A Catalina ferry is the most common way to make the 26-mile trip to Catalina Island from the Los Angeles mainland.
If you're going to Avalon or Two Harbors on a ferry, you need to know a few things first.
Catalina Island Ferry Terminal Locations
You can catch a Catalina ferry from the locations listed here. The Catalina-Marina del Rey Flyer closed in early 2012, making San Pedro the nearest ferry port to that area.
Long Beach to Catalina: Catalina Express boats leave daily to Avalon from Catalina Landing in downtown Long Beach. The location has plenty of nearby paid parking. The trip takes an hour.
San Pedro to Catalina Island: Catalina Express goes from San Pedro to Avalon or Two Harbors. Their schedule varies by season, and they don't run every day off-season. The departure point is Berth 95 at the Sea/Air terminal, near the cruise ship terminals. Compared to the trip to Avalon from Long Beach, this boat takes about half an hour longer because of a long, slow, no-wake zone getting out of the harbor.
Newport Beach to Catalina: 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 to Catalina Island: 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.
It shouldn't be so hard to find this bit of information, but it took me a while, so I'll save you the trouble. If you're flying into one of the local airports and need to get a shuttle to the Long Beach ferry terminal, its zip code is 90802.
Be prepared for sticker shock. Taking a ferry to Catalina isn't as cheap as taking the bus. You may be able to save money by booking a hotel/ferry package. Check the hotel websites to see what's available.
Get your fingers off the keyboard and pick up the phone to make your Catalina Express reservation. If you reserve online and find a discount coupon after that, you won't be able to use it, but discounts can be applied to phone reservations when you pay at the ferry terminal. Their reservation phone number is on their website.
Reserve your Catalina ferry trip in advance. At busy times, they sell out far ahead of time.
Be sure to bring your Catalina ferry reservation number with you when you leave home.
Get to the ferry terminal early. Check in at least 30 minutes ahead of time and an hour is better. If you're later than 15 minutes before departure, you may find your trip canceled as a no-show.
Soft-soled shoes with tread on the bottom will help you get around the boat without slipping, especially on the ramps.
For this motion-sickness-prone travel writer, a Catalina ferry ride is the most nausea-inducing trip I've encountered. Bring your favorite remedy if you have any concerns. I'm not a medical professional, but I can tell you what works for me. A Relief Band which is an electronic version of a mechanical motion sickness band does wonders. Seasickness pills and patches also help but can leave you drowsy when you arrive. Crew members say it's better to stay outside where you can get lots of fresh air if you feel woozy.
Pets are allowed, but they must wear a muzzle.
Each passenger can bring two pieces of luggage, no larger than 21×24x36 inches and weighing no more than 70 pounds each.
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 the Catalina ferry. The ones that might affect you — especially if you plan to go camping — are butane cylinders, camp stove fuel, charcoal, firewood, fireworks, and matches. If you're unsure about anything else, call and ask. Divers should also ask what they can bring along.
Other Ways to Get to Catalina Island
Island Express offers the fastest way to get to the island - by helicopter.
Private airplane pilots can fly into Airport in the Sky and take a shuttle from there into town.