Looking for the best things to do at Catalina Island? We got you! Catalina Island is one of the most underrated destinations in Southern California and worth a visit whether you live on or are visiting the West Coast. There’s a reason why we have been over a dozen times and counting, it’s truly one of our favorite places ever.
The island is full of history, and charm, and where Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1920s would come and spend their free time. People like Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan called Catalina Island home, where the Chicago Cubs used to do their spring training, and where Winston Churchill caught a marlin in record-breaking time.
There are two different places you can visit on the island, Two Harbors a tiny resort town with one restaurant and one store or Avalon, the charming one square mile town full of colorful homes, shops, fine dining, amazing hotels, and activities to enjoy.
Catalina Island can be sampled on an easy day trip from Los Angeles or Orange County or what we prefer a multi-day getaway on this island paradise. If you only have a short amount of time though, we recommend also checking out our picks for how to spend a Catalina Island day trip!
Check out our guide to the best things to do in Catalina Island, and maybe you’ll visit her as many times as we love to go there too!
This Catalina Island travel guide also covers other useful information you’ll want to know for your trip like how to get to the island and where to stay on Catalina Island.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Table of Contents
- Facts about Catalina Island
- Best Things to do in Catalina: Outdoor Adventures
- Best Things to do in Catalina: Inland Tours
- Things to do in Catalina: Avalon
- Where to Eat in Catalina
- Where to Stay in Catalina
- How to Get to Catalina Island
Before we dive into the best things to do in Catalina we are going to go over a few of the most notable events that took place here on the island since it was purchased by the Wrigley family.
Catalina Island was bought sight unseen by William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum tycoon and former owner of the Chicago Cubs. He is responsible for bringing the Chicago Cubs to do their spring training annually and making the entire island a reserve and conservancy so that the island would remain pristine and not able to become overrun by resorts on this 22-mile-long island.
THANK GOODNESS for that!
The island was used as a famous filming location for Hollywood movies including the popular more recent Will Ferrell movie, Step Brothers with the famous line, “The motherf*ing Catalina Wine Mixer.”
A herd of bison was brought on the island for the filming of a movie and were left behind to live on the island which some of their descendants still call home today.
Norma Jeane Baker was discovered here and became Hollywood’s biggest starlets of all time known as Marilyn Monroe.
Ronald Reagan called Catalina Island home before making his way to Hollywood and before becoming president of the United States.
The casino on the island, which was never actually a gambling hall and never will be, was a gathering place on the island with a movie theater featuring the first motion picture with sound!
Considered to have the perfect year-round climate averaging 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and averaging a cool and comfortable 70s in the summer makes Catalina one of the best getaways any season.
One of the best things to do in Catalina is enjoying any of the tons of outdoor adventures including everything from kayaking to ziplining.
Join an Adrenaline Pumping 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, towering at 600 feet up, and works its way down to Descanso Beach Club after enjoying 5 different lines!
This was our first go at ziplining and it was a blast, we also had two great guides Denny and Greg who were entertaining and made our small group feel safe and have a good time!
What really stands out about this experience would be the view of the Pacific Ocean and the flora and fauna of Catalina Island as you zip on by! This experience takes around 2 hours and needs to be booked in advance.
If this is going to be one of your big ticket items on your Catalina trip, check out this ferry and zipline package that includes round-trip ferry tickets to and from Catalina Island as well as your ziplining tour plus extra free time to explore more of the fun things to do on Catalina Island! This is a great option for those wanting to do a day trip to Catalina.
Try Scuba Diving
If you’re into scuba diving then you’re in for a treat at Catalina. Named the “World’s Healthiest Marine Environment” by Scuba Diving Magazine you should really come and see it for yourself.
The most popular spot is diving from Two Harbors, although there is a great scuba diving area right by the Catalina Casino where all levels are welcome and you can even learn how to scuba dive here with their introductory courses.
You can plan a scuba diving adventure with Catalina Diver’s Supply on the green Pleasure Pier in downtown Avalon or at the Casino with Diving Catalina.
Go on a Snorkeling Adventure
If you’re not into scuba diving but still want to enjoy water sports this next thing to do in Catalina is for you. Take advantage of the excellent snorkeling from Catalina Island in the turquoise waters and swim with the iconic orange Garibaldi fish. Check out what’s under the turquoise waters by paddling around the surface of the water.
We did a tour with Catalina Diver’s Supply who took us to the northern point of the island for our guided snorkeling adventure. 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.
Or check out the snorkel rentals from Wet Spot Rentals, which is located just a short walk to Lover’s Cove Marine Reserve, one of the most popular and best spots to snorkel on Catalina Island.
Rent a Kayak or SUP
Another one of the best options for what to do on Catalina Island as far as water sports go is to rent a kayak or stand up paddle board and explore around the harbor or adventure around to hidden coves and beaches that aren’t accessible by foot!
Head over to Descanso Beach where you can rent kayaks and stand up paddle boards by the hour. This is the best place to rent if you want to kayak past Descanso Beach to hidden coves and beaches. This is better for those who are comfortable on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard as you’ll need to beach your own kayak and be able to get back to Descanso Beach.
The most important tip for this Catalina activity is to make sure you conserve enough energy to get back! This was one of my personal favorite things to do in Catalina and after working up a sweat and an appetite you can order a meal and a drink at the Descanso Beach Club when you’re all done!
Another option for rentals is at Wet Spot Rentals where you can rent kayaks or stand-up paddle boards by the hour. This location is more ideal for beginners as you can easily stick around the harbor and paddle around the pier and boats parked, just stay out of the lanes of moving boats. This was definitely very relaxing place to kayak and it was fun to peek at all the boats around here.
Try a Boat Tour
Another one of the best water activities and things to do in Catalina are the different boat tours. There are various different boat tours available on Catalina Island including a glass-bottom boat tour (glass-bottom boat tours here date back to as early as 1906!) and even an under-the-sea submersible boat tour which are more relaxing and casual and take you to see the Lover’s Cove Marine Park without getting wet!
There are even seasonal flying fish boat tours at night where you can literally see fish soar in the sky toward light for an unforgettable experience.
If you want to venture over to Two Harbors for the afternoon, the Cyclone powerboat does round-trip excursions seasonally where you can go to have lunch, hike around, or even stay the night over here for something different!
|Catalina Boat Tours||Tour Highlights||Book here|
|Glass Bottom Boat Tour||40 minute, small guided tour exploring Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve by boat||Book on Viator|
|Semi-Submersible Tour on the Nautalis||45-minute, semi-submersible tour exploring Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve||Book on Viator|
|Under Sea Expedition on a Semi-Submersible Boat||45-minute, semi-submersible adventure around Avalon||Book on Viator|
Another one of the best things to do in Catalina is leave Avalon and explore the interior of the island. Explore different parts of Catalina Island by taking an inland tour or expedition. There are different tours to choose from ranging anywhere from 45 minutes to 3.5 hours to multi-day treks on the Trans Catalina Trail.
Some of the tours take you to places you wouldn’t be able to access on the island without an offroading vehicle. Golf carts aren’t allowed on the interior of the island.
Take an Inland Eco-Tour
One of the best ways to see and explore Catalina Island is by taking an inland Eco-Tour with the Catalina Island Conservancy. These tours take you to the interior of the island that you don’t have access to without special inland access.
If you’re lucky you might even spot some of the bison, endemic fox species, or bald eagles on your journey.
Go on a Customized Interior Tour with Catalina Backcountry
Hands down, one of our favorite things to do in Catalina is to go on a customized, private tour with Catalina Backcountry. We’ve gone on two different customized tours with them and each time was a very unique and different experience.
Their private tours is perfect for small groups or families as you can customize your experience. Whether you want to do a private day tour or access to some of the best viewpoints on the interior of the island, they can show you the side of the island you won’t see on your own.
On our first visit with Catalina Backcountry, we did a really cool interior island tour where we got to see multiple viewpoints and even spot a local Catalina fox! One of our favorite moments was the Little Harbor viewpoint. We couldn’t believe that places like this existed in our own state let alone our home country. You feel like you’re in some remote part of the world on an empty, idyllic beach.
They also offer services for those who want to do the multi-day Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) hike that traverses the entire island! This may sound daunting, but Catalina Backcountry offers a few services to aide hikers no matter what level you are including gear hauls to the campsites as well as camping gear rentals and set-ups.
This allows hikers to enjoy the long hike with a day pack vs having to haul everything yourselves!
If you are short on time they can even just take you to some of the spots on the trail on a day trip! We love customizable tours like this because pre-packaged tours just don’t fit everyone’s needs.
If you only have time to do one thing in Catalina after exploring a bit of Avalon, this would be it.
Enjoy One of the Many Hiking Trails
Easily one of the best things to do at Catalina Island is to take in all the gorgeous views by hiking. There are easy hikes that take just an hour to multi-day hikes along the Trans Catalina Trail, aka TCT as mentioned above.
You can prepare to do the TCT on your own or use a service like what Catalina Backcountry offers where they can do gear hauls and or camp set ups while you just focus on the hiking and enjoying the views part.
Catalina Backcountry also offers customized day hikes where they take you to parts of the island that you can’t get to from Avalon without a guide for a few hours or an entire day – depending on what you want to do, you will just have to organize in advance with their team.
There are also several shorter hikes that you can complete on your own from Avalon. Once you leave Avalon, you’ll need a hiking permit which is easy to obtain from the Catalina Island Conservancy and is completely free.
For a day hike, we highly recommend the Garden to Sky hiking loop which is a moderate 2.5-mile hike that can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to complete starting at The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. Along the hike, you’ll be rewarded with views of both sides of the island.
Just keep in mind that you have to walk to Wrigley Memorial which is a 1.5-mile walk inland to start.
If you start inside the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden you will have to pay an admission. Alternatively, you can start at the Hermit Gulch Trailhead for free at the Hermit Gulch Campground, but keep in mind that this adds length and difficulty to the total trail. You can always just do a portion of this trail too.
There are several amazing hikes on Catalina Island to enjoy too.
Enjoy Lunch at the Airport in the Sky
Another one of the more unique things to do in Catalina is to head up to the Airport in the Sky for lunch taking in the gorgeous views of the inland and watching the little planes take off and land on the little island runway (that’s a bit terrifyingly small if you ask us!).
Soaring at 1,600 feet above sea level, the Airport in the Sky has a restaurant for anyone who makes the journey up here!
There are a few options to get up here since the road leading here is not permitted by golf carts or anyone without an interior island pass. Visitors can hike or bike 10 miles up here from Avalon, and if you do this you will want to plan accordingly! Or you can plan to take the Catalina Conservancy’s Wildland Express Airport Shuttle to and/or from.
This is also a popular stop and meal spot for TCT hikers midway through their journey.
The restaurant serves up some really great food including sandwiches, burgers, tacos, and even a few sweet treats with some beer on draft. There’s also a cool gift shop here.
This is definitely worth checking out and a fun and unique place to have lunch during your time on Catalina Island!
Relax at Descanso Beach
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 and snag a spot on the sand or take up your beach day a notch by renting a private cabana or chaise lounge with an umbrella for shade with your own personal beach butler and other perks from the Descanso Beach Club.
You don’t even have to leave for food or drinks since you can get served by the local restaurant right on the sand or from their gorgeous patio.
If you’re hoping to do a cabana or chaise lounge rental, you’ll want to secure a reservation in advance.
During the summer months on the weekends, this becomes more of an afternoon beach party spot! So if you’re looking for a weekend beach party, this is the place to be. If you’re hoping for a more quiet day at the beach, you may want to opt for a weekday visit or morning visit before the scene changes.
Visit Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens
Another one of the most beautiful things to do in Catalina is check out the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens. The inland Catalina Island Conservancy and botanical garden and memorial to William Wrigley Jr. and truly a breathtaking place to take a stroll 1.5 miles inland on Avalon Canyon Rd.
This is actually where his final resting place was until WWII when the family had concerns of the island being a target by opposition. They relocated his body to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale where it remains today.
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. With these unique discoveries, you will also see rare and endangered plant species.
We especially loved the view from the Wrigley Memorial and the beautiful tile murals made by the Catalina Pottery Company. In fact, the Wrigley family tried to use as many local products to create the Memorial and Botanical Gardens when they created it.
Admission ranges from $8-12, if you walk be sure to bring water and something to shade you from the sun or sunscreen! Trust us, we learned the hard way.
Enjoy the View From Buena Vista Point Scenic Overlook
One of our favorite things to do in Catalina is find the best viewpoints and photo spots. By adventuring up to the Inn at Mount Ada for a view of the Catalina Harbor and Casino there is a not-so-secret viewpoint pictured above.
Take the road leading up to Mt. Ada, on the left of the road you will see a small path or spot a bench overlooking the water. The viewpoint is known as the Buena Vista Point Scenic Overlook and is easy to find in Google Maps. We also recommend it as one of the best photo spots in Catalina.
If you don’t want to just snap a photo and leave we recommend bringing up a snack or drink and enjoy the bench overlooking the view here as well. Just remember to take out what you bring in!
This is also an easy spot to visit if you’re biking or riding around on a golf cart rental on the Scenic Loop.
Catch a Flick at the 1920s Casino Movie Theater
Another one of the more unique things to do in Catalina and another favorite is the movie theater experience in the historic Casino.
Step back in time as you enter the beautifully preserved theater with the 1920s-era seats and original art deco murals and twinkling star lights and constellations on the ceiling.
We came here in 2017 and 2019 and got to experience Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 here on our first visit and Captain Marvel. There’s something about seeing a movie in this old theater that is really special! You can check out their current movie showings on their website.
If you come wearing a hat you can use the old-fashioned hat holder men and women used in the 1920s under the seats.
The last visits we had, we were lucky to experience a local man playing the antique organ in the theater. The organ itself is the 3rd oldest organ in the world of its kind and only four left in existence! We aren’t sure if this is a regular thing that happens anymore, but regardless be sure to take a peek at the organ itself when you’re visiting as it’s rare!
This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We have never seen anything else like this in our travels and the Casino is one of our favorite places on the island.
Play a Round at Catalina Island Mini Golf
One of our favorite things to do on Catalina Island is play mini-golf, we love playing mini-golf anywhere but to have a chance to play here is extra fun!
The 18-hole course is situated in a lush garden in the center of town in Avalon. There are some great trick shots so be sure to channel your inner Happy Gilmore here. Brush up on Catalina Island facts at each hole where there’s a sign describing something about the island as well as the best way to tackle your shot!
Rent A Golf Cart
Another one of the best things to do in Catalina and the best ways to get around is by the local mode of transport, by a golf cart!
If you’re short on time or sick of walking this is the perfect way to explore the nooks and crannies of Avalon. Plus take the scenic loop route which covers a lot of the golf-cart accessible roads of the island.
This is also a great way to get to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden. You can rent golf carts by the hour at a few different spots in Avalon, we rented ours from Catalina Island Golf Cart Rentals.
Stay at the Inn at Mount Ada
One of the most iconic places to visit on Catalina Island is the Inn at Mount Ada, the former home of William Wrigley Jr. and his wife Ada. And they really have one of the best views on the island!
Today, their former mansion is a 6-bedroom Bed and Breakfast for luxury travelers who want the best view on the island and a really intimate stay. This is definitely a bit more of a splurge-worthy item if you’re looking for something special and unique to do while spending time on the island.
If you want to stay here you need to plan well in advance especially if you’re booking during peak season or holidays.
Play at the Three Palms Avalon Arcade
This next thing to do in Catalina is for those young at heart, not just for kids! (or so we say since we spent our evenings on the island playing here!) The Three Palms Avalon Arcade is located in the Metropole Market Place and has all kinds of fun games to play.
Load your play card and enjoy playing mini-bowling and many other fun arcade games like a giant Space Invader video game! They even have a ticket system where you can trade in your winnings for fun island prizes!
Dive into the Past at Catalina Island Museum
One of the best things to do in Catalina for those fascinated with the island’s history is to check out the Catalina Island Museum for Art and History.
This beautiful space takes you through the history of the island including historic photos, ephemera, and stories from when the island was purchased by the Wrigley family, when the Chicago Cubs did their training on the island, its role in WWII, to the history of transportation to the island, and of course the island being a playground for Hollywood’s Golden Age including the discovery of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of all time, Marilyn Monroe.
And as the name suggests, you can find art exhibits here as well including a permanent Chihuly glass installation on their outdoor terrace next to the amphitheater.
Check out the Catalina Casino
Another one of our favorite places to visit on Catalina Island is the historic crown jewel of Avalon, the Catalina Casino. This cultural landmark on the island is not the type of casino you’re thinking of and it never was a place where you would gamble, instead it was always a gathering place.
This magnificent Art Deco building was built in 1929 and was where all the big parties, performances, and events took place on the island and played a significant role in the island’s glamorous past as well as the role Catalina Island had as a popular weekend escape to all the biggest names in entertainment during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Big names would perform here and during its heyday, the Catalina Casino played a significant role in the world of radio broadcasting. The large events that would take place here could accommodate over 3,000 people and there were great acoustics, so there were many big musical performances, celebrity appearances, and even comedians who performed and were broadcasted here.
The most famous radio show to be broadcast here was the Catalina Island Casino Hour which aired in the 1930s and 1940s nationwide.
The movie theater in the Casino was also where the first talkie films were screened!
Visitors can pay admission to freely explore its elegant ballroom, the movie theater, and breathtaking views from the outdoor observation deck surrounding the ballroom. The movie theater even has old talkie films playing so you can experience what that was like here!
For those who want more details and information during their visit, be sure to book the 90-minute behind-the-scenes Casino tour with a guide taking you to parts of the Casino you won’t be able to explore on your own.
Try a Catalina Island Food Tour
We are obsessed with food tours when visiting a new location, they are the best way to not only learn about the history of the place you’re visiting but also to try some of the best dishes! That’s why we recommend this tour is one of the best things to do in Catalina when you first arrive!
After doing several food tours, this one on Catalina is still one of our favorites. We absolutely adore our tour guide whom we had twice now, Lili. She’s a historian and gives her crowd the most fascinating historical stories on the island that every visitor should know! From the juicy island gossip stories from the past to current-day business owners who are doing great things in the area!
On the Catalina Island food tour you sample your way through 6 different restaurants having everything from appetizers to dessert. We were able to check out all the amazing dining establishments on the island in just a few short hours. This tour is perfect for day or overnight visitors!
We ended up eating the rest of our meals at the restaurants we sampled on the tour!
Go on a Ghost Tour
If you love spooky things this is what to do on Catalina Island for you! Check out one of the ghost tours that offer a glimpse into the paranormal past here! This is geared towards visitors who are staying overnight as these tours take place in the evenings.
This 90-minute ghost tour of Catalina Island explores the greatest mysteries and ghost stories of the island with a local historian.
Or check out this 2-hour Adult-Only Catalina Ghost Tour with EMF detection devices that take you to some of the most haunted spots on the island where you can use your own personal EMF (electromagnetic field) device to see if you pick up any activity from another realm during your tour!
Go on a Private Golf Cart Tour
Another great way to get introduced to all the amazing things to do in Catalina is by taking a private golf cart tour. Avalon Local Tours offers 2-hour private golf cart tours for up to 5 guests on their 6-person passenger golf cart to show you around to the local side of the island.
Along the way, you’ll learn a bit about how life is on the island and its day-to-day operations, stopping at gorgeous viewpoints and vistas for photos along the way, and highlighting some local hidden gems!
A private golf cart tour is a great option if you’re new to Catalina Island and early on in your visit so you can get a lay of the land and a bit of the backstory behind the island before you go off to explore some of the best Catalina Island activities on your own during your vacation.
Rent an E-Bike to Explore Around
One of the best ways to get around and explore some of the best viewpoints of Catalina Island is by e-bike! On our most recent visit, we rented e-bikes from Brown’s Bikes in Avalon and set off on an adventure exploring not only the Scenic Loop but weaving in and out of charming lanes full of island cottages, and back behind Descanso Beach Club.
What’s nice about the e-bikes is that they offer pedal assist, so you can cruise around the island without having to mountain bike as there are a lot of hills and curves.
The bike rental shops also provide helmets and can give you the best routes to take.
Visit the Candy Shop Where Marilyn Monroe Was Discovered
Did you know that Marilyn Monroe lived on Catalina Island for a short period of her life before she was famous? One of the most nostalgic things to do on Catalina Island is to visit Lloyd’s of Avalon downtown, a charming and historic old-time candy shop that’s been a local institution since it opened in 1941!
In the window as you enter you’ll spot the antique salt water taffy pulling machine at work. This is the same, old taffy-pulling machine since they opened and is rumored to be where Norma Jeane Baker was discovered as she worked here.
She was still a teenager and the island loves their historic connection to her before she was Marilyn.
Buy a Catalina Tile Souvenir!
One of the coolest souvenirs you can purchase from Catalina Island are one of the beautiful Catalina tiles. You’ll spot them in many gift stores who sell collections of the tiles, magnets made of the tiles, and other fun gifts made of the tiles in Avalon or at the Catalina Pottery & Tile Co..
The history of these tiles are quite fascinating as the Catalina Pottery and Tile Company dates back to 1927 when it was established by William Wrigley Jr. himself to create decorative tiles that were used around the island to boost the island’s appeal as a resort destination.
The tiles signature appearance can be recognized by their use of vibrant colors, intricate designs and artwork tied to icons of the island like the Casino, Garibaldi fish, and other landmarks, as well as the unique glaze finishes on the tiles.
You will spot the tiles used across the island at homes, on the fountain downtown, at the Casino, at Wrigley Memorial, and all around the island’s local buildings.
The tiles used to be manufactured and produced solely on the island, but due to struggles during the Great Depression, production was moved off the island and the tiles you see today are made in Los Angeles.
Regardless of where they are made, the designs you see pay homage to the tiles you see all over the island and make for a unique keepsake and gift to take home as a reminder of all the fun times you had on Catalina Island.
Have a Drink at FLX Biergarten
One of the newest additions to Avalon and a fun way to cool off after exploring many of the greatest things to do in Catalina is stop at the outdoor FLX Biergarten.
The old vintage bus that used to give inland island tours sits on display in the biergarten alongside games like cornhole and picnic tables with umbrellas to relax at.
They have a nice selection of beers and some ciders and seltzers on draft.
Take a Stroll Through the Charming Streets of Avalon
Another one of our personal favorite things to do in Catalina Island is to aimlessly wander up and down the little streets of Avalon that are dotted along with adorable island cottages and homes.
Walking up and down Clarissa Avenue, Descanso Avenue, Catalina Avenue, Eucalyptus Avenue, and Sumner Avenue you will spot the stunning colorful cottages of the island. Many of these homes are vacation rentals or are occupied by long-time residents of the island.
My favorite part about wandering the streets is noticing how some are adorned and decorated with Catalina tiles or fun nautical displays. There’s one house that’s even a boat house that was brought to land!
What’s nice is if you need a break, you’re never more than a 5-minute walk away from the restaurants, bars, and shops of downtown Avalon.
Easily one of the best things to do in Catalina is EAT! There are so many great dining options on Catalina Island that it’s hard to choose just a few. Here are our picks for best restaurants in Catalina Island, which we’ve tried them all!
Maggie’s Blue Rose
Overlooking Avalon Bay this is the best spot in town for amazing margaritas and Mexican cuisine. We were impressed with how delicious and addicting the homemade tortilla chips and salsa were. We decided we had the best nachos in the world here and come back for these on every trip. This is easily our favorite restaurant on the island.
Descanso Beach Club
Enjoy a drink and tasty food on the beach at Descanso Beach Club. This laidback place is the perfect spot to enjoy lunch while relaxing on the beach. Sit at the bar, on a towel at the beach, or find a lounge chair with an umbrella and enjoy your meal and drinks all day.
A local’s favorite. This nautical-themed restaurant is always one of the most lively dinner spots on the island and one of the best things to do in Catalina if you want to try some of the freshest seafood and the daily catch. They also have great seafood pasta options too! This is also a lively spot to come have a post-dinner drink too.
For a quick and tasty bite to eat grab Antonio’s pizza by the slice at the location on Sumner Avenue. There are actually two locations, one being on the water for sit-down dining and the other being a grab and go pizza by the slice.
Located right on the water with a great outdoor deck to enjoy delicious food and drinks. We loved the beer selection on tap and the fresh seafood options. This is a great stop to come for a drink and split a few appetizers.
Another great restaurant and great for lunch or dinner is Steve’s Steakhouse. Located just above Maggie’s Blue Rose it was fun to find out that both Steve and Maggie are married in real life! Besides being a great guy and local (Lili, our food tour guide filled us in on our food tour of everything Steve does to give back to the community and those in need) the food here is award-winning and a great option for fine dining on the island. We recommend their coconut-battered shrimp!
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 on the island. We recommend the raspberry white chocolate cookie, the dark chocolate pistachio bark, and the strawberry hibiscus tea! They are open at 5 am if you need a coffee or breakfast sandwich bright and early!
M Restaurant is an excellent choice for dinner on Catalina Island, especially if you can snag one of the outdoor seats at sunset with views of the ocean! Their menu features coastal Italian dishes, our favorite being the Cioppino.
Catalina Charlie’s is a great stop for lunch or dinner located right along Crescent Avenue. Their elote salad was amazing along with their view of downtown.
Scoop’s Catalina Creamery
For everyone with a sweet tooth you’ll want to visit Scoop’s Catalina Creamery! They have ice cream, gelato, and can make ‘hurricanes’ which are soft serve ice cream blended with your favorite candy and REALLY good! Don’t be surprised if there’s a line after dinner!
If you’re looking for a great breakfast spot on the island, head to Pancake Cottage! They have an impressively large menu of breakfast items ranging from their signature dishes like huevos rancheros, steak and eggs, and large breakfast burritos to scrambles, skillets, omelets, and your favorite griddle items like waffles, pancakes, and crepes!
We recommend staying where we stayed, at the Aurora Hotel & Spa nestled up on the hill on Marilla Ave. We loved how Aurora Hotel was a bit removed from the downtown area and was always quiet. We especially loved the view from the rooftop patio and the friendly staff too. Be sure to read about our stay.
For more hotel options check out our full guide to where to stay on Catalina Island including different accommodation options for every type of traveler.
There are daily ferry routes from multiple different ports in Southern California including Long Beach, Newport Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point and if you’re looking to splurge you can take a 15-minute helicopter ride.
We recommend the Catalina Express it’s the quickest boat option and has boats running from Long Beach and Dana Point. The ride is very smooth and comfortable and if you upgrade to the Commodore’s Lounge you get extra comfort and a free beverage of your choice as well as a snack.
Catalina Express also has the most departure and arrival time options available.
It’s best to check their hours as they do change seasonally and sometimes season to season!
Here are the best routes for a day trip to Catalina from mainland:
Dana Point to Catalina:
- Ferry: Catalina Express
- Location: 34675 Golden Lantern, Dana Point
- Daily ferries at 9:30 am and 11:30 am with departure from Catalina at 2:45 or 5:00 pm
Newport Beach to Catalina:
- Ferry: Catalina Flyer
- Location: 400 Main Street, Newport Beach
- Daily ferries at 9:00 am with departure from Catalina at 4:00 pm
Long Beach to Catalina:
- Ferry: Catalina Express
- Location: 330 Golden Shore, Long Beach
- Summer Season (June 21-September): Daily ferries at 6:30 am, 8:15 am, and 11:00 am with departure from Catalina at 3:00 pm, 5:45 pm, and 7:30 pm (on Saturdays & Sundays there’s a 9:45 pm departure from Catalina)
- Check their schedule for the off-season schedule.
San Pedro to Catalina:
- Ferry: Catalina Express
- Location: 95 Berth, San Pedro
- Summer Season (June 21-September): Mon-Thurs ferries at 7:30 am, Saturdays 7 am, Fridays & Sundays 8:00 am, daily ferries at 10:45 am.
- Departure from Catalina back to San Pedro: Mon-Thurs 3:30 and 6:00 pm, Saturdays 6 & 7 pm, Fridays & Sundays 5:15 pm, & Sunday – Friday 7:45 pm.
- Check their schedule for the off-season and up-to-date schedules because this location is a bit all over the place with their schedules!
Other Catalina Travel Tips
Here are a few essential tips for your Catalina Island weekend trip including what to pack and a few useful resources for booking your on-island activities.
If you’re prone to motion sickness you’ll want to come prepared for the ferry ride to and from Catalina Island. The ferry service is very smooth, but on days with the high wind the ride is a little rocky and those who are prone to motion sickness may feel it the worst.
Come prepared with sunscreen too! We recommend, especially if you’re planning on getting in the water, to purchase reef-safe and eco-friendly sunscreen as many brands contain harmful chemicals to the ocean that people don’t realize. Unfortunately, the ‘reef friendly’ sunscreen label isn’t regulated so you often get brands who are ‘greenwashing’ or pretending to be safe for the environment even though they are not – which makes things confusing for the consumer.
A few of our favorite reef-safe sunscreen products include:
- Kokua Sunscreen – water-resistant zinc sunscreen that applies smoothly without white residue
- Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen – the Mineral line (white bottle with brown text that says ‘mineral’) is a clear, fast absorbing zinc-based sunscreen that’s great for sensitive skin and is sweat and water-resistant.
- Thinksport Mineral Sunscreen – We have been using this brand for years and love how easily it applies and is water resistant. They are also a bit more affordable.
- Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen – this sunscreen is not only reef-safe but it’s also super hydrating, this one is a little pricier so we recommend using this on the face and neck area since it falls under more of a skincare product as well.
Don’t forget something to take underwater photos! For those who are looking for something on a budget, you can get a waterproof pouch for your smartphone to take underwater photos. Just be careful to keep this sealed correctly so no water gets in. This does do the trick but can be a bit tricky to play with to get focus.
Or bring a waterproof camera like the classic waterproof GoPro action camera or the waterproof Insta360 camera which are both great for snorkeling and don’t require the waterproof housing if you’re not diving into deeper water!
Bring your own towel! We also pack our own beach towel on trips with us too, not the bulky traditional beach towel you’re thinking of though.
If you’re planning on staying a few days, it might be more cost effective to buy a snorkel set for everyone in your family. We both own this snorkel set which included a mask, snorkel, ear plugs, flippers, and carrying bags which we take on longer beach vacations. (we both pack carry-on only and were able to easily fit it in our bag too!)
Some of the beaches are pebbly, so it might be nice to invest in a pair of water shoes too to wear under your flippers or to swim around with! These also fit in the snorkel set bag we bought!
There are plenty of small, charming boutiques on the island for any last-minute things you may have forgotten and even a full-on Vons grocery store too.
For booking on island activities, if you didn’t purchase in advance (which is highly advised for the summer season) there is still a chance you can book all kinds of island excursions from boat rides, submarine rides, snorkeling, island tours, Casino tours and more. If you want to try your chances of booking last minute you can at several spots around the island including the blue Pleasure Pier, the information and ticketing spot at the Catalina Island mini-golf, and directly at some attractions like the Casino.
If you’re visiting off-season as we did in March or April, chances are you’ll be able to book last-minute activities but keep in mind they don’t operate at their full schedule off-season, so it’s still recommended to book in advance.
Catalina Island is a small destination but packed with things to do and definitely worth visiting on a day trip, overnight trip, or even a few days.
You can spend as little as a few hours on Catalina Island to a few days. If you only come for the day you will most likely spend your time in the town of Avalon but if you plan for more days you can enjoy inland excursions and tours of Catalina Island.
The best time to visit Catalina Island is all year. The summer (June through September) is the most popular time to visit Catalina Island and will require to you book and plan ahead, hotels are also more expensive this time of year due to demand. The fall and spring are shoulder seasons and also a great time to visit because there are fewer crowds and the temperature is still very comfortable.
The ferry to Catalina Island is anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes depending on your departure point from either Dana Point, Newport Beach, Long Beach, or San Pedro.
What to do on Catalina Island (Post Summary):
- Join an Adrenaline Pumping Zipline Eco Tour
- Try Scuba Diving
- Go on a Snorkeling Adventure
- Rent a Kayak or SUP
- Try a Boat Tour
- Take an Inland Eco-Tour
- Go on a Customized Interior Tour with Catalina Backcountry
- Enjoy One of the Many Hiking Trails
- Enjoy Lunch at the Airport in the Sky
- Relax at Descanso Beach
- Visit Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens
- Enjoy the View from Buena Vista Point Scenic Overlook
- Catch a Flick at the 1920s Casino Movie Theater
- Play a Round of Catalina Island Mini Golf
- Rent a Golf Cart
- Stay at the Inn at Mount Ada
- Play at the Three Palms Avalon Arcade
- Dive into the Past at the Catalina Island Museum
- Check out the Catalina Casino
- Try a Catalina Food Tour
- Go on a Ghost Tour
- Go on a Private Golf Cart Tour
- Rent an E-Bike to Explore Around
- Visit the Candy Shop Where Marilyn Monroe Was Discovered
- Buy a Catalina Tile Souvenir
- Have a Drink at FLX Biergarten
- Take a Stroll Through the Charming Streets of Avalon
When you’re in Southern California make sure you have time to check out the girl next door, Catalina Island! There’s so much to enjoy here and you really can’t beat the breathtaking views, charming town, and friendly locals! Spend a day or spend a week.
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