Catalina Island is located just off the coast of Southern California. It’s the ideal weekend trip from Los Angeles or a weekend trip from Orange County. It has a mix of island beauty, fun adventures, and relaxed vibes. There is plenty to add to a Catalina travel guide, but the nice part is you can accomplish most everything in a weekend.
Being from Southern California, we do a weekend trip from Orange County at least once every Summer. It’s such a special place to me. When I spend a weekend in Catalina, it’s typically on a boat anchored in one of the coves. But, I’ve also spent a few weekends in hotels or rented properties in Avalon (the main area).
Regardless of where you stay, there is something so peaceful about Catalina. It’s a small island, so you can see a lot in a short period of time. I also like that there is plenty to do, but there isn’t SO much to do that you feel like you aren’t going to be able to just relax. It forces you to actually embrace “island time” and recharge for a weekend. If you’re looking for a relaxing trip, a weekend in Catalina is the perfect choice.
Catalina Travel Guide
There are only a few ways to get to Catalina Island: essentially only by ferry/boat or by helicopter. Either way you get there, the trip is beautiful!
The easiest way to get to Catalina is by ferry. Ferry departure times are limited, so be sure to pay close attention and plan accordingly! There are only 2 ferry companies to consider:
- Catalina Express: San Pedro and Long Beach (Los Angeles) or Dana Point (Orange County)
- Catalina Flyer: Newport Beach (Orange County)
If you have a boat (or know someone with a boat), another option is to take it over to Catalina. From Southern CA, it takes between 1.5-3.5 hours, depending on where you’re leaving from and how fast you’re going.
This might seem a little ridiculous, but getting to Catalina by helicopter isn’t THAT uncommon! It’s a little more pricey, but it could be a cool experience if you are open to it. It also only takes about 15 minutes from take off to landing.
Catalina Island is pretty small, so it’s not a place you would rent a car (that wouldn’t be an option even if you wanted to!). If you’re staying in Avalon, your options for getting around are:
- Walking: It’s super easy to get around Catalina just by walking. The walks are gorgeous too!
- Golf Carts: You can always look into renting a golf cart if your hotel is a little further up the island.
- Bikes: Renting bikes is another great way to get around and see various parts of the island.
Best Time Of Year To Go:
Peak season is between May and September. This is also the best time to experience the outdoor activities like snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and enjoying the beautiful beaches. If you prefer a quieter visit with fewer crowds, the shoulder seasons are great options (Spring: March to April and Fall: October to November). The weather is still beautiful. If you’re looking for a weekend trip from Los Angeles or weekend trip from Orange County, and don’t mind the weather, December to February is still a fun time. There is still plenty to add to your Catalina travel guide, but it might just be a little cooler than the rest of the year!
where to stay:
- Hotel Catalina: (~$169 USD/night) Hotel Catalina is in a quieter part of Avalon, and has cozy rooms with a touch of vintage charm.
- Hermosa Hotel: (~$300 USD/night) The Hermosa Hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Avalon. They have standard hotel rooms as well as apartments.
- Glenmore Plaza Hotel: (~$350 USD/night) Overlooking Avalon Bay, Glenmore Plaza Hotel overlooks Avalon Bay and has a few rooms with ocean views. The hotel is in a prime location, with easy access to the beach, shops, and restaurants. They also have onsite dining and a rooftop sundeck.
- Catalina Island Inn: (~$400 USD/night) The Catalina Island Inn is in another super convenient location. The rooms are pretty nice and have modern amenities.
- Aurora Hotel & Spa: (~$400 USD/night) If you’re looking for something with a little more luxury, the Aurora Hotel & Spa is the perfect choice. It’s a boutique hotel with gorgeous ocean views. The hotel also has a spa and even a rooftop lounge. I stayed here during a weekend in Catalina and really loved it.
- Pavilion Hotel: (~$450 USD/night) The Pavilion Hotel is located on the main stretch of Avalon, and only a few short steps to the beach. They offer evening wine and cheese receptions and have a cozy firepit area guest can enjoy as well.
*Average nightly prices are based on peak season.
top things to do:
- Explore Avalon: One of the main things to do in Catalina is explore Avalon. Avalon is the main town, filled with lots of restaurants, hotels, and of course the beach.
- Beaches: Catalina Island has a few beaches you can enjoy, the most popular ones being Descanso Beach, Lover’s Cove, and South Beach.
- Go On A Hike: If you’re looking to get in a sweat and see gorgeous views, there are a few hikes you can choose from. The first is about 2.5 miles and starts at The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. From Avalon, you would either walk 2 miles or take a golf cart to the Botanical Garden to start the hike. For those looking for something a little more intense, the Trans-Catalina Trail might be up your alley. It’s a 38.5 mile hike (so would take you 3-5 days to complete), but it takes you around the entire island. If you’re up for it, the views are gorgeous.
- Zip Line: Another popular thing to add to your Catalina travel guide is zip lining. You’ll get to see amazing views of the ocean and the island’s greenery.
- Try Buffalo Milk: No Catalina travel guide would be complete without getting a taste of Buffalo Milk. Buffalo Milk is the staple drink of Catalina Island. Despite its name, Buffalo Milk doesn’t actually come from buffalo. The drink got its name from the herd of bison that were brought to the island in the 1920s for a movie. It has Kahlua, Creme de Banana, Creme de Cocoa, half and half, and vodka. It’s essentially a take on a White Russian. Buffalo Milk can be found at a number of places on the Island, but some of the best are Descanso Beach Club or Avalon Grille.
- Glass bottom boat tour: Another thing that Catalina has to offer is a glass bottom boat tour. You’ll get to see fish, dolphins, and other marine life without getting in the water.
- Go Kayaking or Paddleboarding: Catalina offers kayak and paddle board rentals, giving you the opportunity to explore the island’s coastline from the water.
- Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving: Catalina also has snorkeling and scuba diving tours. There is so much to see and explore.
- Guided Jeep Tour: A guided jeep tour is the best way to see the famous Catalina bison. There are also jeep tours that take you to gorgeous lookouts and other more secluded spots.
- Catalina Casino: The Catalina Casino is not actually a casino, it’s a theater. In the 1930s and 1940s, there were a number of big bands who performed there. It’s no longer an operating theater, but it’s still cool to see.
- Descanso Beach Club: If you’re looking for a more “lively” beach area, head to Descanso Beach Club. On Saturdays in the Summer, they have a live DJ, making it the place to be.
- Visit the Catalina Island Museum: If history is your thing, be sure to visit the Catalina Island Museum. The museum has exhibits that showcase the island’s Native American heritage, Hollywood connections, and the evolution of Catalina as a popular destination.
- Explore Beyond Avalon: Avalon is the main town on Catalina Island, but you can also venture outside and experience a completely different side of the island. You can rent a golf cart or take a shuttle to visit the quieter town of Two Harbors. Or you can explore the hiking trails and scenic spots throughout the island.
top places to eat/Drink:
- The Pancake Cottage: Perfect spot for breakfast and lunch. Waterfront views and a full bar too!
- Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co.: Start your morning with a gourmet cup of coffee from Catalina Coffee.
- Original Jack’s Country Kitchen: I’ve been coming to Jack’s for years! It’s diner-style and has all the classics. I love their omelets.
- Cafe Metropole: If you’re looking for a delicious sandwich or salad, Cafe Metropole is your spot. They also have great breakfast options like juices and avocado toasts. My favorite is the Chickpea Salad Sandwich.
- Avalon Grille: Avalon Grill is on the waterfront and has indoor/outdoor seating. They have a full bar, great food, and live music. Be sure to try the famous Wrigley Martini.
- Bluewater Avalon: Bluewater Avalon is another waterfront restaurant. They have delicious, fresh seafood and a fun atmosphere.
- Steve’s Steakhouse: If you’re looking for a great steak, head to Steve’s. They’ve been open since 1946 and have such great food. Even if you’re not a steak person, you can order delicious pasta or seafood. You’ll see gorgeous views of the bay too.
- Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret: Antonio’s is the perfect spot if you’re looking for a more casual dine-in option. They serve great pizza and have live music.
- Maggie’s Blue Rose: If you feel like Mexican food, head to Maggie’s Blue Rose. They have delicious tacos and margaritas.
- Mi Casita: Another great choice for Mexican food.
- Lloyd’s of Avalon: No weekend in Catalina Island would be complete without a trip to Lloyd’s. They have ice cream, candy, pastreis, and their famous salt water taffy.
- Descanso Beach Club: Descanso Beach Club is located down the waterfront / away from Avalon. It’s one of the only places where you can (legally) drink on the beach in Southern CA. They also have private lounges and cabanas to rent along plus live DJs on Saturdays in the Summer. If you’re looking for something on the livelier side, be sure to add Descanso Beach Club to your Catalina travel guide.
- Luau Larry’s: Luau Larry’s is another Catalina Island staple. It’s also home of the Wiki Wacker, a rum based, tropical drink. If you order it, it comes with a straw hat. The bar is your quintessential “Jimmy Buffet” vibe.
- Catalina Island Brew House: If you’re searching for craft beer, head to the Catalina Island Brew House. They serve the only beers crafted on Catalina Island.
Know Before You Go:
- Plan Ahead: Catalina Island can be a popular destination, especially during peak seasons. Try and book ferry tickets, hotels, tours, and meal reservations in advance so you can accomplish things on your Catalina travel guide.
- Restaurant Hours: A lot of the restaurants close early (like as in 8pm). So be sure to take that into consideration otherwise, you’ll end up hungry!
- Choose the Right Ferry: There are a few ferries that operate heading into Catalina. Be sure to find the one that works best with your location/schedule. Also, ferries are limited, so be sure you don’t miss the return ferry, otherwise, you’ll be stuck on the island for another night!
- Pack Appropriately: Catalina Island’s climate is generally mild, but it’s always a good idea to pack layers, as temperatures can vary. Bring comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. If you plan to engage in water activities, pack appropriate swimwear and a towel.
- Consider a Midweek Visit: If your schedule is flexible, you might want to consider visiting Catalina Island during the week. The island tends to be less crowded, and you’ll find more cost effective hotel stays.
- Follow Ecological Guidelines: Catalina Island is home to diverse ecosystems and protected wildlife. It’s important to respect the natural environment by following ecological guidelines. Don’t disturb wildlife, stay on designated trails when hiking, and throw away your trash.
- Check for Special Events: Catalina often hosts various events, such as concerts, festivals, and races. Before your trip, check for any special events taking place during your visit.
What To Pack For Your Trip To Catalina:
- Clothes: Most restaurants are pretty casual, so keep that in mind when packing. It’s also a good idea to bring a lightweight jacket in case it gets cooler in the evening.
- Swimsuit: You’ll likely want to go for a swim or lay out on the beach during your weekend in Catalina!
- Towels: Some hotels typically provide these, but it’s always a good idea to bring one to be safe.
- Shoes: I recommend bringing:
- Comfortable walking shoes or sandals (hiking shoes if you plan on hiking!)
- Casual shoes for breakfast/dinners
- Water shoes or reef-safe flip-flops for water activities (if you plan on doing any)
- Daypack: Bring a small daypack to carry essentials while exploring or spending a day at the beach.
Enjoy your trip!
*This post is not affiliated with any of the mentioned establishments.