Updated: Apr 21, 2022
I recently got to visit my sister in Los Angeles as part of my trip to the Central Coast for a girl’s trip and lots of wine (suuuuch a fun weekend). As part of that trip, my sister and her girlfriend invited me on a day trip to Catalina Island with them. I’ve been eyeing this island and day trip for quite some time so I jumped on it right away. It ended up being a really fun day and I can’t wait to tell you about it!
Catalina Island is actually Santa Catalina, one of California’s Channel Islands, which lies southwest of Los Angeles. Which makes it an easy day trip from LA. It’s probably best known for it’s wildlife and quaint small towns. The island is home to about 4,000 people but people visit daily and on vacations, especially in summer. There’s a lot to do on a Catalina Island day trip so buckle up for some ideas!
Catalina Island reminded me a bit of some of the coastal beach towns I’ve been to in Italy. The mountains alongside the colorful buildings and blue water… there’s something so stunning about it! We loved our day trip to Catalina Island and you will too.
Getting to Catalina Island
Catalina Island is easiest when reached by ferry (you can also take a helicopter) which is $70 round trip. There are several trips a day and the ferry is about an hour-long ride so I recommend getting to the island early enough to enjoy things for the whole day. We took an 8 am ferry and left at 3:30 – I wish we had more time!
It’s also worth noting that this is an island and lives up to the “on island time” phrase. Early mornings will be very quiet so if you arrive too early, things will be closed. We decided to arrive early on purpose to hike, but if this is not your plan, come a bit later!
There are two ferry options outlined below:
CATALINA EXPRESS from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point
CATALINA FLYER from Newport Beach
The ferry stops in two places, Two Harbors and Avalon. I recommend spending the majority of your time in Avalon. It’s a much larger beach town with more to do. If you’re looking for a nice, quiet beach or a great coastal hike, Two Harbors is a great option.
The Cyclone pictured above takes you between the two towns. Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer are large boats.
Morning in Two Harbors
We arrived in Two Harbors after our morning ferry around 9:30 am. It was such a beautiful ferry ride along the coast of the island headed to the small beach town. We knew we wanted to see both Two Harbors and Avalon so we got our tickets for the smaller boat called the Cyclone to get back to Avalon. Ticket in hand for the 11:30 boat, it was time to head to Two Harbors.
Two Harbors has just one little store, a beach club, and a restaurant. It’s called two harbors because on the other side from the port is another harbor. Snorkeling and kayaking are popular activities here, but we got there on a chilly morning so opted for a hike instead. It’s easy to take off on a pretty coastal hike from the harbor. There are so many different little trails taking you to excellent views. We hiked from one harbor to the other and back.
After our hike, we headed to the beach to relax for a bit and take in the harbor before our Cyclone boat trip.
Afternoon in Avalon
There is so much to do in Avalon! I really loved the feel of this cute town and we had a great afternoon here. I want to go back and spend a whole weekend here – I think it’d be a very relaxing weekend.
Lunch at Luau Larry’s
We went right away to try the signature drink on Catalina Island – the Buffalo Milk at Luau Larry’s! You can find Buffalo Milk cocktails all over the island. It’s not actual Buffalo milk of course, but instead a cocktail with rum, banana, milk, and chocolate. It was more like a milkshake than a cocktail to me, but nonetheless delicious!
Luau Larry’s is also known for its signature cocktail served with a hat. You’ll likely see a person or two headed back on the ferry in the evening with a hat looking a little bit tipsy too.
Snorkeling in Lover’s Cove
After lunch it was time for an adventure! We headed out to do some of the snorkeling that the island is famous for. Wet Spot Rentals charged just $12 for a 1/2 day snorkel rental which I feel like was really reasonable! You can find them right near the ferry boat port.
There are places to stop and snorkel on either side of the harbor in Avalon. We chose to go to Lover’s Cove as we heard it had the best snorkeling there. It was a short walk from the harbor to Lover’s Cove. Word of warning for you – the rocks here are really rough on your feet! I would recommend adding the fins to your rental or wearing shoes that can go in the water. The combo of the waves and the rocks made getting in and out of the water pretty difficult.
We did see a ton of colorful fish right in the cove. It didn’t take much swimming to see them right there at our feet! The water was a beautiful deep blue as well. We really enjoyed this, but wished we had shoes to protect our feet.
Relaxing on the Beach
A trip to Catalina isn’t complete without a little beach time. There are different beaches around the harbor that are easy to get to – Two Steps Beach is located right in the harbor and a popular spot for those staying in town. Another option is the Descano Beach Club just outside of town. They take reservations for their beach chairs and cabanas. On weekends, I’d highly recommend you reserve in advance as they fill up quickly!
Other Things to Do on a Catalina Island Day Trip
There are a lot of things to do on your trip. Below are a few highlights you might want to do if you’ve got more time.
Rent a golf cart – all-around Avalon you’ll find golf cart rentals. Golf carts are one of the only ways people get around the island besides boats. They are $55 an hour and require a cash deposit of $55. Come prepared with cash if you decide to do this!
Safari Adventure – Catalina is full of wildlife and famously, bison. You can take a safari island to see foxes, bison, birds, and other animals all over the island.
Play mini-golf – known as one of the best mini-golf courses in the US, you will find Catalina has an award-winning mini-golf course. Golf Gardens main entrance is located on Sumner Avenue just past the Discovery Tour Plaza and across the street from the City Library.
Kayak or SUP – Just like the golf cart and snorkel rentals, you’ll find kayak and SUP rentals all around the island. We saw more available in Two Harbors than Avalon, but both have options.
Ziplining – Enjoy a zipline tour from Descanso Beach Club. From there, you’ll enjoy sweeping ocean views as you zigzag down and across the canyon and through a grove of towering eucalyptus trees on five separate lines at speeds approaching 35 mph. Along the way, your trained guides will share interesting facts about the island’s flora and fauna, which includes more than 60 species found only on Catalina Island.
As you can see, there’s plenty to do on your Catalina Island day trip! There’s lots to do and see while there and honestly, I hope to go back and spend more than just a day on the island.