Catalina Island is located about 20 miles off the coast of Southern California and is the ultimate quick, relaxing, and breathtaking get away from the mainland. This hidden gem, architecture and ocean views however feels more South of France than West Coast.
There are two different places you can visit on the island, Two Harbors and Avalon. We planned our vacation to Avalon- the charming island town full of colorful homes, fine dining, amazing views, and activities to enjoy.
Here is a full guide for the best things to do in Catalina Island. Read on..
How to get there?
There are daily ferry routes from multiple different ports in Southern California including Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point and if you’re looking to splurge you can take a 15 minute helicopter ride.
I recommend the Catalina Express -It’s the quickest travel option and has boats running from Long Beach and Dana Point. The ride is over an hour and comfortable. Catalina Express also has the most departure and arrival time options available.
Where to Stay
Address: 125 Sumner Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
A 2-minute walk from Avalon Pier, this harbor side lodging was built in the 1920s and fashionably remodeled in 2019. It is situated in an area with lots of restaurants, so super convenient to walk and get food.
Guestrooms combine rich wood accents, bright colors, ocean-inspired finishes and hints of exotic art decor to create a memorable “Island Decor” escape. All rooms are equipped with modern comforts and convenience + harbor views.
Address: 513 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
A tropical paradise right in the town center with beach views; I recommend staying here coz this place is literally on the beach and super close to all restaurants and rentals.
Pavilion Hotel’s relaxed atmosphere, great service, and resort-style amenities combine to create an exceptional guest experience. The central courtyard, with swaying palms, tropical flowers and cozy fire ring, is a great spot to gather while you share memories of the day. Trust me, we spent a lot of time in this beautiful courtyard and still couldn’t get enough of it.
Address: 116 Clarissa Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
Hamilton Cove is a private gated community just north of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. It’s about a 1.5 mile walk from the ferry dock in Avalon. This vacation rental is set up to relax in hotel-quality luxury with splendid ocean views. The villas are built on the cliff to provide the best views of the harbor and the casino.
We stayed here for 2 days and absolutely recommend it to anyone who is looking to unwind in luxury. The facility comes with its own golf cart so that you can be back in town in less than 10 minutes. But the views from here are exceptionally splendid.
4 Day Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival + Golf Cart Tour
We took the Catalina express from Long beach and reached the island by 11am. We checked into our villa and quickly showered and go grab lunch.
1pm – Lunch at Maggie’s Blue Rose Mexican
Overlooking Avalon Bay this is the best spot in town for amazing margaritas and Mexican cuisine. We were impressed with how delicious the tacos and salsa were.
2pm- Tour the town in Golf Cart
After lunch, we took the golf cart for a spin and decided to check out the town. We drove through some colorful cottages and cliff side views. We stopped by the casino way to take a few photos of the beautifully lined palm trees giving all the Cali summer vibes.
5pm – Sunset at Crescent Beach
It was our first day and we had to stop by the beach for a pastel sunset. Crescent Beach is the main beach on Avalon Bay in the town of Avalon. It is a great spot to get some photos of the Pleasure Pier and crescent bay of Avalon with the casino in the background. We enjoyed a romantic sunset by the beach and headed to get dinner.
7pm – Happy Hour Tour and Dinner at Lobster Trap
If you’re spending the night on the island one of the best things to do in Catalina is experience the night life! We recommend checking out the fun Happy Hour tour sampling ; your way through 5 different bars with snacks and drinks along the way.
After that we decided to get a last bite from Lobster Trap. The Lobster Trap is a fresh fish restaurant on Catalina Island that features some great seafood. We tried the seafood pasta and blackened yellowtail with garlic mushroom. It’s safe to say, I slept with a happy tummy that night.
Day 2: Kayak and Snorkeling + Casino Tour
8am- Coffee at CATALINA COFFEE & COOKIE CO.
This is one of the best spots in town if you have a sweet tooth or are a very early riser for breakfast. The Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co. offers the best baked goods + coffee on the island. We recommend the veggie frittata, the dark chocolate pistachio bark, and the cinnamon house blend! They are open at 5 am if you need a coffee or breakfast sandwich bright and early!
10am- Kayak and Snorkeling at Descanso beach
Kayaking and snorkeling are easy and fun ways to experience the natural beauty of Catalina Island. We rented a double kayak from the Descanso Beach Ocean Sports and kayaked around the island for a bit. We saw a wrecked boat, a pack of deer and lots of seagulls while we were on the water. We docked our kayak at a pebble beach, put on our fins and snorkel gears to see the marine life a little up close. It was such a relaxing treat to get out and paddle along shore on your own, (the ultimate distancing maneuver), and enjoy clear water and the other sights, sounds & creatures of the marine environment.
What’s best is that you can enjoy this fun thing to do in Catalina all year long because they provide wet suits for all seasons, snorkel masks, and fins.
If you’re looking for the best area to sunbathe and relax on the beach this next thing in Catalina is for you! The best area to lay out on the beach in Avalon would be the Descanso Beach club. Bring a towel or snag one of the comfortable beach chairs for a relaxing day.
You don’t even have to leave for food or drinks since you can get served by the local restaurant right on the sand!
3 pm – Casino Tour
It was such a bright and sunny day, so we took our bikes ( free rental by the facility) to go explore the town. We rode our bikes downhill to the Casino; the most iconic spot of Avalon. Dominating the Avalon landscape from its regal perch on the edge of Avalon Bay, the Casino exemplifies the style and romance of Catalina Island. But its not an actual casino, its a theater + ballroom. And undoubtedly one of the best spots in Avalon to get an Instagram photo. The Mediterranean architecture, domed ceiling , soaring murals and lavish medley of rose-hued walls, and Tiffany-like chandeliers cannot be missed.
If you’re a history buff then I recommend taking a casino tour- A 40-minute tour that takes you through the movie theater, the ballroom, and ends with a fantastic view from the top of the casino.
You can also rent bikes from – Brown’s Bikes
After a romantic stroll around the casino area, we headed back to get dressed for dinner.
Dinner at Bluewater Avalon
Located right on the water with a great outdoor deck to enjoy some of the best views of Avalon Bay, this place is a great date night spot. We ordered Snapper and Mahi Mahi and both were cooked to perfection( melted in my mouth ). They have a really great selection of beer on tap too.
Day 3: Zipline and Tour the Wrigley Memorial
8 am- Breakfast at Pancake Cottage
If you are a pancake lover, this is a dining must. We enjoyed an early breakfast – The “Chef’s Mess” omelet and Apple Pancake Delight before we head out to another adventurous day.
10:30 am- ZIPLINE ECO TOUR
Probably our favorite of the outdoor activities and things to do in Catalina. The Zipline Eco Tour starts at the top of a hill and works its way down to Descanso Beach Club after enjoying 5 different lines through the canyon. This was our first time ziplining and as nervous as we were at the first line we had a blast throughout. We also had two great guides who were entertaining and made our small group feel safe and have a good time!
The entire tour takes about 2 hours with the training. The sweeping views of the ocean and flora and fauna of Catalina as you zigzag down and across the canyon, makes it completely worthwhile.
1pm -Lunch at Catalina Cantina
After ziplining, we washed up a little and headed to lunch at Catalina Cantina – Okay if you don’t know me already, I love Mexican food. So Tacos and Margaritas two days in a row seems about a perfect vacay to me. We explored the the town center after lunch.
2pm- Golf Cart Rental and Wrigley Memorial
One of the best ways to get around Catalina Island is by the local mode of transport- golf carts. If you’re short on time or sick of walking this is the perfect way to explore the nooks and crannies of Avalon. They charge about $50 for an hour and are a great way to checkout out a few different spots in Avalon. You can rent the cart by hour at Cartopia Cart Rentals.
We drove the cart up to a beautiful viewpoint of this island- Buena Vista Point Scenic Overlook. It is super easy to find in Google Maps and I also recommend it as one of the Most Instagrammable spots in Catalina Island.
We spent some time here taking in all the magnificent view of the harbor + some photos in the golden light. Then we drove down to see the Wrigley Memorial and Botantic Gardens.
You can walk, bike, rent a golf cart, or take the local shuttle up the entrance where you will be greeted with endemic plants to the island.You can walk through the gardens to see some of the rare and endangered plant species. We especially loved the view from the Wrigley Memorial and the beautiful Spanish tile murals.
7pm – Relish the local catch at NDMK fish house
The trip to Avalon is incomplete, without a dinner at the NDMK fish house. This place is just AMAZING. They are a family owned business who hunt their own fish. We tried the Dabomb Shrimp, Yellowtail in lemon butter & caper sauce with Togarashi Fries and Farnsworth Bank Roll. I still cannot decide which one I liked more; they were all delicious.
We decided we had the best fish in the world here and came back twice for them during our trip. This is easily our favorite restaurant on the island.
Day 4: Undersea Expedition and Courtyard lunch
We wanted to grab a quick breakfast before we checked out- so got a takeout of Bagels and Croissant from Hotel Atwater and finished up our packing as we ate.
12 pm – Catalina Island Undersea Expedition
For our last tour of the trip, we booked the Undersea Submarine Expedition and it was the highlight of the trip. The Undersea expedition is about 45 minutes; You board a semi submersible boat at the Pleasure Pier and the tour takes you to meet some of the native fishes of the Pacific Ocean. The glass walls offer an up-close views of marine life and undersea gardens around the Catalina Island. Most of the colorful fishes are found near the Lover’s Cove and as soon as the feeding frenzy commences, thousands of fishes surround your porthole; and its just mesmerizing. You’ll see an incredible array of undersea dwellers: bright orange garibaldi, spotted calico bass, urchins, rock fish and bat rays.
1pm – Lunch at Courtyard + Drinks from Luau Larry’s
Remember, that tropical courtyard I talked about at the Pavilion Hotel, we decided to enjoy a romantic lunch + wine in that beautiful courtyard after our undersea expedition. We got takeouts from our the NDMK fish house and Luau Larry’s( Hawaiian-inspired food) and feasted away enjoying some beach views and warmth from the fire ring.
Must try Ice cream from Scoops
Right before we boarded Catalina Express to make our way back to the mainland, we head out one last and must try spot- Scoops. I got the mango and peach sorbet ice cream and it was just yummmmmm. There is always a line, but that is how you know it is good. The flavors stand alone with impeccable balance and smooth consistent texture. It was the prefect dessert to our trip.
When you’re in Southern California next time, make sure you check out this quaint little island town, Catalina Island! There’s so much to enjoy here and you really can’t beat the breathtaking views, charming town, and adventurous activities!
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