Looking to go on a Catalina day trip? Even though Catalina Island is only 26 miles off the coast of Southern California, it feels like worlds away! With amazing views, scenic roads, and a cute & colorful town, even just going for the day feels like a mini-vacation. Keep reading for tips to plan your Catalina day trip, and for the best things to do while you’re there!
Catalina Day Trip Overview:
- PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 0-1
- Cost: $$
SEE ALSO: Parsons Landing: The Most Epic Campground on Catalina Island
How to Get to Catalina Island
The only way to get to Catalina Island is by boat or helicopter. Like most people, if you don’t want to shell out $400+ for a helicopter, the ferry is the best option.
There are two harbors on Catalina Island- Avalon and Two Harbours. Avalon is the iconic town that you likely envision when you think of Catalina, and is what this article is about. Two Harbours is where you would go if you want a more remote experience. If you want to learn more about camping at Two Harbors, check out my post about Parsons Landing!
There are two different ferry companies to choose from, leaving from different ports:
- Catalina Flyer:
- Leaves from Newport Beach
- One departure daily each way
- $70 round trip
- Catalina Express
- Leaves from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point
- Multiple daily departures
- $75 round trip
If you’re coming from the LA area, the Catalina Express departing from Long Beach is the closest option. However, there are often Groupon deals for the Catalina Flyer, dropping the price down to $44 round trip, so definitely check for that before you book! This decrease in price may be worth it to drive a little further and do your day trip to Catalina Island from Newport Beach, which is what I ended up doing. The ferry ride will be about an hour.
Note: You must book your ferry tickets ahead of time. The spots can fill up quickly, especially for weekend dates. Also, the parking lot will be about $20 for the day, paid by a meter.
Tips for the Ferry Ride to Catalina Island
- If you are prone to sea-sickness, take some motion sickness medication beforehand- the ride can get bumpy! Sit at the top deck to have the most enjoyable ride with a lesser-chance of getting seasick
- They sell alcohol and snacks on board
- Bring a jacket- it’s windy at the top deck!
- Get there an hour before departure and get in line so that you can get first dibs on the best spot on board
What to Pack for your Catalina Day Trip
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Don’t forget these items!
- Seasick Bands – if you’re prone to getting seasick, wear these bands on the ferry!
- Turkish Beach Towel – these kinds fold up easily to fit into your backpack for the day!
- Big Beach Bag – to carry all your stuff in for the day
- Polarized Sunglasses – so you can see all the pretty water colors!
- Mask and Snorkel – you can rent these on the island too, but if you think you’ll go again sometime, might as well buy it for multiple uses!
- Coola Sunscreen – this stuff is my favorite!
The Best Things to Do on your Catalina Day Trip:
1. Cruise around Catalina by Golf Cart
One of the best things to do on a Catalina day trip is to take a golf cart ride around the area! The views are incredible. There are a few different companies that rent out golf carts, but they are all the same price of $90 for 2 hours for a 4-person cart. 2 hours is plenty of time to ride around the island.
Don’t worry about booking online ahead of time. There are plenty of golf carts there to book when you arrive to the island!
They’ll provide you with a map of the island with the scenic golf cart route highlighted, so you can just follow that. (You will likely not have cell service, so don’t rely on your Google Maps to work!). Following the scenic golf cart path will take you a little over an hour to complete. You will drive through the cute town and up around the hills for some amazing views.
The route will also pass by the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Gardens, in memory of William Wrigley- the founder of Wrigley chewing gum. He is a notable legacy around Catalina Island for bringing many improvements to the area. The ticket to enter the gardens is $8. We didn’t go in since we had a lot of things on the itinerary for our Catalina day trip, but if you are interested in botanic gardens, check it out!
Another stop along the scenic golf cart route is the Catalina Chimes Tower. You’ll pass by this towards the end of your drive, near the Casino building area of island. (the Casino building is the iconic, round building on the island, however it is not an actual casino. It is used as a movie theatre, ballroom, and event space!)
The Catalina Chimes Tower sounds off every 30 minutes. You can go inside the chimes tower and climb up the small ladder to the top to check out the view!
2. Eat Lunch in Town
We received two restaurant recommendations from Catalina Island locals during our time there- Maggie’s Blue Rose Cantina and The Lobster Trap. We opted for Maggie’s Blue Rose Cantina- which did not disappoint! Although this Mexican restaurant in town was a bit pricey, the food was delicious and had big portion sizes.
3. Hang Out at Descanso Beach Club
Hanging out at Descanso Beach Club is one of the most popular things to do on a Catalina Island day trip, and it’s only a short walk past the Casino building. There’s a bar and restaurant on the beach, a DJ on Saturday’s, and a swimming area in the ocean. It reminds me of a mix between Miami and a Las Vegas pool party, but there are families with kids there as well. Definitely great people watching! It gets crowded pretty quickly, so get down there and lay out a beach towel to save a spot. You can also rent a cabana that lives in a separate section of the beach, which would be much more relaxing and private if you are willing to pay the price (starts at $325 for the day).
There are two main snorkel spots in the area- Dive Park by the Casino, and Lovers Cove.
This spot is conveniently located right at the Casino, and there are stairs leading down into the ocean. This is a popular place for scuba divers as well, but for a Catalina day trip snorkeling is easier/faster. Keeping your spot at Descanso Beach Club as home base, you can rent a mask/snorkel from there for $8 for 2 hours and walk over to the Dive Park pretty quickly. When you walk down the stairs to enter the water, make sure that you jump in as the waves are coming in, NOT when they are going out.
You will see so many fish in this spot- they’re everywhere, and not scared of people since they get fed a lot. You can buy fish food for $2 when you rent your snorkel gear, which will keep the fish all around you when you’re in the water.
Lover’s Cove is another popular snorkeling location, however it is a further walk from Descanso Beach Club than the Dive Park. Coming from Descanso, you will have to walk past the casino, past the town, and past the ferry dock where you arrived. A few min past the ferry dock, you will see Lover’s Cove- a cove with a rocky shoreline, likely with other snorkelers in the water. I didn’t have time to go to this spot, but I’ve heard good things.
If You Have More Time in Catalina
Best Places to Stay in Catalina Island
If you are able to spend a weekend in Catalina Island, there are quite a few great hotels or Airbnbs to choose from! See below for my top picks:
The Bellanca Hotel is one of the highest rated hotels in the area! It got completely renovated in 2020, and is just steps from the water. It’s beautiful!
There are a few awesome VRBOs in the area. This villa overlooking the ocean on Hamilton Cove looks amazing!
Other Catalina Day Trip Activities
- Zipline Eco Tour
- Bison Expedition
- Submarine Ride!
- Glass Bottom Boat Tour
- Luau Larry’s in town for one of their famous “Wiki Whacker” drinks
- Marlin Club – oldest bar in Avalon
- Scoops Ice Cream Shop
- Casino Building – check out the inside for museum exhibits and shows
Hopefully my Catalina day trip blog post has helped to inspire you to plan a trip, even if it is just for the day! It’s amazing how escaping the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles for the day to venture to Catalina Island makes you feel like you are on an exotic vacation, even though you are only an hour boat ride from the mainland!
If you are looking for other awesome weekend trips from Los Angeles, check out a few of my other posts: