Whether you enjoy history, adventure, food, beaches, hiking or just relaxing in the sun, Santa Catalina Island has something for everyone. Just an hour's ferry ride west from the Los Angeles coast is the beautiful and unique getaway of Santa Catalina Island. While the island is small (75 square miles) it is packed with adventures for all ages.
Just over 4,000 people call the island home in the two main cities of Avalon or Two Harbors. While Europeans would sparsely inhabit the small island beginning in the late 1500s, it wasn’t until almost 1900 that the area that would become the city of Avalon began to develop. Financial troubles and fires plagued the development and it wasn’t until 1919 when William Wrigley, Jr. bought a controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company and invested in the growth of the island. During the Prohibition era, the island became a hotbed for illegal activities such as gambling and alcohol smuggling. The infamous mobster, Al Capone, is rumored to have frequented the island during this time. The Catalina Casino opened its doors in 1929 and still greets visitors in the Avalon Harbor today. The Chicago Cubs made Catalina their home for spring training from 1921-1951 pausing during WWII when the island became an area for military training. In 1975, the Wrigley family deeded 90 percent of the island to the Santa Catalina Island Conservatory which continues to care for and protect the land. The proximity to Hollywood has made the destination a popular one for stars and their families and the moorings in Avalon and Two Harbors are generally filled with boats of all shapes and sizes.
The only way to get to Catalina Island is by ferry or private boat. The Catalina Express offers frequent departures from several Southern California locations including Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. The ferry ride takes approximately one hour and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Visitors can also opt to take a helicopter tour for a unique perspective of the island.
Getting around the island can be its own fun. Motor vehicles are restricted on the island and most people get around in golf carts, on bicycles, or hike through the miles of gorgeous trails leading through the island’s backcountry. Permits are sometimes needed so check the Island Conservatory for specifics.
Where to Stay
The larger of the two main cities on Catalina, Avalon, is dotted with colorful homes, boutiques, and fine dining along with most of the island’s hotels. A sandy beach rings the Avalon Harbor and is a popular spot to relax in the sun, play in the sand or rent a kayak and explore the waters around the island. Two Harbors is a smaller city and a popular destination for fishing, campers, and hikers on the island. Whether setting up camp on one of the island’s picturesque campsites overlooking the harbor or backpacking through the island, an adventure awaits.
There are several options for lodging on Catalina Island, ranging from cozy bed and breakfasts to luxurious resorts. The Hotel Metropole, located in the heart of Avalon, offers stunning ocean views and easy access to the island's many attractions. For a more secluded getaway, the Inn on Mt. Ada offers panoramic views of the island and personalized service.
For families, the Pavilion Hotel is a great option. Located just steps from the beach, the hotel offers complimentary breakfast and afternoon wine and cheese receptions. For those seeking a more adventurous experience, camping is available at several locations on the island.
What to Do
Catalina Island offers a wide variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. The island's clear waters make it the perfect destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking. The Catalina Island Conservancy offers several guided hikes that allow visitors to explore the island's rugged terrain and learn about its flora and fauna. For a unique experience, visitors can take a guided tour of the island's interior on a Jeep or Hummer. The tour takes visitors through the island's rugged terrain and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. For those seeking a more leisurely experience, a round of golf at the Catalina Island Golf Course is a must. One of the island's most popular attractions is the Glass Bottom Boat Tour. The tour takes visitors on a cruise through the island's crystal-clear waters, providing a unique view of the marine life below. Visitors can also take a submarine tour to explore the depths of the ocean. For those seeking a thrill, ziplining is a must. The Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour is the longest and fastest zipline on the island, providing breathtaking views of the ocean and island terrain. Visitors can also enjoy parasailing, jet skiing, and fishing excursions.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the island’s population of approximately 150 American Bison. The unique animals were brought to Catalina for a movie decades ago and have continued to inhabit the island since. Also special to the area is the bright orange Garibaldi, the state fish of California. Strap on some fins and snorkel gear and you are likely to see the Garibaldi along with a plethora of other unique fish just off the coast.
Catalina Island is a hidden gem that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and endless activities and culinary experiences. Whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or a romantic getaway, Catalina Island has something for everyone. So pack your bags and head to this idyllic destination for a memorable vacation.
Visit the island’s official website to learn more: https://www.lovecatalina.com/
Catalina Island is a hidden gem that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and endless activities and culinary experiences.