Catalina Island

Catalina Island Adventures: Best Things to Do on a Day Trip

A popular destination spot off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island will be able to offer you a mix of outdoor activities or just a fun place to relax and soak in the sun. It’s no wonder once you see the natural beauty and embrace that low-key atmosphere that it brings people from all over the world to this coastal hotspot. It’s perfect for a day trip from Los Angeles or longer if you want to spend a weekend here. Our guide will help show you how best to enjoy your time with this island delight.

How to Get to Catalina Island

Catalina Island Ferry
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

The most common way to get to Catalina Island is by taking the ferry from the coastal mainland. There are daily round-trip ferries that depart every hour from several departure points along the coast at Long Beach, Dana Point, Newport Beach, and San Pedro. Each ferry ride takes between 60-90 minutes depending on weather conditions.

Another way of getting here is by air if you want to take a more scenic route that is much quicker. You can take a helicopter ride or a small plane that will land at the private airfield (on a mountaintop btw) on the island. If you are renting your boat during this vacation or just happen to own one, enjoy sailing into the harbor yourself and take up one of the open moors for private vessels.

Avalon and Two Harbors

Catalina Island Avalon
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

The only city on Catalina Island, it has that small-town local vibe which is in contrast to the mainland. This is why it is such a popular destination as a getaway, making it more of a resort city for travelers. The whole boardwalk as you arrive from the ferry is filled with businesses focused on tourism, delicious food, shopping, and exploring the rest of the island.

It was built around Avalon Bay so your first views of the island are going to be of the harbor and beaches, filled with yachts and boats with glass bottoms to view the marine life below. Once you disembark, start your day just wandering the waterfront without any sort of plan or direction.

On the other end of Catalina Island is the village of Two Harbors. A hidden paradise, it’s even more charming as most people tend to stay around Avalon. So if you can get there even better. The smaller population makes the beachside stay even more enjoyable with its quietness. You can enjoy the same kind of day with outdoor activities and fine dining as you would in Avalon so you won’t be missing out if you only have time for one or the other.

Catalina Island Casino

Catalina Island Casino
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Take the walking path towards the other end of the bay from where you disembarked and you will find one of the more prominent and historic landmarks of Catalina Island. You can’t miss it as it almost towers over the water and sea vessels. It’s not a place of gambling though.

It is a historic structure, meant as a lure to help showcase the beauty of Catalina Island during the 1920s. Outside you will have some great panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean along with Avalon Bay and the city. Inside you will find a movie theatre, ballroom, and museum. You can purchase a ticket for the museum where you can learn about the history of its construction, Hollywood’s famous clientele, and it’s significance as a cultural hub here.

Catalina Island Conservancy

The island’s popularity is mostly in part due to the conversation efforts here. And it’s also the best way to explore the acres of untapped wildland here. They have well-placed unpaved trails for hiking at all levels. You can even go through windy hills and preserved valleys on the Trans-Catalina Trail to see the entire island. The same applies to mountain biking at different elevations. Or you can rest and relax with a guided tour inside an off-road vehicle.

Be aware though that you are required to have permits to explore the conservancy areas. Hiking is free but to bike ride you need to become a conservancy member, with the minimum being a one-year membership. You can apply for your chosen permits on the Catalina Island Conservancy website. This helps fund the organization’s efforts but if you aren’t planning on coming again in the future, it may not be worth it.

The wildlife consisting of bison, deer, foxes, eagles, and falcons mostly roam free here and you can see them in their natural habitat as long as you don’t bother them. The conservancy offers educational outdoor experiences.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Video Credit: Nicholas Rosen

See the Catalina Island marine life in their protected areas with this tour. You’ll be submersed 8 feet underwater in a semi-submarine as you leave the harbor and head out to several coves where the fish congregate. See the open waters as well as the concentrations of kelp. Pay the additional cost for fish food torpedoes and watch the fish swarm around you with every blast. It’s a great way of seeing the deep blue while being able to stay dry.

On the return trip back you will be able to return to the top deck for some great views entering into the harbor again.

Zip Line Eco Tour

If you go up the canyon past the Catalina Island Casino, next to the Descanso Beach Club is a 2-hour high-flying adventure. The zip line tour has multiple lines running above the canyon so you can get some great ocean views.

Your other choice is the aerial adventure, which has multiple obstacle courses suspended between the eucalyptus trees. These courses are at your own pace in different combinations to make sure this outdoor adventure keeps you well entertained.

It is best to book ahead but first read the necessary policies and guidelines so you won’t be refused entry and refund of your purchase.

Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden

Catalina Island Wrigley Memorial
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Getting here is a fantastic beginner’s hike that takes you through town to the top of Avalon Canyon. Pass by the golf course, and Hermit Gulch campgrounds before you reach the end where the botanical garden is located. Here you can enjoy nature by viewing the diverse selection of native plants from the island and nearby Channel Islands as well.

Catalina Island Botanic Garden
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Walk past the garden to reach the memorial dedicated to the patron of Catalina Island. It’s an impressive landmark built on the hill with a stretch of stone and rock steps leading you up to the top. From here you can see the intricate carvings made for the memorial as well as some panoramic views overlooking the whole garden and canyon.

From here, if you go past the open gate is the Garden to Sky trail. It’s a nearly 3-mile slightly upward hike to the top but the effort is worth the views of seeing the ocean on both sides of the island. Just bring plenty of sunscreen and water before attempting.

Descanso Beach Club

Catalina Island Descanso Beach Club
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Treat yourself to a private cabana and have a beach club experience. The beachfront location is pristine and private with impeccable service. This is the place to sit in a comfortable lounge chair and just unwind. For those looking to do an activity, you can go paddleboarding or kayaking in a roped-off part of the waters or head behind the beach club for the zip-lining.

Catalina Island Kayaking
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

The property at night lights up and is perfect for a dining experience or if you want to get caught up in the party scene here with live music or DJs on the weekend before catching the ferry home. Enjoy a little luxury while you are here with this spot.

Where to Stay on Catalina Island

Catalina Island Hotel
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Suppose you decide to extend your trip to Catalina Island or miss the last ferry home. Where are you going to stay? There are plenty of accommodation options to suit your budget and preferences.

In Avalon along the boardwalk are multiple beachfront hotels such as the Bellanca Hotel, Hotel Atwater, and Hotel Mac Rae. These are the ones you want to book for in the center of town just steps away from the sand and ocean views from your room.

Catalina Island Residential
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Further inside the city, the residential neighborhoods have numerous Airbnb and other rental properties. These are small intimate houses and cottages that make you feel like you are living as a local. And for those looking to stay outdoors, there are multiple campgrounds both public and private with easy access to hiking trails, BBQ pits, water activities, and some quiet seclusion for a more relaxing experience. But you do need to book in advance the camping grounds unless you are lucky and it is not the busy season.


Catalina Island will offer you a wide range of experiences based on your preferences and interests. It’s a great place to just get away, either by yourself or with friends and family. It will captivate you and remain a highlight of your time in Southern California.

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