Whether looking for a romantic getaway or a weekend with friends, few places in Southern California are more captivating than Catalina Island. From luxury accommodations and helicopter flights in to camping on ocean bluffs, the island offers a range of options for a memorable getaway. With its distinctively European feel, it captures the feeling of being transported to another country just a few hours from home.
How to get there
So, it’s an island. That means a bit of planning is required for a successful trip. The most common mode of transportation is the Catalina Express, a ferry which departs from Dana Point, San Pedro or Long Beach, and takes about one hour. Departing from Dana Point, the closest port from San Diego, runs $75 round trip per adult. If a splurge is in order, take the 15-minute helicopter ride over with Island Express Helicopters departing from Long Beach heliport for $270 roundtrip.
Where to stay
This comes down to how fancy you want to get. If you like roughing it oceanside, then there is nothing like camping on a Pacific island. Choose from five campgrounds, from nearby sites like Hermit Gulch, 1.5 miles from Avalon harbor and the Two Harbors, ¼ mile from the village of Two Harbors, to the more remote locations of Little Harbor, Black Jack and Parson’s Landing. Utilize the Safari bus to access the campgrounds. Tent fees range from $22-35/night depending on the site.
For indoor lodging, prices can range drastically, from $110 to $500 a night. For cozy bed and breakfast options, try the modern feel of Aurora Hotel, a boutique 17-room option with spa and rooftop views, or get away from it all (no phones or TVs here) at the historic Banning House Lodge & Villas, where you’ll enjoy majestic views of Catalina Harbor in an intimate setting.
There are a decent number of hotels on the island, but they book up fast during the summer months, so plan ahead. For budget friendly-ish options, the Portofino Hotel ranks highly with visitors for its beachfront location, as does Pavilion Hotel, for its tropical feel and location near the ferry drop. On the pricier side, try Hotel Avalon for a boutique craftsman-style experience, the Hotel Metropole, known for its spacious rooms and luxury feel, or the splurge spot, Mt. Ada, set atop the island for gorgeous views and your own private golf cart.
What to do
With a nearly endless supply of activities, it’s almost impossible for visitors to Catalina to get bored. For hikers, check out the Trans-Catalina Trail, stretching 38 miles across 42,000 acres of the island from Avalon in the East to Parson’s Landing in the West. Hiking permits are required, but can be obtained online at the Catalina Island Conservancy. Bikes are also permitted on eight miles of the trail, and provide challenging paths for cyclists. A Conservancy tip: watch out for rattlesnakes and bison. Yes, bison.
Feel like getting airborne? Check out the Catalina Aerial Adventure with a series of tree-based trails above ground including balances, swings, and slides and the Eco Line Zip Tour where you can ride 300 feet above at speeds up to 45 mph over nearly a mile of lines.
Nature’s beauty impresses at the Wrigley Botanical Gardens, a 37-acre showpiece of native plants and flowers. Take a 30-minute stroll from town or take a golf cart, bike or the Garibaldi city bus to arrive at the gardens and the popular Garden to Sky Trail.
If your legs get tired and a ride is in order, hop on a Catalina Island Segway Tours for a motorized tour around the island.
Where to eat
If breakfast isn’t one of your hotel amenities, stop by Original Jack’s Country Kitchen and Avalon Bake shop for a variety of fresh baked donuts, croissants and muffins with Kona coffee or Ben’s Bakery for breakfast burritos, biscuits, sandwiches and smoothies to fuel your day.
Lunch and dinner provide a bevy of options for any taste bud. For seafood specialties, visit Bluewater Avalon for their signature cioppino, chowders, fish and chips, swordfish, and lobster. For inventive Mexican, such as Mole Braised Duck Taquitos, Crab and Corn Empanadas, and a variety of margaritas, head to Maggie’s Blue Rose. For a meaty dining experience, head to El Galleon, which serves Montana Ranch Brand Certified Piedmontese Beef, New Zealand lamb chops, and Applewood smoked BBQ ribs. For gluten-free, paleo, vegan and vegetarian options, Cafe Metropole is the place to eat, with a thoughtful variety of soups, salads, paninis, and cold-pressed juices.