the poke bowl and ceviche and both were super fresh and tasty. You must also grab a fruity cocktail here – try a buffalo milk, the official drink of the island! It almost tastes like a boozy banana milkshake.
1 St Catherine Way, Avalon, CA 90704
The Naughty Fox
Located in the Bellanca Hotel, the Naughty Fox is one of Avalon’s newest additions and offers fresh chef-driven cuisine paired with delicious cocktails. We loved the Naughty Fox so much that we ended up stopping in twice (once for dinner, and then dessert and cocktails the second night)!
You must try the ahi tuna poke nachos here, which are served up on crisped wonton chips, for a fun twist!
111 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
The Bluewater is part of a local chain, but the Avalon location is one of its best. They’re known for serving delicious, fresh seafood dishes, and for the view you get from the outdoor patio, overlooking Avalon’s harbor and the Casino.
We ordered the clam chowder, steamed shellfish in white wine, butter, and garlic sauce, and the chipotle blackened swordfish – everything was delicious and we really loved taking in the view (even at night) as we enjoyed dinner!
306 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
Luau Larry’s is a super kitschy tiki bar, but it’s a local favorite and it has been around for ages. It’s also right next to the beach (and currently have outdoor seating right on the beach!).
The drink to order here is the Wiki Whacker, made with Cruzan aged light rum, Parrott brandy, pineapple/orange juice and grenadine. Everyone who orders one also gets a straw hat – it was funny walking around the island and seeing all the people with one on! (I had to make my boyfriend order one for the photo op, because I’m a good blogger like that lmao.)
509 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
NDMK Fish House
If you’re looking to eat fresh local seafood, look no further than NDMK Fish House. You’ll find a variety of seafood dishes and specialties here (everything from tacos, sushi, sandwiches, and more), many of which feature the catch of the day.
I had the fish and chips here with the catch of the day (which was halibut that day), and it was one of the best that I’ve ever had!
We also loved the sushi rolls here (especially the rainbow roll) as it’s made with some of the freshest fish you’ll find!
109 Clarissa Ave Box, Avalon, CA 90704
Antonio’s Pizzeria actually has two locations: one on the waterfront more suited for a sit-down meal, and one on Sumner Avenue that is more of a grab and go spot (they do also have a few tables outside for dine-in).
We were in the mood for some pizza one night (as second dinner, because hey, eating is one of the best things to do on Catalina Island), and Antonio’s totally hit the spot! The thin crust has the perfect crisp to it.
Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret: 230 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
Original Antonio’s: 114 Sumner Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
The Lobster Trap
A favorite of both locals and visitors alike, the Lobster Trap serves up delicious seafood dishes in a casual setting. It’s got the cutest storefront, painted with a colorful underwater scene.
With a name as “Lobster Trap,” obviously, the lobster is good here. We got the lobster roll and it was so, so good – super buttery and saucy!
128 Catalina Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
The Sandtrap is located right next to the Catalina Golf Course (about a 10 minute walk from the center of town), and is a great spot to stop for a bit away from the hustle and bustle of the main part of Avalon.
Highly recommend coming for happy hour (2pm-close) – they have $2 tacos, $2 beers, and $5 margaritas. The tacos were super tasty, and so were the margs!
Avalon Cyn Rd, Avalon, CA 90704
Bistro at the Atwater
Located adjacent to Hotel Atwater, the Bistro at the Atwater is an awesome spot to stop for a quick breakfast and coffee before starting your Catalina Island adventures. They have some delicious breakfast sandwiches and pastries! They also have salads, smoothies, cold pressed juices and more. Everything is made using farm-to-table ingredients.
119 Sumner Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
Maggie’s Blue Rose
You’ll find classic and elevated Mexican dishes, served in an eclectic environment at Maggie’s Blue Rose.
We loved the duck mole enchiladas and crab + corn empanadas here! Their margaritas are also supposed to be the best on the island.
417 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co.
The Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co. is one of the of the best spots on the island if you need your caffeine fix bright and early! There’s always a line out of the door here, and for good reason. I didn’t get to try the cookies here (even though I fully intended to because cookie is in the name), but the breakfast burrito was super tasty!
205 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
Have you been to Catalina Island? What are some of your favorite things to do on Catalina Island?
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Go Wander Wild
Tuesday 14th of September 2021
I loved reading about your experience in Catalina Island. Your descriptions really made it come alive for me. Happy travels!
Monday 29th of March 2021
I lived in SB for many years and never made it here!! My brother went several times with his school and he said it's simply amazing , and your photos suggest the same. I really need to make it here one day!
Sunday 28th of March 2021
What an awesome post! Saving for our Cali road trip!
Sunday 28th of March 2021
Such an informative article! I've been all over California (actually visited all counties in California), yet I've never made it out to Catalina. Maybe this summer!
Sunday 28th of March 2021
Catalina Island looks like such a dreamy destination! It reminds me of the coastline in Spain or Italy, but i's just a short trip from where I live in Phoenix. I'm seriously considering visiting soon! Thanks for this awesome guide.