Many people think of Catalina Island, just an hour off the coast of Long Beach and Los Angeles by Catalina Express ferry, as a nice romantic getaway from the city — and it is. The island's primary town, Avalon, is also a fun place to take the kids for an adventure break, which you can combine with a little pampering.
Not that long ago, schlepping your tent and cooler would have been the best option for families who didn't want to stay in a B&B, and that's still a possibility, with several camp grounds available in and out of town. However, newer hotel developments, like the Holiday Inn, offer family rooms with bunk beds and a pool, and a variety of vacation rentals are available in Avalon, so there's no need to rough it unless you want to.
The number of activities offered on the island has also been greatly expanded. Here are some of the top things to do with kids on Catalina Island.
Play or Chill at the Beach
Avalon's public beach is a tiny patch of sand at the foot of the pier that looks out at the marina. It's free to build your sand castles and play in the water here.
For a more tranquil and luxurious experience, you can rent a cabana or lounge chairs (can only be rented in pairs) on the private Descanso Beach on the other side of the Casino Building. Fun inflatables for water play are available to rent in adult and child sizes. No outside food or drink is permitted.
Take a Semi-Submersible or Glass Bottom Boat Tour
Undersea Expedition and Catalina Adventures both operate semi-submersible boat tours that let you view the ocean wildlife through windows from five feet under water. Unlike the glass bottom boat, you can sit upright to enjoy the view. Available for all ages.
Alternatively, the Glass-Bottom Boat Tour gives you a view of sea life through the glass bottom of the boat. You have to lean over a rail to look into the bottom of the boat, which is not optimal if you're inclined to motion sickness. Available for all ages.
There a number of popular places to snorkel around Catalina including Descanso Beach and Pebbly Beach on either side of Avalon or take an excursion to the other end of the island for some awesome snorkeling around Two Harbors.
You can rent a variety of sit-on-top and touring kayaks from several businesses at Avalon Harbor and Descanso Beach in Avalon or from Two Harbors Dive and Recreation Center in Two Harbors. You can find Stand-Up Paddle Boards and other gear at the same locations.
Drive Around in a Golf Cart
There are a limited number of vehicles on Catalina Island, and most of them are golf carts, which are perfect for navigating the narrow streets of Avalon and climbing up to views above the town. They claim that you can do the 12-mile scenic tour in an hour, but that doesn't include any selfie stops or taking wrong turns.
Let the kids practice their navigation skills with the driving tour map available, but be patient at each intersection, since it can be tricky to avoid going on some of the roads barred to tourists. You can pull to the side, if necessary, to figure it out together.
Four- to six-passenger golf carts are available to rent for one to three hours depending on the season and where you rent. It really takes two hours to get up above the town and stop and appreciate all the viewpoints. Children 6 and under, or under 60 lbs are required to be in a child restraint seat, which can also be rented. Cash only. Deposit required.
Catalina offers activities like zip lining, rock climbing, and even a tree-top obstacle course, for the most adventurous visitors.
The island's zip lining course is five different lines that start high above Descanso Canyon and crisscross back down to the base camp right above Descanso Beach with stunning views along the way. Kids 10 and up who weigh at least 80 lbs can zip solo and kids 5 to 9 can ride tandem with someone 18 or older. Adults and tandem riders cannot weigh more than 235 lbs.
Catalina Aerial Adventures is a great challenge for kids over 55-inches tall and adults. Located in Descanso Canyon above the Beach Club, you can "climb, swing and slide from tree to tree on a series of obstacles suspended in a grove of towering eucalyptus high above the canyon floor." Weight restrictions are minimum 50 lbs, maximum 270 lbs.
If rock climbing is your thing, the island's 32-foot climbing tower is located in the upper section of the Descanso Beach Club above the Zip Line Base Camp, near the Catalina Aerial Adventure. There are eight different climbing routes based on skill level.
Kids who can read and enjoy a scavenger hunt will have fun finding the clues and hunting down the answers to the Catalina Museum's Treasure Map and turning it in for a prize at the Museum Store. The museum details the history of the Island from the Tonva Indians through the Wrigley family purchase and evolution. It also highlights some of the famous celebrity connections, including Marilyn Monroe's teen years married to a sailor in the Merchant Marines stationed on the Island in 1943, Charlie Chaplin's fondness for the island, and a visit by George Harrison in the 70s.
There are over 37 miles of trail for hikers to explore along the Trans-Catalina Trail. There are a number of different hiking loops available from Avalon or from Two Harbors.
Enjoy a Bike Ride
You can rent bikes to explore Avalon from Brown Bikes (they have child bikes, but they're not listed on the website). Kids have to know traffic laws and be comfortable with riding on city streets with traffic. Bikes are not allowed on the sidewalks. Electric bikes are available for rent, but only for adults 21 and up, so the kids have to pedal. You can also take your advanced riders on a guided bike tour of the interior with Bike Catalina.