This week’s solo series is a bit different: the itinerary is for a single day, but it’s meant to be shared with friends and family. I spent a day on Catalina Island while I was babysitting, so I thought I’d share my day with you so you can get an idea of how a young family might want to spend time on the little escape to paradise.
What is Catalina Island?
Catalina is one of eight islands off the coast of Southern California known as the Channel Islands. It is an ideal escape from mainland life for SoCal residents and offers all sorts of land and water activities, from camping and zip lining to boating and scuba diving. There is a significant amount of permanent residents here, which are mostly located within the city of Avalon (where the tourists are) and the town of Two Harbors, 23 miles of road away. Avalon is full of life with beachy shops, buzzing eateries and beautiful accommodations. (It reminds me of a more built-up version of Rottnest Island, which I visited for an overnight stay during my time in Australia)
Getting to Catalina Island
Taking the ferry is the popular and most economic choice. I’m not going to lie, actually getting to Catalina is quite expensive and takes a bit of time. You can take the Catalina Express from the ports of Long Beach, Dana Point and San Pedro. You can catch the Catalina Flyer from Newport Beach. You can also charter boats, rent private boats, but that comes with a higher price. I used the Catalina Express from Long Beach which took about 75 minutes and cost $74.50 for a round trip general ticket. You can also upgrade your ticket for an additional fee. For more pricing information for the Catalina Express, click here, and for the Catalina Flyer, click here.
If you’re willing to shell out more money in exchange for a quicker commute and aerial views, I’d recommend a helicopter flight (it’s only 15 minutes from Long Beach!) or private airplane. A round trip flight between Long Beach and Avalon will cost about $270 per ticket through IEX Helicopters.
These are the times of each part of my day on Catalina, but you can of course personalize it to best fit your needs!
Ferry (from Long Beach): 9:50 a.m.
Catalina Adventure Tours Submarine Excursion: 11:45 a.m.
Parasail Catalina: 2 p.m.
Lunch: 3 p.m.- 4 p.m.
Snorkeling and Swimming: 4 p.m.
Explore until 6:30 p.m.
Ferry: 7:30 p.m.
When you get there
You will exit the boat at the ferry dock at Avalon, and you’ll want to walk to your right to the green pier, easily named the Green Pleasure Pier to check into your first activities. You will pass Parasail Catalina on your left on the walk from the ferry, and Catalina Adventure Tours is located on the right side of the pier, and is easy to spot. Each company has check-in requirements, so make sure you pay attention to those! The websites are located in the below information.
The Nautilus Semi-Submarine Excursion
This was the first time I was ever in a submarine and I’d compare it to snorkeling without getting wet. It takes you through sea kelp gardens to see various fish: opaleyes, halfmoons, seabass and more. For a small fee, you can press a button to release a spray of food from the food guns, which bring the fish closer. This is definitely a hit for kids. It’s a 45-minute excursion that includes two stops, which is plenty for the experience. For more information, visit the site here.
You can fly 600 to 800 feet high above the Pacific with up to two other companions next to you. I was skeptical about this, because I had parasailed over the clear waters of the Caribbean and didn’t see the hype, but something about this trip was quite enjoyable! The only downside is it’s not a private outing—you’re on a boat with multiple other people who signed up for the same time slot. More information can be found here.
After the below and above water excitement, it might be time for a late lunch. I ate at a casual pub called El Galleon which offered a variety of foods to satisfy everyone’s cravings. I ate at the outside section, which offered a chance to people watch and see the water. I’d go back again. However, there are so many eateries, so if this doesn’t spark your interest, I promise some Googling will find you a place!
Snorkeling and Swimming
Catalina is known for its snorkeling opportunities (although it’s not even comparable to my snorkeling in Turks and Caicos). Lover’s Cove is a short walk to the left of the ferry station and you can easily rent some snorkel gear yourself and head on out. We literally went up to a random stand and had snorkel gear three minutes later (We paid $10 a head for two hours). However, there is no beach area here, so be aware you will be balancing on a fairly steep rock retaining wall to get into the water. So make sure you’re up for the challenge.
There are also plenty of guided snorkel opportunities that might be better for people who need more structure. You can browse those here.
We had some free time after snorkeling, so we ended up taking a very long stroll along the water of Avalon past the Catalina Casino to Descanso Beach Club, which is a more secluded spot away from the hustle and bustle of the town center. You can use this time to have an evening drink, shop, grab some munchies or simply explore. A popular way of transport on Catalina is by golf cart, so I’d recommend renting one if you can. However, most of the places are closed by 6 p.m., so you’d have to switch that out with snorkeling.
The ferry companies want you there at least 45 minutes before boarding. While that’s not completely necessary, make sure you give yourself enough time to get to the ferry so you don’t miss it.
Catalina Wrapped Up
This is just one simple itinerary out of the hundreds you can make for a day or weekend trip to Catalina. I saw so many weekend campers on my ferry on the way there, so you definitely wouldn’t be lonely if you want to try roughing it in a tent. Regardless, Catalina offers activities for everyone, whether you’re a water junkie, or you like to simply relax and shop while sipping on a cool drink and taking in the views.