Visiting Catalina Island: A Complete Travel Guide
Santa Catalina Island, widely known as “Catalina”, is a charming island off the coast of Los Angeles, California. It is known for its rugged wildlife, laid-back resort vibe, outdoor activities, and the most majestic views of the Pacific Ocean. For Californians, it’s perfect for a weekend getaway and is very reminiscent of the Mediterranean (think a mini Amalfi Coast). There are two towns on this island that you can travel to – Avalon + Two Harbors – but I’ll get more into that later. Keep reading below for “A Complete Travel Guide to Visiting Catalina Island”
Catalina is steeped in history with settlers starting as far back as 7,000 years ago. The island was a happening place for pirates, smugglers, hunters, and even the army back in the day. It was then made a resort destination by The Banning Brothers in the early 1900s. Then in 1919, the Wrigley Gum Family purchased the island and invested millions of dollars to appeal to vacationers. They still own it to this day!
How to Get to Catalina Island
FERRYS TO CATALINA ISLAND
For the easiest way to get to Santa Catalina Island choose the Catalina Express or the Catalina Flyer. There are three different ports in Southern California to choose from: Dana Point, Long Beach, + San Pedro for the Catalina Express and the Catalina Flyer departs from Newport Beach. Each ticket costs $75 round trip and there are only a number of departure times (Long Beach has the most departure times) so make sure to book this first when you are planning your trip to Catalina. Do note, that at the Dana Point port parking is $14 a day and the boat ride takes 1 hour and 25 minutes from that port. I’d bet it’s similar pricing and travel times in the other two ports.
You could choose to fly into Avalon with IEX Helicopters. You can book a flight departing from Long Beach and the trip will only take you 15 minutes and cost roughly $300 round trip per person.
Catalina has a temperate marine climate most of the year but for the best time to visit, plan your trip for spring or fall. Summer is great since the water is very warm to swim in but the prices for accommodations will almost double during the months of June-September. For the best time to visit Catalina plan your trip from April-May or late September-October.
Best Things to Do on Catalina Island
While all opinions and recommendations are always my own, my content on this blog post may contain affiliate links for hotels I’ve traveled to, tours I’ve completed, and products I recommend. This means I get a small commission if you book a stay or purchase a product after clicking one of these links. As always, I am so thankful for your support and will continue to share the best properties, things to do, and items I love!
Descanso Beach Club
Our favorite part of the trip was renting lounge chairs and posting up at the beach club for the afternoon. I’ll say it again, this island reminded us very much of the Amalfi Coast, and spending the day at Descanso Beach Club solidified that. They have a full lunch and drink menu to choose from (get the tacos!). You’ll want to book your chairs or cabanas in advance as they can sell out during busy days. It costs $75 for a pair of chairs for the entire day. You can check out their website for more details.
Visit the Catalina Casino
The Catalina Casino is a stunning example of Art Deco architecture and a historic landmark. Built in 1929 by William Wrigley Jr. the casino was not used for gambling but rather for entertainment. It housed a grand ballroom, a movie theater, and a museum, making it a hub of social activity for residents and visitors alike.
The casino’s iconic round building and beautiful seaside location have made it a symbol of Catalina Island and a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors a glimpse into the island’s glamorous past. Today, the casino continues to host events and remains a beloved piece of Catalina Island’s history and culture. Finally, it costs $19 to enter and they still show movies to this day!
Day Trip to Two Harbors
Known as Catalina’s other side, you can either depart from San Pedro (the mainland) or take a day trip from Avalon via boat to get to Two Harbors (which takes 40 minutes). This side of the island is for the outdoor/adventure folk as it’s full of beautiful hiking trails, mountain biking trails, the best dive spots, and multiple campsites.
Rent Golf Carts + E-Bikes + Jetskis
GOLF CARTS: There are only a few rental places in Avalon for golf cart rentals and they all are roughly $50 an hour with a two-hour maximum. In reality, two hours is an ample amount of time to see all of Avalon. We were able to stop at the Botanical Garden, Chimes Tower Road, and Wrigley Road viewpoint (all amazing places for pictures) during our rental. We rented with “Cartopia” and highly recommend doing so! Finally, you can take a private golf cart tour of the island.
E-BIKES: The next day, we rented E-BIKES from Catalina E-Bikes which was another favorite part of the trip. Being that Catalina is SUPER hilly renting regular bikes would be unenjoyable in Avalon. You can rent them for the entire day or by the hour. We rented our e-bikes for 2.5 hours and it was the perfect amount of time to see all of Avalon twice and grab a bite to eat (cost $20 an hour per bike or $70 for the full day).
WATER ACTIVITIES: It’s an island so any water activity you want to do, they will have here! Everything from renting jet skis, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, parasailing, and more. Finally, this undersea excursion comes highly rated.
Visit the Botanical Garden
The Wrigley Memorial and botanical garden honor the memory of William Wrigley Jr. He was a crucial part of kick-starting tourism of Santa Catalina Island and when he passed, the Wrigley Memorial was constructed in his honor. The memorial is truly the centerpiece of the botanical garden and the most beautiful spot for photos (bring your wide-lens photographer friends). It costs $8 to enter and is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm.
FUN FACT: They sourced mostly all of the materials to build this memorial from Catalina alone.
Visit the Wrigley Mansions
Yes, you read that right there are not one but two Wrigley Mansions on Catalina Island. You can visit both of them while you rent your golf cart. I don’t believe there are any tours of the mansions you can just enjoy them from the outside!
There are over 165 miles of hiking trails on Catalina Island. The best part is there are hiking trails for every level of hiker. The big shebang hike is the “Trans-Catalina Trail” which spans around the entire island (38.5 miles to be exact). You will need hiking permits for most trails and can find out more information on hiking here.
Wildlife Expeditions + Ziplining
Did you know there is a rugged outback on Catalina filled with wildlife? Neither did I at first! One of the more popular excursions on the island is the bison expeditions and safari tours. For more information check out the tours here. Finally, there are a few places to zip line on the island. Check out Zip Line Eco Tour for the most popular spot.
For the Kids
Catalina Aerial Adventure: a fun obstacle course located near Descanso Beach Club. They have courses ranging from beginner to advanced and would be a great activity for adults and any kids over 7 years old!
Submarine Tour: This tour is great for kids. Embark on a 45-minute tour of the underwater world while learning all about the Pacific Ocean and sea life.
Best Photo Spots on Catalina
Listed in order from left to right!
- Casino Arch on Casino Way
- Buena Vista Point (Wrigley Road)
- Hotel St. Lauren
- Chimes Tower Road
- Wrigley Memorial + Botanical Garden
- The Casino
Catalina Island Hotels
Zane Grey Pueblo
Situated on top of the hill in Avalon with the best views in town is Zane Grey Hotel. In the early 1900s, the then-famous author Zane Grey purchased this estate the 1920s and turned it into a hotel that is still operating to this day. The pool is heated year-round, the rooftop has sweeping views of Avalon, and there is a shuttle to and from the town of Avalon (since it’s on top of the hill) from 8 am-10 pm. We 100% would stay here again when visiting Catalina. Don our shuttle driver who has lived on the island since 1990 gave us all the insider information that I’ve included in this guide today. Book your stay here!
Located directly in Avalon Town, this hotel is another great option if you want to be closer to restaurants and the beach. The interior has been remodeled recently and the balconies have great views of the city. Book your stay here!
Hotel Metropole: The Hotel Metropole was the first hotel in Catalina. Today it’s an affordable option in the heart of town located near many restaurants with views of the water. Book your stay here!
What to Pack for Catalina
- Activewear since most things to do is outdoors. My favorite brands of activewear that have lasted me YEARS are Lululemon and Athleta.
- Good hiking shoes or sneakers: I wore my Nikes for when we did a lot of walking (lots of uphill).
- A sturdy pair of flip-flops that you can also wear on a nice walk or to the beach. These Olukai Sandals are my go-to and have lasted me years and are the most comfortable.
- Chic sandals for dinner + a light jacket for the evening.
- A wide-brim sun hat: I love this hat from Brixton I have it in multiple colors.
- Bathing Suits: Being that Catalina gets very warm year round you’ll want to always be prepared by bringing bathing suits. I always find quality suits that last for a few seasons at Summersalt and Cupshe.
- Sunscreen: This GOOP FACE SUNSCREEN BRUSH is perfect for traveling because it adds SPF to your face all while not messing up your makeup.Shorts:
- Abercrombie has the best shorts for all sizes and shapes. Check out my favorite curve love shorts. I also love my Levi cut-offs they’re so classic and never go out of style.
- Basics: I always find the best basics on Amazon Basics.
Best Restaurants in Catalina
Bluewater Avalon ($$): Our favorite restaurant in Avalon, this place is located right on the water with the most amazing views and delicious seafood (we got the burger and it was great!) During peak times it’s best to make a reservation as it gets busy.
Topside ($$): Opened in July of 2023, this new rooftop restaurant has some of the best views in Catalina. Serving up classic American fare with reasonable prices, this spot is a must-visit!
Steve’s Steakhouse & Seafood ($$$): For an upscale dinner, choose this restaurant located in Avalon on the main strip. It comes highly rated by the locals!
The Naughty Fox ($$): Delicious cocktails and small bites to eat. We had the hummus plate while overlooking the water and the vibes were immaculate.
Descanso Beach Club ($$): If you are not renting chairs at the beach club you can still experience Descanso and grab lunch here! The restaurant is located right on the beach and is handicap-accessible.
The Lobster Trap ($$): Casual seafood restaurant located in Avalon that the locals love!
Cafe Metropole ($$): A casual juice bar with healthy salads and sandwiches. Sadly this is the only healthy-ish option in all of Avalon and is only open until 5 pm. With that being said, the salads were delicious. Get the BBQ Chicken Salad!
Hotel Atwater Coffee Shop ($$): located within the hotel, this coffee shop serves breakfast burritos, smoothies, pastries, and more. We had the breakfast burrito and chocolate croissant and both were tasty.
Original Antonio’s Pizzeria ($): Don’t make the mistake and eating at Antonio’s on the water. This is the original Antonio’s pizza spot and is pretty good. It’s great for families and is super casual but don’t expect NY pizza quality, ya know?
Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co ($$): Being that there is no Starbucks on the island (blasphemy, I know) the lattes and breakfast options at this spot were great! We had the breakfast burrito twice and highly recommend it.
Lloyd’s Ice Cream ($): Located on the main strip in Avalon this place is great for ice cream and all the candy options.
Thank you for reading my “A Complete Travel Guide to Visiting Catalina Island”. Leave me a line in the comments if you’ve ever been before and tell me your favorite spots! Don’t forget to check out more of my California Travel Guides.
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