California's only coastal island retreat is a short trip away from Los Angeles and part of the same county, but it's surprisingly different from its mainland counterpart. Most of its land is preserved as a nature conservancy, surrounding the small town of Avalon where about 3,000 people live. Avalon is a small, walkable town centered on the small boat harbor and waterfront, with enough hotels, restaurants, and activities to keep visitors happy.
You can plan your Catalina day trip or weekend getaway using the resources below.
Scenes from Catalina Island
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Catalina Island Photo Tour.
Why Should You Go? Will You Like Catalina Island?
Catalina is a cute place that's popular with scuba divers, hikers, families, and anyone who needs to get away from the city or wants to take a romantic escape.
Best Time to Go to Catalina Island
Catalina weather is best in spring and fall. Summer days can be overcast until noon or later. In winter, storms can make the ferry ride unbearably choppy.
It's busiest during summer and big events like the marathon and jazz festival. See the list below.
Cruise ships stop in Catalina several days a week, temporarily filling the town with visitors. If you want to avoid them, check the cruise ship schedule.
If you've only got a day, your best bet is to hang around town in Avalon. Take a short city tour if you want to learn more about the place. Walk along the waterfront. Sit and watch the people or do a little shopping.
More Great Things to Do in Catalina
If you want the short list, try the best things to do in Catalina.
If that's not enough, browse through 101 Things to Do in Catalina.
- Catalina Marathon, March: Even if you're not running, you should know about it because the hotels fill up.
- Jazztrax Jazz Festival, October
- Catalina Triathlon, November
- Catalina Eco Marathon, November
If you're looking for everything that might be going on while you're there, check the Chamber of Commerce calendar.
Tips for Visiting Catalina
- Plan ahead. Hotels fill up early during busy times, and so do the most convenient ferry runs.
- You can take your pets on the Catalina ferry boats, but dogs must have a muzzle. However, pet-friendly lodging is in short supply, and canine friends are not allowed on the waterfront walk between Metropole and Clarissa Avenues.
- It costs a lot to get things to the island. Expect to pay 15% to 20% more for everything than you do on the mainland.
- If you have an option, schedule tours in the late morning or afternoon. You'll have the best chance of clear skies then.
- If you have humidity-sensitive, frizzy hair like mine, bring your strongest defenses. Or a hat. Or a razor in case things get really bad.
Isn't It Romantic?
The most romantic thing to do? Just walk along the waterfront, hand-in-hand.
We like the Bluewater Grill's patio for a sun-drenched lunch. For other meals, Avalon is small, making it easy just to walk around and pick something that looks good. Our rule of thumb: The more people inside, the better.
Where to Stay
Catalina is not a place to arrive in without a reserved place to stay. Not only do the hotels get filled up, but if you arrive without a reservation and can't find a place, you might not be able to find room on the boat back to the mainland, either.
For the best view in town, try the Inn on Mt. Ada.
The Aurora Hotel isn't the cheapest of all Catalina Island hotels but it offers the best price-to-quality ratio. Lower-priced rooms at the Aurora are far superior to those at other similar-priced properties in town.
For families, the Pavilion Hotel is right in the middle of town and across the street from the beach, the Pavilion Hotel is one of the more moderately-priced Catalina Island hotels and each room can accommodate up to 5 people.
The Avalon Hotel is one of the best luxury/romantic hotels on the island. Located just steps from the waterfront and simply gorgeous Craftsman-style touches.
The Hotel Atwater is highly rated by people who stay at the hotel and has some of the lowest prices in town.
The Old Turner Inn offers comfortable surroundings in a pretty house.
If you would rather camp than stay in a hotel, use the Catalina Island camping guide.
Avalon is small and fun to walk in, but if you need transportation, here are some options:
- Avalon Trolley: Runs from Pebbly Beach or Descanso Beach to the Botanical Garden, daily in summer, weekends and cruise ship days the rest of the year.
- Golf Cart Rentals: Rent by the hour, near the ferry terminal and in town.
- Catalina Taxi: You can usually find one near the ferry terminal, at the taxi stand on the waterfront or call 310-510-0025
- Catalina Safari Bus: Runs between Avalon and Two Harbors with stops at picnic sites, beaches and campgrounds and can take you from the airport to Two Harbors. 310-510-2800
- Airport Shuttle: Avalon to Airport-in-the-Sky, phone 310-510-0143.
Getting to Catalina
Catalina is 26 miles from Los Angeles. Check out Catalina ferry rides and other ways to get there.