Located 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles is Santa Catalina Island (aka Catalina), a beautiful island paradise with a Mediterranean feel. Avalon, the only incorporated city on Catalina offers a laid-back resort vibe with an abundance of outdoor activities and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. I’ve put together this Catalina Island Travel Guide to help you plan an epic trip!
When to Visit
Most people probably think summer is the best time to visit, however I personally think the best time to visit Catalina Island is winter or spring. The weather and water temps may be warmer in the summer, but if you are looking to avoid crowds and get a great deal on hotel accommodations, winter is the perfect time to visit. Catalina is currently offering their “Best of Winter” package, which includes boat transportation, hotel accommodations, and other special perks at up to 50% off!
How to Get to Catalina Island
By Ferry Boat
The most popular way to get to Catalina is by ferry boat. Catalina Express has ports in Dana Point, Long Beach and San Pedro and offers multiple departure and return times. The trip to Avalon is approximately 1 hour and costs between $70-80 depending on port and season. The boats offer both indoor and outdoor seating, clean restrooms and a snack bar.
The Catalina Flyer has a port in Newport Beach and offers one round trip daily, leaving Newport Beach for Avalon at 9 AM and returning from Avalon to Newport Beach at 4:30 PM. The trip is approximately 75 minutes and costs $70 roundtrip. The Flyer also offer both indoor and outdoor seating, clean restrooms and a snack bar.
On the other hand, if you are looking for the quickest way to the island, you can fly into Avalon from Long Beach with IEX Helicopters. The trip takes only 15 minutes and costs around $300 roundtrip.
Where to Stay
Bellanca Hotel is a chic oceanfront hotel located on Crescent Avenue, steps away from everything. The hotel recently completed a multi-million dollar top-to-bottom renovation with contemporary architecture, luxe amenities, and ocean-inspired furnishings. A rooftop lounge reserved for hotel guests serves up ocean views, comfortable seating, light bites and beach chic cocktails. Bellanca is also home to Naughty Fox, a modern beach bar. Bellanca Hotel is currently offering the “Go & Play Winter Getaway” package which includes discounted hotel accommodations, boat transportation, taxi transfer, and bottle of sparkling wine.
Originally opened in 1920, Hotel Atwater was the first hotel built under the direction of William Wrigley Jr. after he purchased the Catalina Island Company. The hotel was completely renovated in 2019 and is located in the heart of Avalon, one block from the beach. Hotel Atwater is a part of the “Best of Winter” package, offering discounts up to 50% off.
Where to Eat/Drink
The Naughty Fox
The Naughty Fox is a modern beach bar serving coastal cuisine all day long with spectacular views of Avalon Bay. I highly recommend the Poke Nachos!
Descanso Beach Club
Descanso Beach Club is Avalon’s only beachside restaurant & bar, serving up casual fare and tropical cocktails.
Located on Crescent Avenue just steps from the beach, Luau Larry’s offers breathtaking views of the harbor in a lively, fun tropical setting. Listen to live music while sipping on a famous Wiki Wacker or Buffalo Milk.
For a unique dining experience only steps from Avalon Bay, make a reservation at Avalon Grille. The restaurant serves artfully-crafted premium meats, local fish, and farm-stand produce. And the central bar serves up craft beers, world-class wine, and yummy cocktails.
What to Do
Rent a Golf Cart
You can easily get around town by foot, but if you want to explore more of the island, rent a golf cart from Catalina Island Golf Cart. For $55/hr you can have fun cruising around Avalon in search of the best views and photo ops.
The Zipline Eco Tour is Catalina’s top rated adventure. After a brief safety session, you’ll gear up and climb aboard a shuttle that will take you to the ridge top 600 feet above Descanso Beach Club. The tour lasts approximately 2 hours and includes 5 different zip lines with spectacular views of the hills and ocean.
Relax on the Beach
If you are looking to chill, Descanso Beach Club is the spot. Just a short stroll past the iconic Casino, it’s home to Catalina’s only beachside restaurant and bar and the only place on the island where you can legally have a drink in your hand with your toes in the sand. Private cabanas, lounge chairs and beach equipment are available to rent.
Search for Bison
Did you know there are Bison in California? A herd of approximately 180 American Bison roam the hills of Catalina Island. They are descendants of a small herd left on the island by a movie crew back in the 1920s. On Catalina’s Bison Expedition, you will climb aboard an open-air biofuel Hummer to explore Catalina’s rugged interior and go in search of these amazing creatures.
For spectacular views of Catalina from above, go parasailing with California Parasail. They offer rides for one, two, or three people at a time and you can choose to stay completely dry or get your feet wet.
Explore Marine Life
For an amazing view of Catalina’s marine life, take an Undersea Sub Expedition. You will cruise five feet below the surface in a spacious, climate-controlled cabin while searching for bright orange Garibaldi, spotted calico bass, urchins, rock fish, and bat rays.
Take a Day Tour to Two Harbors
If you want to venture outside of Avalon, hop aboard the Cyclone powerboat in Avalon and Discover Two Harbors on Catalina’s west end. There you can rent kayaks, mountain bikes, stand-up paddleboards, snorkel gear and more at the Dive & Recreation Center.
I hope my Catalina Island Travel Guide comes in handy when planning your next trip!
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This post in collaboration with Catalina Island Company and Catalina Express. All opinions are my own.