Just off the coast of Southern California, Santa Catalina Island awaits those looking for outdoor adventures or a relaxing getaway. Locally called Catalina Island or just Catalina, this charming place is perfect for a day trip or mini vacation to check out all the fun things to do in Catalina Island.
As a Long Beach local, I love hopping over to Catalina for the day. Even though it’s a small island, there are so many things to do and I get to experience something new every time. And in this post, I’ll share my picks for the 27 best ones!
From mountain biking across rugged terrain to relaxing on a sandy beach, you’ll find plenty of adrenaline pumping activities as well as opportunities to chill. Whether you hang out in the harbor town of Avalon or hike into the mountainous backcountry, you’re sure to enjoy your stay on Catalina Island.
Table of Contents
- 27 Best Things to Do on Catalina Island
- Ocean Excursions at Catalina Island
- Outdoor Activities on Catalina Island
- Catalina Island Food & Drink Things
- Catalina Island Sites & Attractions
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27 Best Things to Do on Catalina Island
Take a boat ride through the Pacific Ocean
📍 Map It: 330 Golden Shore, Long Beach, CA 90802 | Phone: (800)613-1212 | Website | Hours: boat schedule varies | Entrance: $77 for adults round trip, $61.50 children 2-11 round trip, free for children under 2 | 👉 Book Advance Tickets on Viator
Unless you have your own boat, the most common way to get to Catalina Island is by ferry. You can take the Catalina Express from mainland ports like San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point. The ride takes about an hour, and you’ll enjoy beautiful ocean views on your way over.
Onboard the ferry, you’ll have the option to sit outside on deck, or inside, where the wind is blocked. There are light food and drink selections to choose from. Sit back and enjoy the ride!
👉 Pro Tip: Keep your eye out for dolphins and whales – last time I went over, we saw two pods of dolphins and a pod of fin whales!
Explore a charming harbor town
Avalon is the only city on Catalina Island, though it’s still pretty tiny – that means the whole city is walkable! Local shops and restaurants abound along Avalon’s sunny streets. Downtown Avalon is also home to businesses that offer many of the things to do in Catalina Island, like jet ski rentals, bison tours, and golf cart rentals to name a few.
Dine at one of the city’s many excellent restaurants, fish off Green Pleasure Pier, grab drinks at the Marlin Club, or visit the iconic Catalina Casino. If you have kids with you, head to the Three Palms Avalon Arcade for some fun and games.
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Tour the island in search of bison
📍 Map It: Trailhead Building, 708 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704 | Phone: (800)626-1496 | Website | Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm daily | Entrance: $84.95 adults, $80.95 children 5-11 | 👉 Book a Bison Expedition on Viator
Bison near the ocean is usually not a common sight, but on Catalina Island, it’s the norm. A small herd of bison was brought to the island in the 1920s for a movie. When filming was complete, the bison stayed on the island, and about 120 wild bison now roam the island.
Bison tours are some of the best things to do in Catalina Island. You’ll ride into the island’s outback with an experienced guide in an eco-friendly vehicle to see these impressive animals. In addition to bison, you’ll have fantastic views of the coast and might even see Catalina Island foxes.
👉 Pro Tip: If you go camping or hiking on the island, you might run into wild bison! Give them a wide berth and use caution.
Ridgetop Eco Adventure
Discover Catalina’s wild backcountry
While some tours focus on bison, others focus on exploring the interior of the island. On the Ridgetop Eco Adventure tour, you’ll cruise into the backcountry in a biofuel powered, open-air vehicle. Your guide will give you background on the island and show you gorgeous views of canyons and the coast.
Catalina Island Company does a great job with these tours, providing knowledgeable guides who make the experience super enjoyable. Not to mention, the breathtaking views of mountainous land against deep blue water will blow you away.
Test your putt putt skills on this Avalon course
If you’re up for a little friendly competition, head to Golf Gardens for a round of mini golf. The course sits in a garden-like setting, and boasts 18 fun and challenging holes. See if you can break the course record of 41!
Snorkeling & Diving
Explore underwater kelp forests and coves
Whether you have your own gear or need to rent on the island, it’s worth snorkeling or scuba diving on Catalina Island. With its clear blue waters and abundance of marine life, this island is an extremely popular destination for snorkelers, free divers, and scuba divers alike.
Companies like Snorkeling Catalina and Catalina Scuba offer guided tours, which are great ways to get started. If you want to snorkel or go scuba diving on your own, Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve and Casino Point Dive Park will wow you with giant kelp, garibaldi, kelp bass, angel sharks, and more.
Ocean Excursions at Catalina Island
Stay dry while discovering Catalina’s marine life
Head below deck in a semi-submarine watercraft to see the abundant marine life that surrounds Catalina Island. On this tour, you’ll dive to a depth of six feet so you can get an up close view of all the fish. You can also press buttons to release food into the water and watch the fish feed!
Kayaking & Paddleboarding
Paddle to the island’s secluded coves
Explore even more of Catalina Island by kayak or paddleboard. There are some coves that are only accessible by sea, so kayak rentals are a great way to get there. Since the water is so clear, you can see the marine life below as you paddle along.
Jet Ski Rentals
Speed across the open ocean
If you’re looking for things to do in Catalina Island that’ll get your heart pumping, take a jet ski for a spin. Zip across the open ocean while taking in views of the coast – and keep an eye out for dolphins.
At Catalina Jet Ski rentals, the price includes safety training and a life jacket to keep you safe on your adventure. So, even if it’s your first time, you’ll learn to operate your jet ski and get going!
Dolphin & Sea Lion Tours
Meet sea lions and pods of dolphins in their natural habitat
The waters of Catalina Island are home to a variety of marine mammals, including dolphins and sea lions. Hop on a boat in search of these playful animals for an unforgettable encounter. Since whales are also common in the area, you might get lucky and see one breaching!
Cast out your line from the pier or at sea
Whether you want to fish the calm waters at Green Pleasure Pier or hire a private fishing charter, you’ll enjoy fishing at Catalina Island. From the pier, you’re likely to hook opaleye, blue perch, and sheepshead bass. When you head out into deeper water on a boat, you can snag larger sportfish like tuna and wahoo.
Cruise around the island in a rental boat
To explore the island by sea, rent a boat right in Avalon Harbor. Pedal boat rentals are perfect for those looking to cruise around the harbor and check out the sea life and yachts. If you want to venture out into the ocean, a motorboat rental will do the trick.
Fly high above the ocean
📍 Map It: IWC Booth Parasail Ride, Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon, California 90704 | Phone: (310)510-0211| Website | Tickets: Price varies per package
Take to the skies for an adrenaline-pumping activity, and a bird’s eye view of Catalina Island! Soar up to either 600 or 8000 feet in the air and float along, carried by a colorful parachute. You don’t even have to get wet – you’ll take off and land right in the boat.
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Outdoor Activities on Catalina Island
Hit the trails on two wheels
Catalina Island offers miles of trails that are perfect for mountain biking. You’ll traverse the rugged interior of the island, and enjoy dazzling views of bright blue coves below. You can bring your own bike over on the ferry, or rent a bike from one of the companies on the island.
Trek through Catalina’s rugged backcountry
Whether you arrive in Avalon or Two Harbors, you’ll have access to 165 miles of hiking trails in the island’s interior. The terrain can be challenging, with rugged climbs and steep descents.
Hiking trails on Catalina offer visitors the opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery that surrounds them. Plus, you’ll have the chance to see tiny Catalina Island foxes – I spotted three last time I went!
👉 Pro Tip: Don’t forget to get a hiking permit online from the Catalina Island Conservancy before you set out.
Zip Line Eco Tour
Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the island and the ocean
One of the most popular outdoor activities on Catalina is the zip line eco tour. On this tour, you’ll take a shuttle up to a 600 foot high ridge, and zigzag down the canyon on a series of zip lines. Adventure seekers will love the feel of wind on their faces as they zip down at up to 35 miles per hour.
Hike and camp your way across the island
The interior of Catalina Island is filled with trails and campsites, so it’s a backpacker’s dream.
Many outdoorsy nature lovers enjoy backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail, a 38.5 mile trail that takes you from Avalon to Two Harbors and loops around the west end of the island. The Trans Catalina Trail gains over 10,000 feet in total elevation gain, so bring your boots and your grit!
Golf Cart Rentals
Feel the ocean air as you travel by golf cart
On Catalina Island, golf carts are the main form of transportation. Locals and visitors alike use them to travel around Avalon and beyond. You can rent golf carts to cruise through Avalon, visit Chimes Tower, travel to Lover’s Cove, and more.
Answer nature’s call and make the island your home for a few days
Phone: (310)510-4205 | Website
On Catalina Island, you’ll find campsites you can hike to as well as boat-in campsites. There are five hikeable campsites along the Trans Catalina Trail. Due to the rugged nature of the coast, some sites are only accessible by boat.
Campsite reservations are recommended, as there are many adventurers who are eager for a spot! Campsites on Catalina are primitive, but at the remote Parson’s Landing site, lockers pre-stocked with firewood and water are available for purchase in Two Harbors.
Catalina Island Food & Drink Things
Taste Catalina’s most famous drink
At many Catalina Island restaurants and bars, you’ll find some variation of a drink called buffalo milk. Don’t be alarmed – it’s not actual buffalo milk! This tasty concoction is a boozy, chocolatey smoothie kind of drink that’s named in honor of the island’s resident bison herd.
👉 Pro Tip: Try the buffalo milk at Buffalo Nickel, Descanso Beach Club, and Luau Larry’s.
Enjoy meals right on the beach
📍 Map It: Avalon, CA 90704
As Catalina has miles of coastline, it only makes sense to spend time on the beach. Some restaurants in downtown Avalon offer outdoor dining, so you’ll have views of Avalon Bay while you dine. Stop by Antonio’s Pizzeria, Maggie’s Blue Rose, or Descanso Beach Club to enjoy your meals in the open air!
Catalina Island Brew House
Sample local beers at this Catalina watering hole
Whether you’re looking for brewed coffee or brewed beer, you’re in the right place at Catalina Island Brew House. You can grab a breakfast pastry and a latte, or a beer flight and a soft pretzel. This eatery is the perfect place to stop and refuel while you explore Avalon.
Descanso Beach Club
Lounge on the beach and order up drinks
Descanso Beach Club offers visitors the opportunity to drink and dine on the beach, or relax in a cabana or chaise lounge. The beach club sits on a private beach, but is open to the public. In the summers, the club hosts beach parties, and also holds the annual Catalina Wine Mixer.
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Catalina Island Sites & Attractions
Visit the island’s low-key west end
📍 Map It: Two Harbors, CA 90704 |
Two Harbors, named after the defining Isthmus Cove and Catalina Harbor, is a small village on the west end of the island. Two Harbors is much less touristy than Avalon, but offers a wealth of outdoor activities.
Mountain bikers, divers, campers, and more visit Two Harbors to explore nature on the more quiet side of the island. You can also visit Two Harbors to relax, with palapas and lounges available at Harbor Reef Restaurant.
🌷 Craving a Trip to Europe But Don’t Have the Time (or Money)? Check out our guide to the best things to do in Solvang – a small Danish in central California.
Catalina Island Museum for Art & History
Learn about the island’s history through artifacts and exhibitions
If you’re traveling with a history buff, take them to the Catalina Island Museum. Here, you’ll find more than just art and historical artifacts. The Museum offers rotating exhibits, live music, and dance performances, guest speakers, and a variety of film showings.
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Airport In The Sky
Check out the island’s only airport
At the top of a 1,600 foot mountain in the middle of the island, you’ll find the Airport in the Sky. The airport has one runway, where private craft land and take off to the mainland.
You can hike or bike to the airport, or, of course, you can fly in! There’s a restaurant at the airport where you can enjoy breakfast or a burger while watching the planes, before trekking back to town.
👉 Coming from LA? Catalina Island is just one of the 27 best day trips from LA on our list! Click that link to read them all.
Catalina Island Conservancy Nature Center
Explore the island’s natural history and conservation efforts
Just a twenty minute walk from downtown Avalon, the Catalina Island Conservancy Nature Center is a great place to learn about the island. Here, you’ll find exhibits dedicated to teaching the history of the island and its features, as well as information about conservation efforts.
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That’s it for my list of the best things to do on Catalina Island! I hope you’ve found some activities that you can’t wait to visit the island to enjoy.
No matter what type of trip you’re on or how long you plan to stay, you’ll have your pick of things to do on Catalina Island!