A beach vacation on Catalina Island California is an experience all its own. For one thing, you can only get there by air or by sea, which is half the fun, especially when there’s a school of dolphins playing around the boat (not guaranteed, but it does happen).
Secondly, most everyone on the island travels by foot, bike, tour bus or golf cart. Bikes and golf carts are available to rent. If you want to leave the Avalon area, you must go by tour bus, on foot, or by bicycle.
Thirdly, Santa Catalina Island, as it’s otherwise known, has this atmosphere quite unlike other Southern California beaches. It somehow feels like another era in another country. There is a certain Mediterranean charm.
You can spot beautiful Catalina tile here and there in the local decor. The tile in the public restrooms make them far nicer than most Southern California beach restrooms.
When you get off the ferry and walk towards the town, you’ll see the Green Pleasure Pier where there is much information on water activities, tours, diving and more. The Catalina Island California Visitor’s Center is also located here, along with the loading area for the Glass Bottom Boat Tour.
Ways to get over to Catalina are via helicopter, private yacht, cruise ship or one of the ferries.
One option is the Catalina Express, which goes round trip from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point in Orange County.
Another option is the Catalina Flyer, which goes round trip from Newport Beach.
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Attractions on Catalina Island California are many and varied, especially if you’re the recreational type. Or if not, you can simply get off the boat and take a stroll through Avalon, the island’s only city. There are lots of little shops to browse and places to get a bite to eat. Some of the restaurants are on the waterfront, but there may be quite a wait on a sunny summer weekend.
It’s also quite nice to stroll along the waterfront path down to the famous Avalon Casino. Built in 1929, it used to be a venue for the big bands, but now it houses a Museum where you can learn about the island’s history. On the bottom level is a restored art deco theater which shows films. If the weather is warm enough, as it usually is, you can spend some time on the beach and watch the boats in Avalon Bay. If you are feeling energetic, you can hike about a mile up Avalon Canyon Road to Wrigley Botanical Garden and Wrigley Memorial. Alternatively, you can catch a cab. It is a lovely place to saunter around there in the hills above Avalon. Catalina Stables are also located up here on the Avalon Canyon Road.
Other possible activities on Catalina Island California include renting a bike and exploring more of Avalon, or riding down the main road to Emerald Bay. To ride outside of town requires a permit from the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy. They own most of the island and keep its natural state well preserved. The Conservancy is located at 125 Claressa. Their phone number is 310-510-2595. They also offer hiking permits which are free.
To go snorkeling without a tour, you can bring your own equipment or rent it. Lover’s Cove (just southeast of town) is a popular place to snorkel. Just past the Casino is Descanso Beach, which also offers good snorkeling. You can rent equipment there as well. There is an underwater marine park at Casino Point.
Two Harbors is at the island’s northwest end, at the isthmus. Twenty three miles from Avalon, you can get there by boat or bus. Mainland yachters hang out here frequently. There is one restaurant, one hotel and camping and snorkeling tours to northern coves.
Bus and jeep tours are available which go to Two Harbors and other areas of the island. There are several types of boat tours as well, including kayak tours, ocean rafting, the glass bottom boat tour, the flying fish boat trip, or a cruise along the coast to Isthmus Cove.
There's an open air tram tour that leaves from the center of town which takes you up into the hills around Avalon, offering splendid views.
Catalina Island California is a popular place for snorkeling and scuba diving. Clear waters and protected coves make it ideal. Several tours can take you out on a boat, with equipment provided.
For a beautiful, memorable thrill, there is a newer attraction: the Catalinazip line. It starts up in the hills and takes you down a length of 1100 feet over 5 separate zip lines, through Descanso Canyon and ending at Descanso Beach. Along the way are stations where you learn about the local ecology. The whole tour takes around 2 hours and is open year round.
Descanso Beach is part of the Descanso Beach Club to the north of town on the the other side of the Casino. For a small fee, you can use this beach and even rent a cabana and chaise lounge. There is a waterfront restaurant and two outdoor bars. Call to see when they are open, because they are generally open late spring through mid fall. Call 310-510-7410.
Pebbly Beach is at the other end of Avalon on the other side of the cruise ship docking area. At this pebbly beach there is access to Lover's Cove, a popular snorkeling spot.
Along the main harbor or Avalon Bay right in front of town is a long, narrow beach lined with palm trees. The Green Pleasure Pier bisects it and provides access to restrooms and boat tours. Shops line Crescent Avenue across from the beach. There are no waves, so it's great for small children as long as you keep a close eye and don't let them drink the water!
To the south of the pier is South Beach and to the north is Middle Beach. South Beach has beach rentals. On the other side of Middle Beach, closer to the casino is Step Beach, which has deep water close to shore.
Staying overnight on the island is a great idea if you really want to relax and enjoy yourself. There are a variety of hotels and also vacation rentals in Avalon, and a few in Two Harbors.
If you want to rough it a little and get back to nature, there are 5 campgrounds to choose from, plus boat-in camping options.
For longer stays, check out vacation rentals on the island.
These are just some of the many events happening on Catalina Island California. You may want to plan your vacation or visit around one of them.
Affiliate Disclosure: Some links on this page may go to the TripAdvisor website, where I will gain a small commission if you click certain links within their website. However, I wouldn't link to that site if I didn't think it would be useful and interesting as a supplement to this site.
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