An accessible alternative to Europe

By Beth Demmon

CATALINA ISLAND IS KNOWN FOR its ideal Mediterranean climate, beaches, and waters. The island is  twenty-two miles long and eight miles wide—large enough to explore, but small enough to feel like home for a day or a weekend. Whether you’re hoping for a romantic getaway or a chance to experience nature in one of the island’s many campgrounds, Catalina offers exactly what you need for total rejuvenation. 

There are only two ways to get to Catalina: by air or by sea. The most popular option is one of the ferries that regularly depart from docks in Long Beach, Dana Point, San Pedro, and Newport Beach. A round-trip ferry ride runs about one hour and starts at seventy dollars per adult. Child, senior, and other discount rates are available. Looking to arrive with a bit of flair? You can also book a helicopter ride. The flight only takes fifteen minutes, but it will leave you with a lifetime of memories.

Most of the few cars on the island are taxis and buses. Embrace a spirit of adventure and hop on a rented golf cart or bicycle to scoot around town like a local. Bus service is also available around Avalon, the island’s beating heart, and in Two Harbors, the island’s western center. Once you arrive on the island, life tends to slow down a bit. Take a stroll, see the sights, and drink it all in.

Catalina Casino in Avalon | Courtesy of Love Catalina Island
Catalina Casino in Avalon | Courtesy of Love Catalina Island
Courtesy of Love Catalina Island
Courtesy of Love Catalina Island
Catalina Island Madeline Lu
Catalina Island Madeline Lu
Two Harbors | Courtesy of Love Catalina Island
Two Harbors | Courtesy of Love Catalina Island

You can play golf with the island’s unbeatable scenic beauty as your backdrop or take a charter boat cruise on a glass-bottomed boat to spot shipwrecks and reefs that surround the island. Some of Southern California’s best snorkeling and scuba diving can be found on Catalina, along with plenty of kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing options. You can even try soaring over Descanso Canyon on a zip line excursion, where high speeds and great views are guaranteed to get your adrenaline going! Pro tip: bring binoculars and a camera to capture some of Catalina’s legendary wildlife, which includes island foxes, bison, and eagles. 

When you’re hungry, both Avalon and Two Harbors cater to a variety of tastes. In Avalon, Bluewater is known for its take on New England seafood with a SoCal spin, and Avalon Grille serves up the best of California coastal cuisine paired with a world-class wine menu. Margaritas at the Descanso Beach Club are a must, and coffee for the morning after means a trip to Bistro at the Atwater. In Two Harbors, the atmosphere is a little more casual. If you aren’t picnicking at your campsite, head to West End Galley for breakfast bites, Harbor Sands for South Pacific-inspired cuisine, and Harbor Reef for swordfish. 

Seduced by the island and don’t want to leave? Extend your day trip and stay at one of the many options Catalina has to offer. Avalon’s Pavilion Hotel occupies a prime oceanfront position in town and offers plenty of luxury accommodations for those looking for an elevated experience. If you can snag a room at Mt Ada, the former island mansion of William Wrigley Jr. and his wife Ada, expect breathtaking views and five-star service. Camping is another popular way to experience Catalina Island. Two Harbors offers forty-seven campsites that can each hold up to twelve guests. Larger groups should look to Brisa Del Mar and Bahia Azul. Bring a tent, rent one on-site, or try one of Two Harbors’ tent cabins with ocean views.

Catalina Express Ferry | shutterstock.com / Unwind
Catalina Express Ferry | shutterstock.com / Unwind

When You Go

The Catalina Express offers up to thirty departures daily from ports in San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point, and the Catalina Flyer offers one round-trip ride from Newport Beach each day. Reservations are strongly encouraged during the peak summer season. 

Catalina Island Conservancy

Catalina Express Ferry

Catalina Flyer Ferry

Mt Ada Bed & Breakfast

The Catalina Island Visitors Center
On the Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon
Open Mon–Sat 8–5; Sun 9–4
Closed daily 12–1