Looking for a quick getaway that feels about a world away from LA—even if it’s less than 30 miles off the coast? From sandy shores and sea lions to real-life bison, Catalina Island promises adventure, relaxation and more. With a plenty of family activities plus views that rival any Mediterranean destination, Catalina is one of our favorite escapes from LA. Read on for all the details on the best hotels, restaurants, tours and more.
How to Get to Catalina
The Catalina Express offers daily trips to Avalon and Two Harbors, leaving from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point.
Cost: Roundtrip from Long Beach and San Pedro: $74.50; kids (2-100), $59; children under 2, $6
Cost: Roundtrip from Dana Point: Adults, $76.50 roundtrip; kids (2-11), $61 roundtrip; children under 2, $6
Avalon (one of the two towns on the island, the other is called Two Harbors), is a walkable town, even for little ones. The hotels, aside from a few, are just a 5-to-10 minute walk from the ferry. If you need to get around on four wheels, there are taxis or you can also easily rent a golf car—under 6 years old or under 60 pounds require a car seat. Most activities are found on either the pier or in the Island Plaza, just behind the pier a block or two.
What to Do in Catalina
Descanso Beach Club: This ocean-front beach club is the spot to rent lounge chairs and private cabanas for the day. Are watersports more your speed? You can rent a paddle board onsite or snorkel off the beach—the crystal blue water will keep everyone entertained looking at all the fish in the sea. Lunch and drinks are available to order so you can easily spend the day. Speaking of ordering beverages, this is one of the only beaches in Southern California you can legally drink at—make sure to order the Buffalo Milk—a Catalina specialty made just for 21 and over.
Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Rate: $2 fee to access the beach
1 St. Catherine Way
Golf Gardens Mini Golf: No sea-side retreat is complete without a round of mini-golf where classic family competition and bonding is par for the course.
10 Island Plaza
Ridgetop Eco Adventure: The island golf cart culture is ever so easy to embrace. Pretty much the only time you'll set foot in any kind of motor vehicle is if you board an open-air biofuel H1 Hummer to see the island, Indiana Jones style. This escorted expedition is rugged and rumbling that reaches its peak at 1500 feet above sea level. Expect stunning views and hairpin turns; breathtaking drops.
About midway through there’s a stop where you can get off and hike to the top of the world (or so it feels). This gives them a lesser known glimpse of the island outside of Avalon, and a firsthand look at the bison that wander the barely-inhabited island. Don't forget to bundle up (higher elevations equal lesser temps) and buckle up—it’s a car seat free experience.
Good to Know: For kids 5 & up, this tour is two hours long. Operates year-round, weather permitting.
Cost: Adults $84.95; Kids $80.95
10 Island Plaza
Water Fun in Catalina
Glass Bottom Boat Voyage: With this glass-bottom boat adventure, every passenger gets their own porthole (no fighting over window seats here). If you've never been on a boat like this, it's like scuba diving without the form-fitting get-up and claustrophobic breathing thingie.
The tour guide will grace you with their knowledge as the proof swims right past you (like that 70% of the worlds oxygen comes from kelp—who knew?). When you take this kid-friendly approach to view life beneath the surface, prepare for multiple jaw drops. Yours, theirs, and possibly a Garibaldi or two (they’re the ones that look like someone colored them in orange highlighter).
Cost: Adults $19.95; Kids $17.95
Green Pleasure Pier
Sealife Safari: Feel the wind in your hair and sun on your face as you skim across the water on a 500 hp inflatable Ribcraft boat. You’ll get a unique perspective of Catalina’s diverse marine environment on this exhilarating high-speed adventure on the Catalina Channel and you’ll have the opportunity to see bow-riding dolphins and sea lions frolic in their natural environment.
Good to Know: For kids 5 & up only. Operates year-round, weather permitting. There is no guarantee that you will see dolphins.
Cost: Adults $54.95; Kids (5-11) $51.95
Green Pleasure Pier
Zipline Fun in Catalina
Catalina Zipline Eco Tour: Not your ordinary over-in-a-blink zipline bonanza, prepare to spend two hours taking your tike tandem (there’s an 80lb minimum to go solo) down five separate zip lines with one beast of a stretch at 1,100ft on its own), 300 ft above the canyon floor, at roughly 40mph.
With five stops between flights, your host will verse you and the wee ones on the wildlife and ecology you’ll be passing through. A little education with a hefty helping of exhilaration is the best kind of fun. It is breathtaking in every sense of the word, you’ll probably scream as loud as they do.
Good to Know: Children under 5 are not allowed on this tour.
Hours: 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Cost: Starting at $129 per person
1 St. Catherine Way
Where to Eat in Catalina
Avalon Grille: This California coastal casual eatery features fresh seasonal fare along with a diverse craft beer and wine menu that will make the grown-ups happy but lest you think they are too fancy, they are just as fluent in kid cuisine, as the burgers come just as kids like them and the mac and cheese is a huge hit with little pasta lovers.
423 Crescent Ave.
Bluewater Grill Avalon: Parents will give this on-the-marina restaurant a gold star for the ahi but the kids’ menu is the real kicker. Delivered in bento boxes with grilled dipping sticks (fish, shrimp, chicken, steak, or salmon) and sides to the tune of edamame, scalloped potatoes, fresh veggies or a garden salad, and presentation is everything. Fries and grilled cheese are there if they want it but after such an adventurous day, they just might be inspired to venture beyond their comfort zone. Especially when the ultimate motivator is awaiting them at the end of the meal: Cup of Dirt with Worms. That's vanilla ice cream, Oreo cookie crumbles, and gummy worms.
306 Crescent Ave.
Antonio's Pizzeria: For a more casual lunch or dinner, you can't go wrong with pizza and this local favorite has pizza, garlic bread, and peanuts to snack on while you wait.
230 Crescent Ave.
Scoops Catalina: In the seaside town of Avalon, ice cream rules but for made-from-scratch desserts that reflect the seasons, head to Scoops where they use local fruits, berries and ingredients to create these creamy concoctions.
501 Crescent Ave.
Pancake Cottage: Breakfast on the road can only mean one thing and that's pancakes. The selection here is large and the portions are huge! And don’t pass up on the house-made whipped cream or the fresh fruit toppings.
615 Crescent Ave.
Where to Stay in Catalina
Bellanca Hotel: Steps from water's edge and the middle of town, this newly renovated hotel has vacation vibes all over it with ocean view suites and a rooftop deck for lounging and relaxing. An on-site restaurant called The Naughty Fox focuses on fresh Californian cuisine like Ahi Poke Nachos and Lobster BLTs. Don't forget to order the Root Beer float for dessert.
111 Crescent Ave.
Pavillion Hotel: With their lush landscaping, inviting fire pit and comfortable chaise lounges, the Pavilion Hotel is a relaxing, family-friendly spot, located in the middle of town. If you book a stay here, don't miss their cheese and wine reception (once it's safe to resume).
513 Crescent Ave
Hotel Atwater: Originally opened in 1920, Hotel Atwater was the first hotel built under the direction of William Wrigley Jr. (the chewing gum industrialist and Chicago Cub's baseball field namesake) after he purchased the Catalina Island Company more than a century ago. Completely renovated in 2019, this historic hotel with modern amenities stays true to the Wrigley family legacy with nostalgic elements like two splits of sparkling wine on arrival day—a tribute to the bubbly his daughter-in-law enjoyed every evening before bed.
125 Sumner Ave.
Catalina Canyon Resort and Spa: This hotel is more inland, bigger and not as picturesque, but is still one of our favorite spots to stay when we bring the kids, because, well, pool. As in, they have one. And while it's a bit more removed, they do have a shuttle to and from town. Plus it's a little easier on the wallet, allows pets and you can walk to a little park nearby. All key points for happy, overnight stays.
888 Country Club Dr.
Camping: Trade cabin fever for camping and get back to nature at to one of the five campgrounds open on Catalina Island. Some of the campsites require a bit of moderate hiking to reach them, so best to avoid those if you have little ones. Instead, check out more accessible spots like Hermit Gulch (located just a short distance from Avalon) or Two Harbors Campground, just a 1/4 mile from Two Harbors.
For more details, plus availability and booking info, go to: visitcatalinaisland.com/lodging/camping/
featured image: Charles Phoenix
—Jolie Loeb & Andie Huber