Located 26 miles off the shore of Los Angeles, Santa Catalina Island is a popular destination for day trips and getaways for locals and tourists alike. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to get there including taking a private boat to Avalon Harbor, flying on the Island Express helicopter to the city of Avalon, or booking a private flight into Airport in the Sky. However, the most common way to get to Santa Catalina Island is by using the Catalina Island ferry, which runs from various points in Los Angeles to the island daily all year long.
Where to Catch the Catalina Island Ferry
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
While taking a Catalina Island ferry is a relatively easy thing to do, there can be some confusion on getting to the terminals, ticketing information, travel times, and restrictions for different ferry services in the Los Angeles area. Fortunately, there are many ways you can better prepare for your ferry trip before you get ready to depart for Los Angeles.
- Check for discounts. A ticket on a Catalina Island ferry can run up to $75, depending on your departure date and the company you're using to book travel. Save money by booking a hotel/ferry package through Catalina Island hotels, on the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce website, or through Groupon. Additionally, some of the ferry companies like the Catalina Flyer offer online discounts shown on their main page.
- Book your travel early. While you can buy tickets at Catalina Island ferry terminals on the day of travel, ferry seats sell out quickly at busy times—especially in the summer or on holiday weekends.
- Know how to get to the terminal. Airport shuttles to ferry terminals typically require passengers to know the zip code for the terminal, which varies by location. Taxi services including Uber and Lyft rides are available but will be more expensive.
- Arrive early for departure. Get to the ferry terminal early, and be sure to bring your Catalina ferry reservation number with you. You should check in at least 30 minutes before your ferry's departure time—though an hour is better. If you arrive less than 15 minutes before departure, you may find your reservation has been canceled as a no-show and sold to another passenger.
- Dress for sailing. It can get rather wet and windy during the trip to Catalina Island, so wear soft-soled shoes with tread on the bottom to help you get around the boat without slipping and bring a waterproof jacket to protect you from the wind.
- 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.
- Know the rules for pets. You can bring your dog with you on the Catalina Express but they must wear a muzzle and be leashed, and smaller dogs can also be transported in a pet carrier. However, no pets of any kind are allowed on the Catalina Flyer.
Luggage Restrictions on Ferries
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. You can bring one fold-up child's stroller free of charge, but you'll have to stow it in the baggage area during the trip. 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.
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 or tandem bikes and kayaks on either service.