19 Best Things to Do on Catalina Island

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Overlooking boats in the bay of Catalina Island

Located off the coast of Southern California, Santa Catalina Island (usually shortened to Catalina Island) is a fantastic destination for scuba diving, wildlife viewing, shopping, and relaxation. This 22-mile-long island is the southernmost island of California’s Channel Islands.

If you only want to spend the day on Catalina Island, it’s a short one-hour trip via high-speed ferry from cities like Newport Beach, San Pedro, and Long Beach.

Although Catalina Island is small, there are many reasons to visit, whether you want to stay for a day or a week. Located on the island’s north side is the small resort town of Two Harbors, which offers a relaxing vibe.

However, most visitors flock to Avalon on the island’s southeast side, famous for the palm-tree-lined Descanso Beach Club and the eclectic Catalina Island Casino. The famous Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon is a hub of activity, with a visitor center, tours, and restaurants.

Catalina Island has been a historic seaside tourist destination for over a hundred years, attracting celebrities, high-ranking government officials, and business leaders. Unsurprisingly, the island is famous for its ocean adventures, recreational experiences, beautiful beaches, shopping, and hotels.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – Catalina Casino
  • Free activity – Snorkeling at Lovers Cove or Casino Dive Park
  • Activity for kids – Mini Golf or Glass-Bottom Boat Tour
  • Activity for adults – Zip Line Eco Tour
  • Place to eat – Descanso Beach Club
  • Nightlife – Luau Larry’s
  • Place to stayZane Grey Pueblo Hotel

Things to Do on Catalina Island

1. Visit the Famous Art Deco-Style Catalina Island Casino

Catalina Casino, Avalon Harbor, Santa Catalina Island
Unwind / Shutterstock.com

Address: 1 Casino Way, Avalon, CA 90704

When approaching Catalina Island from the mainland, you can’t miss the Catalina Casino. As the most prominent building on the island, it’s Avalon’s most recognizable landmark.

Opened in 1929, the iconic casino has been a gathering place for entertainment, including Broadway productions, musicians, and special events. Although it’s a casino, the building has no slot machines or blackjack tables.

This round, Art Deco-styled building was home to guests doing the Charleston and the Jitterbug in the 1930s and 1940s. The Big Band entertainers included Glenn Miller, Kay Kyser, and other notable musicians. While the Big Bands have come and gone, the Catalina Casino is now home to the city’s New Year’s Eve Gala, the JazzTrax Festival (the Catalina Island Jazz Festival), the Film Festival, and the Catalina Island Conservancy Ball.

If you aren’t lucky enough to be invited to one of the island’s galas or festivals, you can do a behind the scenes casino tour, which gives you an inside look at this eclectic building. For example, you can visit the stage where Benny Goodman and his band, “The King of Swing,” performed and see the room where Cecil B. DeMille showed some of his famous films.

Stay less than a mile away at the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, where you can dine at their onsite restaurant, enjoy their outdoor swimming pool, and relish the historical space.

See Related: Most Famous Landmarks in California to Visit

2. Go Shore Diving at Casino Point Dive Park

Scuba diver at Casino Point Dive Park at Catalina Island in California
Brent / Adobe Stock

Address: 1 Casino Way, Avalon, CA 90704

Located next to the Catalina Casino, the Casino Point Dive Park is the place for incredible shore diving! Opened in 1962, this underwater dive park comprises over 2 acres, giving divers adequate space without crossing into each other. 

The kelp forest at Casino Point offers views of fish like the opaleye, sheepshead, señorita fish, and kelp bass. Divers can also see California’s state fish, the garibaldi. In addition, when divers go past the kelp forest and toward the sandy bottom, they can find halibut, angel sharks, bat rays, and even shipwrecks. 

Casino Point is also a safe diving spot on Catalina Island, with buoys lined up to keep boats away from the area. In addition, there are stairs with handrails accessible for easy entry and exit into the water.

This local dive park also offers snorkeling, so you don’t have to be scuba-certified to get in the water and enjoy the diverse world in the sea!

After a day of sightSEAing (see what we did there?), rest your head nearby at the highly-rated Bellanca Hotel. They offer family rooms for your convenience and an onsite restaurant and bar.

3. Visit the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden

Trail and plants in Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden
Ben Velazquez / Adobe Stock

Address: 1400 Avalon Cyn Rd, Avalon, CA 90704

Operated by the Catalina Island Conservancy, the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden memorializes William Wrigley, Jr., and his wife, Ada. William, the founder of the famous chewing gum empire, purchased most of Catalina Island in 1919.

When William died in 1932, his body was interred in a 130-foot tower in the Catalina Island botanical gardens. While his body has since been moved, his original grave marker is still at the tower site. The memorial offers spectacular views of Avalon Canyon.

Three years after William’s death, his wife, Ada, worked with a local horticulturist to design the gardens. The island’s temperate climate allows the gardens to showcase plants from around the world.

However, there are six Catalina Island native plants in the Memorial Garden, including the rare Catalina Ironwood. Now under the care of the Catalina Island Conservancy, the botanical garden’s nearly 40 acres is a great location for strolling peacefully.

William Wrigley’s legacy continues with the Catalina Island Company, which operates many of the attractions and resorts on the island, including Catalina Expeditions, Descanso Beach Club, Casino Ballroom, Catalina Island Golf Course, and Catalina Visitors Country Club.

If you want to learn more about the Wrigleys and Avalon, you’ll love this 2-hour private golf cart tour that will take you to all the area’s highlights.

See Related: Botanical Gardens in California to Visit

4. Soar 600 Feet Above the Trees on the Zip Line Eco Tour

Zip Line Eco Tour and experience in Catalina Island
Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour / Viator

Address: 1 St Catherine Way, Avalon, CA 90704

If you’re looking for a thrilling Catalina Island adventure, you’ve got to put this zip-line eco-tour on your itinerary. This two-hour exhilarating experience takes you 600 feet in the air through a grove of eucalyptus trees and above Descanso Beach Club.

This Catalina Island zip line tour has five separate lines, offering views of the ocean, trees, and the beach club at speeds of up to 35 mph! While you’re zigzagging from one point to another, your guides will teach you about Catalina’s native flora and fauna.

Once you’re done with this thrilling adventure, you can enjoy delicious food and signature drinks at the Descanso Beach Club. This beachside bar provides gorgeous views year-round, so stop by!

There are many fabulous places to stay nearby, but if you want the comfort of a home, this 3-bedroom/2-bath ocean-view house is the perfect spot for a family or group after ziplining!

5. Relax at the Descanso Beach Club

Aerial view of Descanso bay and beach club in Santa Catalina Island
Unwind / Shutterstock.com

Address: 1 St Catherine Way, Avalon, CA 90704

Descanso Beach Club is the most incredible place on Catalina Island, with its private beach, soft sand, private cabanas, and chaise lounges. You can relax, eat lunch, and enjoy specialty cocktails at this beautiful beach club.

While enjoying the soft sand with a beach towel is perfectly acceptable, their private cabanas and chaise lounges can upgrade your experience. These cabanas protect you from direct sun and wind while giving you a little privacy. Summertime is an epic experience with live DJs every Saturday.

Note to beachgoers: you may want to pack water or reef shoes to protect your feet from rocks.

See Related: Beaches in the US to Visit

6. Watch for American Bison in the Catalina Outback

Bison at Catalina Harbor on Catalina Island in California
Dale Gast / Shutterstock

Address: 150 Metropole Ave, Avalon, CA 90704

If you’re looking for a different experience on Catalina Island, this bison expedition tour is it! This guided Hummer tour takes you on an expedition into the island’s rugged interior to find American bison or buffalo. Catalina Island’s unique topography makes this tour a fun experience.

If you’re wondering how bison ended up on this small island, they were left by a film crew in the 1920s. The island now has about 150 bison, which the Catalina Island Conservancy protects.

This popular guided tour takes you on a 4-wheeling adventure through the historic Middle Ranch part of Catalina Island up to Black Jack Mountain. You’ll see sweeping Pacific Ocean and Catalina Coast views from the top of the mountain. Then, you’ll follow the original 19th-century stagecoach route back.

If you want to see bison and wildlife in a more primitive way, you can hike the Trans-Catalina Trail. This 38.5-mile trail is a multi-day backpacking adventure and is typically hiked from Avalon to Parson’s Landing and back to Two Harbors.

7. Explore Lovers Cove Marine Preserve

Lover's Cove Marine Reserve ocean view
Jim L / TripAdvisor

Address: Pebbly Beach Rd, Avalon, CA 90704

You can’t visit Catalina Island without exploring Lovers Cove, an eco-rich marine sanctuary just a short distance from Avalon on Pebbly Beach Road.

Free of surf and mainland pollution, this cove has an undersea garden of giant kelp, harboring marine life like sea stars, lobsters, and sea urchins. This Catalina Island sanctuary offers views of the bright orange garibaldi, some of which may eat out of your hand!

There are many ways to experience Lovers Cove, but the most common are snorkeling and diving, especially with the nearby Catalina Snorkel and Scuba shop. Located directly across from the cove, the shop can help anyone prepare to explore the cove.

Or, if you’d prefer to experience the marine life from above the water, try the highly-rated Catalina glass-bottom boat tour. This family-friendly tour lets you see the schools of colorful fish through the bottom of the boat.

Or, go underwater (but stay dry!) in the Nautilus semi-submarine cruise. This incredible experience takes you on the USS Nautilus, a semi-submersible vessel, on a 45-minute journey through the Catalina Island sanctuary. You can interact with and feed the fish from your porthole, launching fish food torpedoes!

See Related: National Parks to Visit in November

8. Have a Professional Mermaid Photo Shoot

Catalina Island Mermaid Photo Shoot
Mermaid Photo Shoot in Catalina Island / Viator

Address: 1 Casino Way, Avalon, CA 90704

If you’ve ever dreamed of being Ariel in The Little Mermaid, this is your chance! Whether you’ve got a child who is a budding mermaid or you’re the one with the Ariel dreams, this professional photo shoot on Catalina Island is sure to knock your tail off! This experience empowers many mermaids to feel beautiful, gorgeous, and free!

Once you meet the photographer, they’ll help you find a perfectly-sized mermaid tail. Once you find the right-sized tail, you’ll walk down to the beach, where they can photograph you on the sandy beach or the rocks.

You’ll get same-day photos sent to you for social media purposes, but after two days, you’ll have access to six professionally edited images. This Mermaid photo shoot is one of the more unique experiences on Catalina Island!

9. Visit the Catalina Island Museum for Art and History

Catalina Island Museum for Art and History building
Catalina Island Museum for Art and History / Facebook

Address: 217 Metropole Ave, Avalon, CA 90704

The Catalina Island Museum for Art and History has been teaching locals and tourists about the island’s history for over 60 years. With artifacts spanning 8,000 years on Catalina Island, this museum is an amazing place to stop and explore.

Located in downtown Avalon, this museum offers documentary films, lectures, and art and history exhibitions. Visitors will learn about Catalina Island’s connection to the Chicago Cubs (hint: Wrigley) and the island’s role during WWII.

While you may not consider visiting a small island’s museum, the Catalina Island Museum for Art & History is well worth the visit!

See Related: Best Museums in the US to Visit

10. Play a Round at Golf Gardens Mini Golf

Golf Gardens Mini Golf and garden in Catalina Island
volcanogirl / TripAdvisor

Address: 10 Island Plz, Avalon, CA 90704

If you’d like to play a round of golf but need to get up to the challenge of a professional course, this Catalina Island mini-golf course is for you!

Golf Gardens Mini Golf is located just one block from the beach in a beautiful garden. For almost 50 years, this mini-golf course has delighted families and couples with a little competitive play.

It’s said that this course is one of the most challenging mini-golf courses, so prepare yourself for an unforgettable experience. The award-winning layout makes it fun for everyone. While the official course record is 41, the par is 51.

If you’re looking for something family-friendly on Catalina Island, this fantastic course will keep you busy for at least an hour. And it’s open every day, 365 days a year, for your year-round enjoyment.

11. Be Adventurous at the Catalina Aerial Adventure & Climbing Wall

Outdoor activity in Catalina Island Aerial Adventure
Catalina Island Aerial Adventure / Viator

Address: 1 St Catherine Way, Avalon, CA 90704

Located at Descanso Beach, Catalina Aerial Adventure offers a fun and challenging outdoor experience! While just steps away from the Descanso Beach Club, you’ll feel like you’re worlds away when towering above a grove of eucalyptus trees.

The Catalina Aerial Adventure’s challenges include five self-paced courses, including components like balance beams, log bridges, rope ladders, zip lines, and more! Visitors must climb, walk, and crawl through these obstacles while looking down at the tall trees.

All skill levels can enjoy this activity with two beginner courses, two intermediate, and one advanced. The Aerial Adventure offers fun for everyone!

And if you’d rather test your rock climbing skills instead of completing obstacles, you can head to the 32-foot Climbing Wall. This rock climbing wall gives you eight different climbing routes, each color-coded. If you’re scared of heights, this is an excellent way to test your fears!

See Related: Budget-Friendly Family Vacations

12. Become a Falconer at the Catalina Falconry Experience

Kid with a raptor on Catalina Falconry Experience
Catalina Falconry Experience / Facebook

Address: 1 St Catherine Way, Avalon, CA 90704

This seasonal experience is easily one of the most unusual things to do on Catalina Island. The Catalina Falconry Experience lets you see a falcon up close with your outstretched hand. Of course, falcons are birds of prey, but these trained birds will swoop toward you with their wings spread and talons extended, gently landing on your hand. 

There are few places in Southern California where you can be a falconer, so this experience is unique to Catalina Island. Not only will you learn the history of falconry, but you’ll learn the role of falcons (and other birds of prey) in our environment.

Against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, this experience allows you to meet the owls, hawks, and falcons. The instructor teaches you how to hold a raptor (a bird of prey) properly, cast it from your gloved hand, and then call it back.

And, what’s an experience without being able to post it on Instagram? So, bring your camera (or phone), so you can have your picture taken with one of the raptors. 

13. Hit the Links at Catalina Island Golf Course

Golf field in Avalon, Catalina Island
Ihor Koptilin / Shutterstock

Address: 1 Country Club Dr, Avalon, CA 90704

If the mini-golf course isn’t challenging enough, you’ll want to visit the Catalina Island Golf Course. This course, originally built in 1892, offers a challenging nine holes. However, they have two sets of tees so that you can play 18 holes.

This scenic course is long and narrow, meandering through a canyon. You may get distracted by the gorgeous views of Avalon Bay or get frustrated with the deep bunkers and small greens. So, if you need to practice first, there’s a small practice putting area and a driving net.

There is no need to bring your clubs, as the pro shop rents everything you need, including pull carts and clubs. Playing at dusk, you may see deer, an island fox, or hawks.

See Related: Golf Bachelor Party Destinations Ideas

14. Take a Trip to the North Side at Two Harbors

Two Harbors, Catalina Island sailboats
JOSH UTLEY / Adobe Stock

Location: Two Harbors, Catalina Island

While most of the attractions on Catalina Island are in Avalon, there are a few special activities to do and see in Two Harbors. This area is perfect for outdoor recreation like kayaking, fishing, camping, hiking, snorkeling, and scuba diving.

The local Dive & Recreation Center offers everything you might need for your outdoor adventure in Two Harbors. This area is particularly known for scuba diving, as it’s often referred to as the “world’s healthiest marine environment.” On the best days, visibility is up to 100 feet!

If you’d rather chill out in Two Harbors, go to Harbor Sands for a relaxing afternoon. On the shore of Isthmus Cove, Harbor Sands is a beautiful oasis on Catalina Island. The palm trees and soft sand make this a fantastic place to relax on a lounge chair or in a rustic palapa.

While a palapa can be rented as a private area for two, it is also substantial enough for a small group. If you’re hungry, you can order food and drinks from the Harbor Reef Restaurant, which will deliver them directly to your lounge chair or palapa.

The Green Pleasure Pier is where all local tours launch, including the Glass Bottom Boat and the seasonal Flying Fish Voyage. In addition, you’ll find the Tour Plaza one block from the beach, which is the meeting place for the Bison Expedition and Ridgetop Eco Adventure, among others.

15. Enjoy a Guided Eco-Land Excursion

Catalina Island Inside Adventure Tour
Inside Adventure Tour on Catalina Island / Viator

Address: Avalon, CA 90704

If you’re looking for a unique experience in the countryside of Catalina Island, this eco-land excursion might be for you! Starting in Avalon, this two-hour guided tour will take you to spectacular canyons, unspoiled countryside, and a scenic coastline. It’s a nice change of pace from all the other adventure tours on the island!

After a ten-mile trip into the island’s rugged interior, you’ll see a less-traveled part of Catalina Island. The tour guide will teach you about the remote landscape, the history of the animals brought to the island (and removed), and notable families that purchased land (including the Wrigleys).

See Related: Places to Visit in the US

16. Catch a Flick at the Avalon Theater

Art Deco decoration in cinema at Casino in Avalon on Catalina Island
Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

Address: 1 Casino Way, Avalon, CA 90704

The Avalon Theater is the perfect spot to catch a flick, with a 50-foot domed ceiling and the Art Deco murals that cover the walls—located at the bottom of the Catalina Casino, the historic Avalon Theater seats almost 1,200 guests.

Although the theater was built in 1929, it has surprisingly good acoustics. And while the casino isn’t actually a place for gambling, the Avalon Theater is actually a theater playing current and classic films.

This theater is a perfect place to come on a rare rainy day on the island! So be sure to check out its calendar of current and upcoming showings.

17. Have a Wiki Wacker at Luau Larry’s

Luau Larry's bar & grill entrance
Luau Larry’s / Facebook

Address: 509 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704

Located in Avalon, Luau Larry’s is a Catalina Island institution. Although it’s famous for its Wiki Wacker (with light rum, brandy, pineapple-orange juice, and grenadine), it has a delicious Hawaiian-inspired menu, live music, and harbor views.

This casual restaurant is just steps from the beach and is perfect for a relaxing lunch or dinner. The tropical setting makes you feel like you’re on an island in the Caribbean, and the excellent staff ensures your visit is memorable.

 Luau Larry’s has been a part of Catalina Island for over 30 years, offering live entertainment, delicious food, and world-famous drinks.

See Related: Best Tropical Vacation Spots in the World

18. Stay at the Historic Mount Ada

Wrigley mansion, on Mount Ada, Santa Catalina Island
Rob Crandall / Shutterstock

Address: 398 Wrigley Rd, Avalon, CA 90704

If you want to stay at the former home of the Wrigley family, you’ll want to reserve one of the six rooms at this historic inn. Constructed in 1921, this Catalina Island home overlooks Avalon Bay and the surrounding town. 

Mount Ada offers six rooms with private baths, harbor views, flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi. Each room has historical period pieces, while some have fireplaces and balconies.

The room rate at Mount Ada includes all meals, drinks, and snacks. In addition, you’ll have access to a personal golf cart to explore Avalon. Even better, the hotel provides complimentary transportation to and from the island’s ferry, heliport, airport, or other lodging property.

19. Watch Fish Fly on the Flying Fish Voyage

Flying Fish Tour in Catalina Island
Catalina Island Flying Fish Tour / Viator

Address: The Green Pier, Two Harbors

Offered during the summer season, this flying fish tour is one of the most memorable experiences on Catalina Island! If you’ve ever wondered if fish fly, you’ll get your answer on this trip.

The tour includes a 45-minute ride on a large speedboat and watching Catalina Island’s flying fish take flight. We won’t spoil it for you, but yes, the fish fly (OK, we spoiled it- sorry!) But it’s one of those things that you’ve got to see to believe.

This up-close and personal tour is one of the best on the island, giving all ages quite a delight! Although it’s a nighttime tour, the speedboat’s powerful searchlight encourages the fish to take flight.

Read Also: Where to Stay in Long Beach

FAQ

What is Santa Catalina Island known for?

While the island’s official name is Santa Catalina Island, most people call it Catalina Island. This tropical paradise is known for its snorkeling, scuba diving, wildlife, native plants, and outdoor recreation.

What are some Santa Catalina Island must-dos?

Catalina Island has fun attractions for people of all ages and skill levels. Still, some must-do items are feeding the fish on the semi-submersible boat tour in Lovers Cove, watching for American bison in the Catalina outback, or becoming a falconer at the Catalina Falconry Experience. You can also zipline over the eucalyptus trees, hike on the Trans-Catalina Trail, dive from the shoreline at Casino Point Dive Park, or watch a movie at the iconic Avalon Theater.

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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