SoCal friends, an Island paradise is just one hour away, thanks to Catalina Express. Catalina Island is located 26 miles off the coast of California and offers visitors a paradise escape from the busyness of SoCal life. I grew up going to the island as a kid, camping at Two Harbors and driving around Avalon in a golf cart. Travel looks different these days due to COVID-19, which is why Catalina Island offers that island getaway we all need during this time. While not much has changed, scroll below to read through our Complete Guide to Visit Catalina Island, which includes how to get there, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do. We’ve also included some updated information regarding new safety protocols in place due to the current pandemic.
This post was written in collaboration with Catalina Express and Catalina Island Company. Travel, accommodations, some meals, and activities were provided which helped facilitate the writing of this post.
About Catalina Island
I chose Catalina Island for our mother-daughter getaway due to its proximity to home and the expansive selection of outdoor activities. Many people, even in my circle, are still unaware that we as Southern California residents have our very own private island situated right off the coast.
Catalina Island is part of the Channel Islands of California and is within the jurisdiction of LA County. That becomes important at present, due to each county’s guidelines regarding our current pandemic.
While the island is expansive, at 22 miles long and 8 miles across, most people visiting the island will choose to spend their time vacationing in the city of Avalon or in the community of Two Harbors.
Catalina Island has a unique, exciting history which includes everything from otter hunting to gold-digging. It was William Wrigley Jr. (the man you can thank for chewing gum), who developed the island into a tourist destination in the 1920s.
How to Get to Catalina Island
Catalina Express is the best way to get to Catalina Island, offering up to 30 departures daily (year-round) from ports in San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point. With a large fleet of high-speed boats, the trip over to Catalina Island is approximately one hour.
The ride over to the island is generally smooth, however, if you are like me and tend to get seasick, I recommend bringing Sea-Band’s (or an alternative remedy).
While the boats are expansive, due to current restrictions in capacity, I recommend booking your trip on Catalina Express early to secure your preferred date and time. Now that Catalina Island is open and welcoming visitors, it has become incredibly popular as an island getaway.
Tip: Do you want priority check-in and boarding? Upgrade your ticket to the Commodore Lounge! For just $15 each way, the lounge offers comfortable seating and includes a complimentary beverage and snack.
Visit CatalinaExpress.com (or call 800.481.3470) to book your next trip to Catalina Island.
Getting Around Catalina Island
If you plan to visit Avalon, you’ll find that shops, restaurants, activities, and even a grocery store (Vons) are all within walking distance of the port where you dock. If you are in need of transportation, here are the best options for getting around Catalina Island:
Rent a Golf Cart
This is by far my favorite way to get around the island, and you’ll find more information in my post detailing the best things to do on Catalina Island. You can rent a golf cart from Catalina Island Golf Cart for 2-hour blocks and it is seriously the best way to see much of Avalon.
Take the Trolley
The Avalon trolley circles the city twice an hour an doffers one-ride and all-day fares.
Take a Taxi
If you are traveling with luggage, you may opt to take a taxi. Service is located at the ferry terminal and the taxi stand located on the corner of Crescent Avenue and Metropole Avenue.
Take the Free Shuttle
During the summer, the Catalina Island Company offers free shuttle transportation to Descanso Beach with a stop at the Catalina Casino. The shuttle departs from the Via Casino arch at the beginning of Casino Way.
Where to Stay On Catalina Island
Visitors to Catalina Island typically stay in the resort-like town of Avalon or the more rustic village of Two Harbors. As it was my daughter’s first visit to the island and we were looking for some r & r, Avalon was the perfect weekend destination.
The entire city is walkable, which makes it easy to sightsee, get adventurous, enjoy a leisurely meal, or lounge by the beach. We stayed at The Avalon Hotel, a serene, boutique hotel tucked along one of Avalon’s side streets. The hotel is perfectly situated within walking distance of the city’s main attractions, restaurants, and beaches.
Each room is spacious and includes a number of amenities, the most important being an in-room microwave and refrigerator, a flat-screen TV, personal climate control, and complimentary WiFi. Guests choose from either ocean or garden view rooms, each with its own private patio.
From the moment we checked into the Avalon Hotel, my daughter and I were impressed with the hospitality we received during our stay. The hotel has thought of everything, including complimentary snacks and in-room water, fully lined robes, a beach towel, a bag, and a chair for your beach days, and complimentary taxi service to and from the port. Breakfast (which is amazing) is included and served outside on the patio. While you’re enjoying breakfast, check out their fountain where a school of Koi live. Be sure to head up to their rooftop patio for panoramic views of Avalon and the harbor.
While there are a number of hotels available on the island, we really loved the location and intimate vibe of the Avalon Hotel. To view their current specials and packages, visit TheAvalonHotel.com
Where to Eat on Catalina Island
Food has always been an integral part of our travels. I always joke that when you travel with me, I’ll find the best food! Thanks to the recommendations of our partners and hosts, we dined at Bluewater Avalon and M Restaurant.
Our first meal on the island was an incredible lunch at Bluewater Avalon complete with freshly grilled halibut. We’ve dined at our local Bluewater Grill in Orange County and our experience in Avalon did not disappoint.
This is the city’s newest restaurant, serving up fresh, sustainable seafood. Located in the historic waterfront terminal building, Bluewater Avalon offers impeccable dishes with pristine views of the harbor.
The weather on the island is pleasant, so we found that dining outside on their waterfront patio was ideal given our current pandemic recommendations. Bluewater Avalon features an oyster bar and a sushi bar, happy hour, and a pet-friendly space.
I love seafood, and the island has a good variety of restaurants offering fresh, sustainable fish. We dined at the M Restaurant located at the newly remodeled Hotel Metropole with beautiful oceanfront views from their patio.
Their dishes are made from scratch in-house using seasonal ingredients, grass-fed, natural, organic meats, and sustainable seafood. The M Restaurant also features a premium bar, biodynamic and organic wine selection and craft beers.
One of the things we really appreciated about traveling during this time is the abundance of outdoor dining available on the island. The weather is perfect and you can’t beat the view!
What to do on Catalina Island
From snorkeling and parasailing to ziplining, there is so much to do on Catalina Island. Be sure to check out my post (as part of this guide) on the best things to do on Catalina Island.
Are you ready to book your next vacation to Catalina Island? Be sure to visit VisitCatalinaIsland.com and CatalinaExpress.com to plan your island getaway!