A Catalina Island ferry is the most common way to make the 26-mile trip to Catalina Island from the Los Angeles mainland. Your destination, Santa Catalina Island, is part Los Angeles County with law enforcement provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Avalon, the island’s only municipality, is governed by its own city council.
Catalina Island has been a favorite tourist destination for day trips and getaways for years. Avalon offers plenty to see and do but getting around by golf cart and seeing more of the scenic island environment makes for a memorable trip.
To get there, private boats can dock in the Avalon Harbor or you can fly to the island via Island Express helicopter. Additionally, private pilots can fly into Airport in the Sky and take a shuttle from there into town. However, most people go to Catalina Island by ferry.
Catalina Island Ferry Terminal Locations
Catalina Ferries are high-speed catamarans and mono-hulled boats with most service provided by two companies: Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer. You can catch a Catalina ferry from several locations.
- Long Beach: Catalina Express boats leave daily to Avalon from Catalina Landing in downtown Long Beach. The location has plenty of nearby paid parking, and the trip takes about an hour.
- San Pedro: Catalina Express goes from San Pedro to Avalon or Two Harbors. Their schedule varies by season, and they don't run every day on the off-season. The departure point is Berth 95 at the Sea/Air terminal, near the cruise ship terminals. This route takes about half an hour longer than from Long Beach because of a long, slow, no-wake zone getting out of the harbor.
- Newport Beach: The Catalina Flyer makes one trip a day to Avalon from Newport Beach (Orange County). It leaves Newport Beach in the morning and returns in the late afternoon.
- Dana Point: Catalina Express runs at least one ferry per week between Avalon and Dana Point in southern Orange County. The Dana Point ferry is the closest one to Catalina Island from San Diego.
Tips for Taking the Catalina Island Ferry
These tips apply to all the Catalina Island ferry companies, although baggage policies may vary slightly.
- Check Prices and Discounts. Taking a ferry to Catalina isn't inexpensive. A round trip can run up to $75. However, you may be able to save money by booking a hotel/ferry package. Check Catalina hotel websites to see what's available and look at the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce for a list of some package discounts; you can also check Groupon for some time-limited discounts. Some of the ferry companies, like the Catalina Flyer, offer online discounts shown on their main page. Reserve your space early. At busy times, ferry seats sell out quickly.
- Prepare for Travel to the Terminal. If you're flying into one of the local airports and need to get a shuttle to the Long Beach ferry terminal, you may be asked for the terminal zip code which is 90802. Taxi service is also available.
- Go Early on the Day of Departure. Get to the ferry terminal early, and be sure to bring your Catalina ferry reservation number with you. Check in at least 30 minutes ahead of time (an hour is better). If you're later than 15 minutes before departure, you may find your reservation canceled as a no-show.
- Dress for Sailing. Soft-soled shoes with tread on the bottom will help you get around the boat without slipping, especially on the ramps. It can get windy out on the water so take a jacket with you.
- Prepare for Motion Sickness. If you are prone to motion sickness, bring your favorite remedy. Some use a "Relief Band" which is a drug-free, FDA cleared wearable technology for the treatment of nausea associated with motion sickness. Seasickness pills and patches also help but can leave you drowsy when you arrive. On the positive side, the crossing is short, no more than an hour and a half, which helps those who are prone to motion sickness.
- Know Dog Rules. You can bring your dog with you on the Catalina Express but they must wear a muzzle and be leashed, and smaller dogs can be enclosed in a pet carrier. However, no pets of any kind are allowed on the Catalina Flyer.
Understand Baggage Restrictions
The Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer services have slightly different rules for luggage allowances and banned items. For the Catalina Flyer, each passenger is only allowed to bring carry-on luggage and may only bring two pieces of hand-carried luggage per person, but for the Catalina Express, the luggage allowances are a bit more lenient.
On the Catalina Express, each passenger can bring two pieces of luggage, no larger than 23 inches by 23 inches by 36 inches and weighing no more than 50 pounds each. Luggage must be stored in the luggage compartment for the duration of the trip. In addition, each passenger may bring one carry-on that fits at the seat or in the overhead bin.
One fold-up child's stroller is allowed free of charge, but you'll have to stow it in the baggage compartment. Bicycles, jogger strollers, children's wagons, surfboards and some other large items are allowed on a space-available basis, but there may be a small extra charge. Tandem bikes and kayaks are not allowed.
Lots of potentially dangerous items are not allowed on either of the Catalina ferry services. The ones that might affect you—especially if you plan to go camping—are butane cylinders, camp stove fuel, charcoal, firewood, fireworks, and matches. Additionally, some things that aren't dangerous are also forbidden, including pets of any kind on the Catalina Flyer.