Catalina Island is located 22 miles/35 kilometers off the coast of Southern California, but it feels like a world away. The name alone conjures up images of the charming seaside village of Avalon, as well as picture-perfect harbors and sandy beaches. Visitors frequently compare Avalon, the island's compact town, to Amalfi, Italy, or a resort town on France's Cote d'Azur. Perhaps the rocky palisades rising from the sea hint at a Mediterranean setting. Perhaps it's the tiled fountain, charming storefronts, and Moorish-style casino. Foreign visitors have been known to inquire whether local merchants accept US currency.
There are two sides to the island with the most visited being the island’s only city, Avalon. For most visitors, going to Catalina means a trip to Avalon, the island’s only city. This vibrant seaside village, with its Mediterranean vibe, features numerous restaurant options, and charming shops offers a unique destination for fun and entertainment. If you want a bustling vibe with plenty of hotels, restaurants, and activity options, then Avalon is the place to be.
If you love the outdoors, your paradise awaits you on the west end of the island. The rustic, tiny village of Two Harbors is also known as the “Isthmus” because it separates Isthmus Cove and Catalina Harbor. This is the quieter side of Catalina and a favorite place for those who may want It's a dream for outdoor lovers, who can engage in everything from hiking and mountain biking to snorkeling, diving, and boating. Those eager to experience Two Harbors can take the passenger ferry from San Pedro directly there, or they can take the Cyclone powerboat from Avalon.
Things to See and Do
Catalina Island, which has a Mediterranean climate all year which makes it perfect for outdoor activities.
If you enjoy scuba diving, Catalina is the place to be. Scuba Diving Magazine named it the "World's Healthiest Marine Environment," and you should experience it for yourself. Divers of all levels are welcome to dive from Two Harbors, which is the most popular spot.
If you don't want to scuba dive but still want to enjoy water sports, this next activity in Catalina is perfect for you. Take advantage of Catalina Island's excellent snorkeling in the turquoise waters and swim with the iconic orange Garibaldi fish. Paddling around will allow you to see what's beneath the turquoise waters.
Head to Descanso Beach, where you can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards by the hour, paddle and float around the harbor while basking in the sun, looking for the bright orange Garibaldi fish hanging out in the turquoise waters! If you're feeling adventurous, you can kayak around the island for a while, but make sure you save enough energy to get back!
Catalina Island offers a variety of boat tours, including a glass-bottom boat and an under-the-sea submersible boat. There are even seasonal nighttime flying fish boat tours where you can literally see fish soar through the sky towards the light for a memorable experience.
Hiking is easily one of the best things to do on Catalina Island because it allows you to take in all of the breathtaking views. There are easy one-hour hikes as well as multi-day hikes along the Trans Catalina Trail, also known as the TCT. We’ll help you book a tour where they will help you carry the load and set up camp while you focus on hiking and enjoying the views.
This next thing in Catalina is for you if you're looking for the best place to sunbathe and relax on the beach! The Descanso Beach Club is the best place to relax on the beach in Avalon. Bring a towel and find a spot on the sand, or take your beach day to the next level by renting a private cabana or chaise lounge wby renting a private cabana or chaise lounge with an umbrella for shade, your own personal beach butler, and other Descanso Beach Club perks. After you've worked up an appetite, you can order a meal and a drink at the Descanso Beach Club!
Wrigley Botanical Gardens
Another beautiful thing to do in Catalina is to visit the Botanical Gardens. The inland Catalina Island Conservancy and botanical garden, as well as a memorial to William Wrigley Jr., is a truly breathtaking place to walk 1.5 miles inland on Avalon Canyon Rd. You can walk, bike, rent a golf cart, or take the local shuttle up to the entrance, where you will be greeted by endemic island plants. These one-of-a-kind discoveries will also include rare and endangered plant species.
The Twilight Casino Tour
The Twilight at the Casino tour will take you back to the days of Big Bands and ballroom dancing. Your guide will have you twirling in no time on the famed hardwood of the Casino’s world-famous ballroom. Then you'll toast twilight views of Avalon with complimentary wine and cheese on the Romance Promenade.
There are over 200 restaurants on the island, so there’s sure to be something that pleases even the most discerning palate.
Enjoy a romantic dinner with harbor views at Avalon Grille, and receive tickets to a first-run movie at historic Avalon Theatre, the first grand movie palace in America designed and built to show talking motion pictures.
On the bayside deck, Bluewater Grill serves delicious seafood with stunning views of Avalon Bay. Steamed mussels and clams, grilled artichoke with pesto aioli, and San Francisco-style cioppino are among the standout dishes (clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, scallops, and fish in spicy marinara sauce).
The Pancake Cottage
This casual restaurant, formerly known as the Pancake Cottage, is a great place to carb-load up on pancakes and waffles (with plenty of warm maple syrup on the side) before hitting the beaches.
Ready to get started on your journey? Contact us and let us personalize your luxury vacation to this beautiful island.
Written by Kimberly Thomas
Kimberly is a mother, freelance writer, and traveler currently living abroad in Mexico with her daughter.
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