Just a short boat ride away from the shores of Southern California, Catalina Island boasts 75 square miles of beautiful beaches, kelp forests, hilly terrain, and even California’s most popular multi-day treks – the 38.5- mile Trans-Catalina trail, making the destination nothing short of an island paradise.
Catalina Island has always been on my radar, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I was finally able to make the trip to the island myself with two of my close friends. We went to the island with little time to plan, and with the island offering you the wide variety of unique adventures and activities, the tough part was squeezing in all we wanted to do before we had to return to the mainland.
Based on our trip, here is what to expect and what to do for a day trip to Catalina Island.
HOW TO GET THERE
Unless you know someone who has a sailboat, or you want to splurge on a helicopter ride, the most common way to get to Catalina is by taking a ferry. There are two boat companies that take passengers to the island – the Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer.
The Catalina Express departs from: San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point, and travels to both Avalon and Two Harbors, but the Catalina Flyer only departs from Newport Beach.
If there is one thing you take away from this article, it is that you need to plan ahead and book ferry tickets (at least) a few days in advance to your preferred day of travel. I will say, Catalina Express was very accommodating with helping us to get last minute tickets, so if you aren’t able to get tickets online in advance, try calling the ferry companies to see if they are able to help you out!
If you are going for just the day, I recommend getting an early ticket, as you are going to want to get the most out of your trip, and the island is less crowded in the morning.
(We were able to get tickets for Catalina Express departing from Long Beach arriving in Avalon. We left at 6:30 am, arriving around 7:45 am, and left the island around 4:30 pm to go back home.)
Original Jack’s Country Kitchen
118 Catalina Ave, Avalon, CA 90704
The island is filled with incredible restaurants, but we ended up going to Original Jack’s Country Kitchen for breakfast, and it really just set the perfect tone for our day. This buzzy, old-fashioned diner has an expansive menu filled with familiar classics, including hearty breakfast options.
The atmosphere and décor are bright, nostalgic, and homey, a perfect complement to the staff, who, were beyond delightful and friendly, sharing their favorite spots and secrets of the island. You can sit down in one of the comfy booths, or take a seat at the counter, with the smells of freshly brewed coffee and homemade pies and cakes turning in an old-style glass display case surround you.
Rent a Golf Cart
If you visit Catalina and do not rent a golf cart, you will be missing out. Not only is this so much fun to do with friends, family, or even by yourself, but this is also one of the best options to drive around the island and take in all of the incredible views it has to offer.
Downtown Catalina has a handful of golf cart rental companies that will let you rent the cart by the hour. Along with a golf cart, you will be given a guided map of the island and sent on your way to explore.
We rented our golf cart from Catalina Golf Cart Rentals, which is on a first-come-first-serve basis. We rented our golf cart for two hours, but one hour ended up being more than enough time to drive around and take in all of the incredible views provided by their 12-mile scene route.
Note, for rentals, you have to be at least 21 years old and provide a valid driver’s license. Renting a golf cart from Catalina Golf Cart Rentals also requires a $50 deposit, and it is cash-only, but there is a nearby ATM.
Take a Tour of the Catalina Casino
1 Casino Way, Avalon, CA 90704
No building on the island is as well-known as the Catalina Island Casino – but don’t expect to gamble here. With its name as the Italian word for “gathering place”, William Wrigley built the casino to be a social center in 1929, and to do this day, the casino hosts movies, tours, and other events throughout the year.
There are three tours to choose from: Discover the Casino, Behind the Scenes Casino, and Twilight at the Casino. Whichever tour you end up choosing from, you will get to see the movie theater, with its 50-foot domed ceiling, and the fully restored ballroom.
Local guides will share the history of the building and some facts about the island. Tours can be booked online in advance, or at the casino ticket office on the day of your visit.
Unfortunately, we were not able to squeeze in a casino tour on our trip, but we were able to walk around a little, and from what we could see, the casino looked spectacular, and if I am lucky enough to ever go back, this will be at the top of my to-do list.