Things to Do on Catalina Island

Top 10 Things to do on Catalina Island

Taking a Harbor Cruise in Catalina
••• Taking a Harbor Cruise in Catalina. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

You'll find a lot of things to do on Catalina Island. In fact, I compiled a list of 101 things to do when you go to Catalina, but a list that long can be a little overwhelming. In case you don't have time to do all 101 of them, I narrowed the list down to these top things to do.

Many of these activities require reservations, or at least a ticket. Stop at the ticket booth at Crescent and Catalina Streets, and you can reserve them all at once.

Laid Back Things to do on Catalina Island

Take a Waterfront Walk: The walk along the waterfront from Casino Point to Lover's Point is my very favorite thing to go when I go to Catalina. Along the way, you'll see orange garibaldi fish swimming in the kelp beds, watch boats in the harbor, pass through the center of town and out again, to where the beaches are less busy and the views unobstructed. Keep going all the way to Pebbly Beach if you have time (and if the road is open).

Rent a Golf Cart: Catalina residents drive golf carts because it's almost impossible to get permission to bring an automobile onto the island, but most visitors do it just for fun. You'll find rental places along the waterfront. While you've got wheels, check the map and head up the hill to take in the vista from just below the Inn on Mt. Ada, run out to the Botanical Garden, then go across town toward the Zane Grey Pueblo and bell tower for a different point of view.

Go to the Botanical Garden: Located at the end of Avalon Canyon Road, this small garden features some excellent specimens of succulents and cactus. The Wrigley Memorial above the garden overlooks Avalon much. If you have the energy, hike the trail above the memorial all the way to the ridge.

Get Out and Get Active

Look Underwater: Catalina's clear water and abundant marine life make it a favorite for divers and snorkelers.

The two most popular spots to go into the water are Casino Point and Lover's Cove. On busy days, you'll find wetsuit rentals and diving supplies for rent at both locations.

Go On the Water: You can rent almost any kind of watercraft from businesses around the harbor, from old-fashioned paddle boats to jet skis and small motor boats. If you'd rather let someone else do the driving, try a Sundown Cruise, Seal Rocks Cruise or an excursion with Catalina Ocean Rafting.

Take a Hike: Get ideas for day hikes, from a short ramble around town to a nine-mile walk that's mostly downhill. Serious hikers may enjoy the Trans-Catalina Trail, a 37-mile route which runs the length of the island.

Tours to Take on Catalina

Take an Inland Tour: Hikers and residents with special driving permits can go inland, but for the rest of us, a tour is the only way to get to see Catalina's backcountry. Destinations and itineraries vary, but these are your options: Discovery Tours offers an Inland Motor Tour and an off-road tour. Catalina Adventure Tours calls the same trip the Inside Adventure Tour. Your tour dollars go toward a good cause if you take the Catalina Conservancy's Eco Jeep Tour and their tour guides are the best-versed about the island's flora and fauna.

Take a Boat Tour: If you can't swim or dive, you don't have to be stuck looking at the water's surface. Semi-submersible sub tours with Discover Tours or Catalina Adventure Tours offer diver-like views. Glass-bottomed boat rides have been a Catalina tradition for almost a hundred years. Take a night ride with them to see lobsters scuttling along the ocean floor and sharks gliding below.

Find Out More About Town on the Casino Tour: Catalina's "casino" (the big, white, round-shaped building at the end of the harbor) was never a gambling place, but it does have a beautiful ballroom and movie theater. Take a guided tour or just go to a movie here, arriving early to explore the elegant wood-paneled lobby (appraised at more than $4 million for the wood alone) and enjoy the stylish Catalina history murals inside the auditorium.

Take a  Flying Fish Tour: The fishy little critters really do "fly," speeding toward the water's surface, into the air and every once in a while into a startled visitor's lap. Make a reservation for the boat tour that's designed just to see them, but time it right: their antics only happen on summer nights.

Dont' Forget to Do This When You Go to Catalina

Do Nothing: Catalina Island has a way of invoking profound relaxation. Maybe it's the smell of the eucalyptus trees and wild fennel, both relaxing scents according to aromatherapists. Whatever the reason, you may find yourself so chilled out that nothing is the only thing left to do.