Santa Catalina Island
For those looking for a great getaway from the Southern California mainland or cruise ship visitors stopping by for the day, Catalina Island is the place to be.
Catalina, the third largest of California’s Channel Islands, is located southwest of Los Angeles. Most visitors will go to Avalon, a Mediterranean-like town located 22 miles off the coastline near Los Angeles and Long Beach. The most popular way to get to the island is via a boat – either your own, a cruise ship, or a ferry like Catalina Express.
Catalina offers visitors plenty of activities.
If visiting for the day via a call from a cruise ship or if you are staying for longer than a day, Catalina offers a variety of activities for all ages. Popular diversions include: taking a tour, riding a golf cart around to explore Avalon, hiking, golf, kayaking, scuba, snorkeling, dining, or just relaxing.
While it is known for its wildlife, there is a lively downtown scene with many water diversions. Active visitors looking for adventure will want to head to the hills to explore the interior of the island, which is a great way to learn about conservation efforts to maintain the island’s delicate ecosystem.
The Catalina Island Conservancy offers a half-day, 4-wheel drive jeep tour to the island’s interior. A knowledgeable naturalist points out endemic plants as well as buffalo, bald eagles, foxes, and squirrels.
Tip: Check out my Catalina Port Guide that has more suggestions for what cruise visitors can to do on the island click here.
First things first: Getting to the island
Catalina Express began in 1981 when three Catalina Island residents realized the need for fast, reliable transportation to and from the island. Doug Bombard, his son Greg Bombard and longtime colleague, Tom Rutter, worked tirelessly to make the vision a reality. Since then more than 25 million passengers have set sail to Catalina Island on board Catalina Express. They have a few embarkation ports, Long Beach being the one with the most vessels and the shortest distance to the island, which is a good thing during choppy seas (plan for the worse and be surprised when you encounter a calm crossing). By the way, want to learn more about Catalina Island and their special birthday offers? Click here.
Step 2: Find a place to stay
The Avalon Hotel is one of the best kept secrets on Santa Catalina Island. The property is off-the-beaten-path but still centrally located to the action of the downtown harbor area. I have stayed here twice and both times I have not been disappointed. The property is small and quaint. There is a roof-top area with bbq, tables, chairs and some of the best views of the harbor. The staff is welcoming and gracious: characteristics of hospitality professionals at the best hotels in the world.
Avalon Hotel lobby.
Room 303 – partial ocean-view with large balcony.
The hotel offers complimentary breakfast in the atrium. And while the staff want you to feed the fish, make sure to give them fish food (available from the front desk).
Step 3. Time to explore
Sightseeing and activities
Palm trees and cabanas line Descanso Beach, marking the northern terminus of a self-guided walking tour around the Avalon Harbor.
Descanso Beach Club
Avalon’s circular, art deco Catalina Casino is a cultural center with a movie theater, ballroom and museum.
Glass Bottom Boat Tour
To learn more about the Glass Bottom Boat tour click here.
A glass bottom boat tour is a great way to see the abundant marine life under Catalina’s crystal-clear water. The boat is large and comfortable so everyone can have a look at what’ happening under the water. During the trip you’ll visit Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve, where colorful fish and marine plants thrive among the kelp forests. Advance reservations are required for groups and recommended for individuals.
Step 4. Time to eat
Good news, Catalina has a wide variety of food options available. From fish and chips, to fine dining there is something for everyone. And if you prefer to cook your own food, no worries, there is a grocery store available for those renting a house or condo. To see a partial list of restaurants available to choose from check out this link, click here.
Below are a couple places I went to on my recent trip to Catalina.
The Avalon Grille offers fine dining with a relaxed upscale atmosphere overlooking the Avalon Bay. The Avalon Grille features new American cuisine and regional dishes with a seasonal approach, paired with a world class selection of wines, micro-brew beers and specialty cocktails. This unique ambiance is found nowhere else in Avalon and is the perfect setting on the bay with large windows offering open air dining, high ceilings, a lively central bar and a large patio for outdoor dining. Located on the corner of Crescent Avenue and Front Street in the heart of downtown Avalon’s waterfront.
The best ice cream sandwich ever!
Ben’s Bakery is located in the newly renovated Shops at the Atwater. Ben’s Bakery features fresh grab & go sandwiches, wraps and salads, fresh baked goods, pastries, muffins and cupcakes. Daily specials may include favorites like ham & cheese croissants, chive omelets, roasted pork sandwiches and gluten free cheddar cheese biscuits.
Step 5 – Plan to come back again
Catalina is definitely a place that visitors will want to come back again (and again).