Are you looking for a Mediterranean getaway without a long flight? Read our Travel Guide to Catalina Island. Visit Catalina Island, a true Southern California gem, for the perfect long weekend trip or to escape bustling Los Angeles and its infamous traffic jams. Whether strolling down the beach promenade in Avalon for some shopping, relaxing and enjoying amazing views with a drink in hand, or exploring the beautiful nature and rugged coastline of the island, Catalina Island has something for everyone.
In this travel guide to Catalina Island, we’ll answer all your questions on where to stay, what to eat, and what to do on Catalina Island. Consider us your virtual tour guide to Catalina Island.
How to Get to Catalina Island
The best way to get to Catalina Island is by ferry. The Catalina Express operates multiple ferries a day. In our opinion, the ferry is both the most convenient option, and it also gives you the chance to spot dolphins, seals, and whales on the 1.5-hour journey to Catalina Island.
The Catalina Express ferry service operates from three ports: Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. Choose the one that is most convenient for you. We recommend purchasing tickets in advance. You can buy tickets online, by phone, or in person at the ferry terminal. Prices vary depending on the departure port, type of ferry, and time of year.
The ferry ride is around 1.5 hours. Snacks and drinks can be purchased on board, too, so if you forget travel snacks at home—they’ve got you covered. The Catalina Express also offers a range of amenities to make the trip comfortable and enjoyable, including comfortable seating, air conditioning, and restrooms.
In addition to its standard ferry service, the Catalina Express also offers a range of special packages and deals. For example, visitors can take advantage of the Island Hopper package, which includes a round-trip ferry service and a trolley tour of the island’s highlights. Other packages may include activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, or a visit to the island’s famous Catalina Casino.
The ports usually offer daily parking. We departed from Dana Point, where the overnight parking was $20 per day. If you’re traveling with kids and lots of luggage, our insider tip is to drop the luggage off at the Ferry terminal and then park your car. It’s a couple-minute walk from the overnight parking lot to the ferry terminal.
Keep your eyes open for dolphins, seals, and whales along your journey!
As the ferry approaches Catalina Island, passengers are treated with stunning views of Catalina’s rugged coastline and crystal-clear waters. Upon arrival, passengers disembark at the island’s main town of Avalon, which offers a range of attractions, including beaches, shops, restaurants, and museums.
Alternatively, you can visit Catalina Island by air. IEX Helicopters operates flights from Long Beach directly to Avalon for $349 round trip.
Where is Catalina Island?
Catalina Island is a small island located off the coast of Southern California. It is part of the Channel Islands archipelago just a couple miles southwest of Los Angeles. On a clear day, you can see L.A. with the San Bernadino and San Gabriel mountains in the background from the island.
When to Visit Catalina Island
Catalina Island has a mild subtropical climate with year-round warm temperatures—it’s never too hot and never too cold. In the summer temperatures climb to an average of 72 degrees F during the day and 63 degrees F in the winter. Even though this doesn’t seem too high, never underestimate the sun. Pack your sunscreen and make sure to apply and reapply it even when it’s cloudy.
Catalina Island is great in any season but if you want to avoid the crowds while not having the temperatures drop too low, we recommend visiting in spring or fall.
How to Get to Two Harbors from Avalon
The island has two main towns: Avalon and Two Harbors. Avalon is the more popular of the two, offering a variety of restaurants, bars, boutiques, and art galleries. Two Harbors is a smaller, more secluded town that is perfect for those looking for a quiet getaway.
San Pedro to Two Harbor
To get to Two Harbors from the mainland, you can take the Catalina Express ferry from San Pedro. The schedule to and from Two Harbor, however, is limited, so make sure to check the most current schedule on their website.
Avalon to Two Harbors
Hop in the Cyclone power boat from Avalon to Two Harbors. This might be the quickest and most economical way to get to Two Harbors from Avalon. The Cyclone Power Boat, however, does not operate all year, so make sure to check if the boat is operating (May to October). The ride to Two Harbors takes around 40 minutes.
You can book private transport to Two Harbors from Avalon. The drive is a little over one hour and prices can range from $200 to $250.
Where to Eat on Catalina Island
When you visit Catalina Island you’ll find plenty of options along the promenade to grab a bite while enjoying amazing views of the mainland and the island itself.
Located at the Bellanca Hotel, the Naughty Fox is one of our island favorites. This little restaurant offers great food and drinks with a good view. We went for dinner and breakfast and liked everything we tried. With just a few tables, the Naughty Fox can fill up quickly so make sure to get there early or call to make a reservation. Our favorite menu item was the Ahi Poke Nachos and we’ll definitely be back for more.
This little café might be our favorite place in Avalon for breakfast, arguably the best breakfast on Catalina Island. Order a delicious drink from their juice bar and some homemade sandwiches. We couldn’t decide on what to order but luckily, it’s okay to be indecisive at Café Metropole. You can order half/half sandwiches to try two different sandwiches. Make sure to check out this breakfast spot when you visit Catalina Island.
Descanso Beach Club
Descanso Beach Club is a great place to enjoy a cold drink and enjoy the sun at the beach. We love the laid-back vibe, and it reminds you that you’re on an island. Chaise lounges and private cabanas are available for rent and lunch is served daily from 11am to 3pm.
It’s about a 15-minute walk from the pier so make sure to plan accordingly if you are visiting Avalon from a cruise ship.
Bluewater in Avalon
Our pick for one of the best restaurants on Catalina Island with a view is the Bluewater Avalon. It is one of the few restaurants where you can enjoy oceanside fine dining in Avalon. The menu is mainly seafood inspired but offers meat dishes and options for vegetarians. Oceanside tables are limited but you can make a reservation online.
The Lobster Trap
If you ask anyone on the island where to go for dinner, we can certainly guarantee most people will recommend The Lobster Trap. We had dinner at Lobster Trap and loved the casual atmosphere there! They only take walk-ins so get there early or be prepared for a wait during peak season.
Right in the center of the promenade, you’ll find Avalon’s favorite karaoke restaurant. Every Saturday this restaurant turns into a karaoke bar and restaurant. Not your thing? El Galleon also is a great place with tasty bites to visit for lunch or dinner any other day of the week.
Catalina Coffee & Cookie
Cataline Coffee & Cookie is the perfect place to grab a coffee to go or a snack!
Where to Stay on Catalina Island
The Bellanca Hotel
The Bellanca Hotel in Catalina Island is a charming and cozy hotel that provides a comfortable and affordable stay in the center of Avalon. It’s easily one of the best places to stay on Catalina Island. The rooms at the Bellanca Hotel are clean, cozy, and well-maintained, with comfortable beds and all the necessary amenities such as air conditioning, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. Some rooms also offer stunning views of the ocean or the town.
One of the standout features of the Bellanca Hotel is its rooftop deck, which offers great views of the bay and the ocean.
The Hotel Atwater is centrally located in Avalon and was built under the direction of William Wrigley Jr. in 1919. The Hotel has been renovated and modernized since then and offers a unique experience on Catalina Island.
You’ll find the most luxurious property nested on Mt Ada. The hotel with the same name was once used by William Wrigley Jr. and his wife Ada before it was turned into a hotel. This truly stunning property offers one of the best views on the island, but only has six individually designed guest rooms, so be sure to book well in advance of your visit.
Things to Do when visit Catalina Island
Go for a Hike with Catalina Backcountry
We always enjoy exploring on foot and went on a stunning sunrise hike with Catalina Backcountry. Barry, our guide, picked us up early for a scenic hike with some stunning views. To get to our sunrise viewpoint it was around a 30-minute hike uphill on partially maintained roads. We enjoyed the sunrise and then continued our hike. You’ll enjoy multiple great views of Avalon and the island. If you’re lucky, you might spot a bison or Catalina Island fox.
Catalina Backcountry offers different hikes for everyone. If you are in for a multi-day hike they also offer gear hauls and camp set-ups for you.
If you want to plan something more romantic, they can help you set up a beautiful picnic with a view.
We started our tracker a bit too late so the information might be a bit off.
- Length: Around 9.5 miles
- Elevation: 1450ft
- Duration: 3hrs 30min (depending on how fast you are)
Tour the Catalina Island Casino
When arriving on Catalina Island, one of the buildings that immediately stands out is the Casino. This circular structure is not only a nice photo backdrop but also has some interesting history. In our opinion, booking a casino tour is a must when you visit Catalina Island.
This casino is not an actual casino and never was. There has never been any gambling at the casino, but it was built to host events!
We did the Behind-the-Scenes Casino tour which gives you more time to explore and experience this beautiful structure. If you are short of time, you can also sign up for the Discover the Casino tour which is shorter but will still give you a lot of information.
Watch a Movie at the Casino
The Casino is still showing movies and you can purchase tickets directly at the ticket window. You can enjoy a movie in this historically rich theater while enjoying the amazing architecture and interior. Many celebrities throughout history like Marlyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin have sat on those seats enjoying films.
Check the timetables for viewings since they do not show movies every day.
Rent a Golf Cart
Another great activity when you visit Catalina Island is renting a golf cart. And it is possibly the easiest way to get around the island. The reason why you see so many golf carts on the island is because Catalina Island has a strict limitation on cars. Golf carts do not fall into that limitation, and this is why you’ll see so many of them. Basically, Catalina Island golf cart rental is your key to getting around.
We rented a golf cart for a couple hours to visit some of the viewpoints that are a bit of a walk. Also, because we did a 10-mile hike the day before, our legs were understandably a little tired.
Bison Experience in a Biofuel Hummer
If you want to experience Catalina Island’s backcountry but don’t have multiple days to hike across the islands, join one of the Bison Experience tours in a Biofuel Hummer. Your experienced driver will take you to some of the best viewpoints with the chance to spot some of the free-roaming bison on the island.
Starting in Avalon, the Hummer takes you up windy roads to your first viewpoint. From there your capable driver will take you deeper into the island for a chance to spot bison and Catalina foxes.
The Catalina fox is native to the island whereas the bison was brought to the island in the 1920s for a movie production and have since lived on the island. We’ve been lucky to spot one bison and a Catalina fox on our tour but since they’re free-roaming animals there is no guarantee that you’ll see some. Nevertheless, the bison tour is a great experience when you visit Catalina Island, especially to be able to see much more of the island in a short time.
Make Your Own Catalina Tiles
Strolling through Avalon, you’ll find that the town is decorated with many beautiful tiles. Rather than importing tiles from the mainland, all tiles you see on Catalina are produced right there on Catalina Island. You can buy Catalina tiles in one of the souvenir shops or make them yourself.
Robin, the owner of the Catalina Tile Experience, will pick you up and take you to her studio where she explains a bit of the history of how Catalina tile production started. You’ll make two tiles in a design of your choosing. You can then select the colors in which you want to receive the tiles. Since it takes a while for the tiles to dry and get burned and painted the tiles will be sent back to you.
This is a fun experience, and a chance to take a very unique, custom souvenir home.
Our finished tiles
Treat Yourself to a Spa Day
Part of the reason we take vacations is to relax, and what better way to relax than by enjoying a spa day at the Island Spa in Avalon. Although we haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy the spa yet, we’ve heard great things and feel confident in recommending a rejuvenating treatment or an entire day of R-and-R.
Explore Avalon on Foot
The best way to explore the town of Avalon is on foot. There is plenty to discover in Avalon like colorful houses and stunning viewpoints. Don’t forget to bring your camera and snap photos as you get lost in the beautiful side streets. We took the time to explore the town and found so many picturesque spots.
Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens
One of the highlights when visiting Catalina Island is the Wrigley Memorial. The Botanical Garden started as Ada Wrigley’s private desert plant collection and is now managed and Maintained by the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Both can be accessed with the same ticket.
Zip Line Eco Tour
Adrenaline seekers, this is your must-do Catalina Island activity. The zip line adventure takes you on five separate lines down to Descanso Beach Club. You’ll enjoy some great views while gliding down at up to 35mph.
Relax at the Beach
Just want to relax and soak up some sun when you visit Catalina Island? Head to Descanso Beach for a relaxing day of people-watching and sunbathing. If you have some time and would like something a bit more secluded check out one of the other beaches like Lover’s Cove, Emerald Bay, Pebbly Beach, and Two Harbors.
Catalina Island Packing List & Useful Tips
Essentials For Every Day, Hiking & Beach
Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen and regularly apply it when you visit Catalina Island. We use and can recommend EltaMD (Face), Neutrogena (Body), and Thinksport (Water activities) sunscreens.
Water Activities: Thinksport Clear Zinc SPF 50 or Badger Sport SPF 40
Catalina is a very water-conscious place. For example, the toilets use salt water instead of fresh water. Restaurants only sell bottled water, similar to Europe. Bring a water bottle to refill or get some bottled water at Vons in Avalon.
Don’t forget your reusable water bottle.
- Best simple reusable water bottle: Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle – 16 fl. oz.
- Best insulated: Hydro Flask Wide-Mouth Vacuum Water Bottle with Flex Cap – 40 fl. oz. and YETI Rambler Vacuum Bottle with Chug Cap – 36 fl. oz.
Pack your camera to capture Catalina Island’s stunning views and colorful towns.
If you need help finding the right camera equipment, check out our Camera Gear blog post.
- Light Jacket or Sweater
While we are blessed with near perfect weather in Southern California, once the sun sets and the breeze picks up it can get a bit chilly. Bring a sweater or light jacket to wear if it gets a bit chilly on the island.
- Comfortable Shoes
Catalina Island is very walkable and easy to get around. You’ll most likely explore most of the town on foot so pack some comfortable shoes and get your steps in. If you’re planning on going for a hike, be sure to pack not just comfortable shoes, but smart hiking shoes, too. We did our 9-10 mile sunrise hike in light hiking shoes from Hoka.
- Backpack or Tote Bag
We are using Gregory and Osprey backpacks for years, but it took us a while to find a backback that worked for us. When shopping for backpacks, don’t be shy trying a couple before making your purchase. We buy most of our outdoor gear at REI.
- Sunglasses & Hat
Just as you’ll want sunscreen, you should also pack a hat and sunglasses for added sun protection.
- Trail Snacks
Trust us, it’s not good to find yourself hangry on a hike. Do yourself a favor and pack your favorite trail snacks.
You can’t have a beach day without a swimsuit, and it’s always good to have options.
It’s always a good idea to pack a light travel towel on any trip.
- Water Shoes
Some of the beaches can get a bit rocky. Some water shoes might be a good idea, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
For us sandals usually work well enough.
Sandals: Teva Original Universal Sandals (Men / Women)
Looking for more information on Catalina Island?
View our Catalina Island trip itineraries for more information and recommendations.