Updated: Jan 29
Say goodbye to the amusement park and hello to your next family vacation at Catalina Island. Overlooked by many travelers and known mostly by residents of Southern California, there is an island escape just an hour away from the coast. The mesmerizing Catalina Island offers a fascinating experience for those who set out to discover its sights and attractions.
There are a few ways to reach the island from mainland, yet the fastest and most comfortable is definitely the Catalina Express, with decades of crossing millions of visitors to the island in complete safety. With convenient departures from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point, the company offers excellent luxury transfer in amazing speed boats. The island has two main entry points and travelers can choose their destination between the vibrant Avalon and the quainter Two Harbors, each with its own distinct charm.
We decided to get an early boarding time for our trip to Avalon. We made reservations online through their website. You can choose which port you would like to depart from and it will list all the times for transportation. Make sure to book your reservation ahead of time and check for baggage guidelines.
Those who fall in love with Catalina and want to stay for a few days will find a wide range of incredible hotels that ideally combine luxury and a laid-back environment, such as the historic Atwater Hotel in Avalon, which has been fully renovated. The hotel provides an authentic island experience by offering superb and fully fitted rooms, as well as numerous excellent amenities. The guest rooms come with rich wood accents, bright colors, ocean-inspired finishes and hints of exotic art deco to create a memorable "Island Deco" escape. As a family we contemplated camping in the island but I'm more of a glamping type of person so Atwater Hotel was just ideal for us. The hotel has such a beautiful and welcoming lobby perfect for a guests to gather to share their island experiences. Standard rooms offer king or queen beds and all rooms are equipped with modern comforts and conveniences, including premium mattresses, luxurious linens, mini-refrigerators, digital concierge tablets, high-speed Wi-Fi and smart televisions.
You can also enjoy Bistro at the Atwater, where you will find a wide selection of grab and go breakfast items, including baked goods, breakfast bagels, muffins, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and more. The Bistro is also a great spot to grab your morning cup of coffee or tea, as well as cool and refreshing smoothies, juices and other specialty drinks. Everything is prepared to go or finished to order for a fast, fresh experience.
Things To Do
From the marvelous beaches to the exciting water activities and the cultural sights of Avalon, there are many things to experience during a trip to the island.
Avalon is by far the biggest settlement on Catalina Island and there are few places to check out, beginning with the museum dedicated to local history and continuing with historical Catalina Casino (which isn't really a casino) and its beautiful architecture. From there, you can set out to explore the rest of the island, including picturesque canyons, inspiring hiking paths, meeting the famous bison and other thrilling adventures. Around the island, there are many spots where you can experience amazing diving and snorkeling, discovering the underwater sea life and wrecks. There is also the option to admire these marvels from a glass bottom boat. Catalina Island– aka Kidalina – is the perfect destination for families with kids of all ages. Here are a few things you can look into when planning your next trip.
Sailing & Kayaking
Arcade & Mini Bowling
Rock Climbing Wall at Descanso Beach Club
Biofuel Hummer Tour
One of the most unforgettable experiences for us on our trip to Catalina was finding wild bison. We were accommodated to a biofuel hummer tour and we ventured on the wilder roads in search of the peaceful giants. We also got the chance to learn more about the island and its biodiversity during this exciting tour. Our tour guide was amazing and was so passionate about his home. He talked about Catalina Island with so much love that we found an appreciation for the island and all who live in it. The tour was thrilling, almost seemed like we were filming a scene from Indiana Jones movie. It also helped that our tour guide was playing Indiana Jones soundtrack for most of our ride. I completely recommend this experience.This is a two-hour off-road, bumpy, hilly and dusty expedition. Not recommended for those with neck or back problems, or who are pregnant. This tour departs from the Tour Plaza, just a few moments’ walk from Hotel Atwater. Tickets can be collected at the Tour Plaza. It was absolutely thrilling, with amazing panoramic views of the island and we even got to spot some bison during our tour. It was an interesting choice for us since I'm not much of a daredevil, but I was so glad I chose that activity because my boys and I really enjoyed it.
Golf Cart Rental
If you're looking for a more peaceful way to explore the island you can do so by golf cart and there are plenty of things to see, including stunning vistas of the coast and its attractions. We rented a cart for an hour and it gave us ample time to explore the island and have and idea of what we wanted to do next. It's also a fun ride for the kids, my little ones really seem to enjoy it and the best part is they come with seatbelts where you can attach carseats if needed.
All along the eastern and northern coast of Catalina, there are astonishing little beaches filled with character. One of the most popular is Descanso Beach, just north of Avalon. Descanso Beach Club is Avalon's only beachside restaurant and bar, located just a short walk from the historic Catalina Casino. It's also one of the last public beaches in Southern California, where you can relax with a drink in your hand and your feet in the sand. Views to die for, cabanas and chaise lounges (that you can reserve ahead of time), signature food and drinks, and a friendly team. We had the advantages of arriving really early and scored a set of lounge chairs, we went during an off season so it wasn't as busy so I would recommend to make reservations ahead of time for a lounge or cabana. My husband and son decided to try their luck kayaking. This was something my son had been asking to do for a while so we oblige. It was a great experience for him and both seem to have had a wonderful experience. Descanso Beach Ocean Sports offers a vast selection of ocean sports like:
standup paddle (SUP)
Kid sizes & tubes
Another enjoyable activity on Catalina Island is shopping and visitors can stroll the Avalon promenade to find charming shops selling souvenirs and other specialty goods to bring home. We made a stop twice at the famous Scoop store to grab some ice cream as we walked the promenade and coffee on our way home from our trip. When you are visiting with your family, Scoops is definitely a must.
After all the exploring and adventures, there is no better feeling than indulging in the sensational dining scene of the island, with excellent restaurants that offer delicious dishes. We had a delicious brunch at Antonio's Pizzeria and the Catalina Cabaret located by the water with open outside patio dining. You can enjoy all this delicious food all by the bay with a beautiful waterfront view of Avalon. Later that evening we decided to have a relaxing dinner by the water at Blue Water Avalon where service and food was amazing and also very kid friendly.
Safety Protocols for Catalina Express and Catalina Island
To facilitate physical distancing, Catalina Express is adding larger vessels to allow more time to clean and sanitize in between departures, ensuring the safety of the passengers and crew. All passengers and employees are required to wear a face covering or mask when in the terminals or on board the vessels. Find out more here.
Avalon City has begun a strict enforcement of mask covering mandate. Citations will be issued for failure to properly wear a face covering while in public areas with within 6 feet of others. The citation will result in a $100 fine for non-compliance. Find out more here.
Create lifelong memories through new adventures and experiences and plan a visit to Catalina Island. You can make it a day trip and enjoy what the Island has to offer. Definitely a place I want to go back to again. We can thank Catalina Island Company for providing us with such a beautiful experience that we will cherish forever.
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Hope you have a sweet day!
Here's a copy of my itinerary for your convenience to help you plan your trip.
Sunday, March 28
6:20 a.m. Arrive to Catalina Express – Long Beach 320 Golden Shore, Long Beach, CA 90802
Please note that parking at the Catalina Express is operated by a third- party company. Parking must be paid for upon departure. Please arrive at least 45 minutes prior to ferry time.
7:05 am Catalina Express Departure from Long Beach to Avalon Be prepared to show a valid government photo ID.
8:15 Arrive in Avalon
Hotel Atwater is located at 125 Sumner Avenue.
3:30 Ridgetop Eco Adventure This is a two-hour off-road, bumpy, hilly and dusty expedition.
Monday, March 29
At Leisure Breakfast at Bistro at the Atwater Bistro at the Atwater is open from 7:00 – 11:00 a.m.
12:00PM Lunch at Descanso Beach Club – Descanso Beach Club is open 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. A short stroll past the iconic Casino.
6:30PM Catalina Express Departure from Avalon to Long Beach *Please arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure.