Not all that long ago, people trying to figure out what to do on Catalina Island once they got there didn't have all that many choices. All that has changed with a huge push to provide more recreational options for visitors. Now you could stay a week and still not run out of new things to do every day.
Some people's idea of a relaxing day or weekend on Catalina Island is still a cabana on Descanso Beach, but for people who like to unwind with a little more action, here are some great adventures you can have on Catalina. These activities all originate in the island's main town of Avalon.
To get to Catalina Island from the LA area, there are various Catalina Ferry options from San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point.
Five lines from the top of the canyon down to Descanso Beach give you great views of the bay and enough chances to get into the swing of things. The guides provide entertaining educational commentary on the island, the canyon, and its non-human inhabitants. The Zip Line Eco Tour entrance is just above Descanso Beach. Tickets can also be purchased online or at the ticket booth on the pier.
Parasailing is a popular activity in Avalon Harbor. A speedboat takes you out into the bay and sets you soaring with a parachute, towed along behind the boat with a cable. You get the bird's eye view without having to jump out of a plane. Several different companies offer parasailing from the pier.
The Catalina Island Company offers several Hummer tours to the summit above Avalon and to the interior with guides well versed in the flora and fauna of the region. It may not sound that adventurous, but when you're in an open-topped vehicle perched precariously at the edge of a steep canyon, it has its adrenaline moments. If you're lucky, you might get a glimpse of the American Bison that roam the interior or a bald eagle. They also offer a shorter nighttime tour, complete with night vision goggles, telescope, and picnic snacks. Jeep Eco Tours are also available. Not recommended for people with back and neck issues.
Catalina is a popular dive spot because of its easily accessible reef and numerous shipwrecks. There are dive tours, but you don't need a boat to go diving. There's a dedicated dive area at Casino Point Dive Park between Avalon Bay and Descanso Cove. If you're not a diver, you can try the Catalina Sea Trek Tour, taking a walk with an undersea helmet that requires no certification, or you can try Snuba.
Glass bottom boat tours are kind of tame for adventurous folks. Kayak rentals get you closer to the sea life, and glass bottom kayaks afford an even better view. Weight limit 280 lbs per kayak. Kids under 50 lbs can ride free with an adult as long as the total is under the weight limit. Due to the glass bottom, you're not allowed to land these kayaks anywhere but at their home dock.
Unlike the slow-moving glass-bottom boats, Ocean Runner takes you out in a small rubber speedboat in search of the dolphins frequently sighted in the area. There's no guarantee you'll see dolphins, but the sea lions are pretty reliable. It's actually a bumpy and somewhat physical ride, seated astride saddle-like seats and stabilizing yourself with your legs. It's not recommended for people with back and neck problems or motion sickness. My Bonine worked great to avoid motion sickness.
Embark on a four-hour small-group sailing adventure that provides a stop to beachcomb, SUP (stand-up paddleboard) or swim. Each trip is limited to six passengers.
With several upgraded hotels in Avalon, you can have both luxury and adventure on Catalina Island, but if you prefer roughing it all the way, Catalina Island has six public campsites in addition to the private group camps. They range from the relatively convenient, full-service Hermit Gulch campground, just 1.5 miles from the Avalon Ferry Terminal to remote hike-in or boat-in Parsons Landing. In between are a staffed campground with tent-cabins and regular tent spaces near Two Harbors, The Blackjack Campground on top of Mt. Orizaba and a relatively accessible beach-front campground at Little Harbor, where kayak rentals are also available.
For some less-adventurous activities on Catalina Island, check out Betsy's 101 Things to Do on Catalina Island.