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!
PTO (vacation days) required: 0Cost: $$
Planning your Catalina Day Trip
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- where camping is the only option.
There are two different ferry companies to choose from, leaving from different ports:
Leaves from Newport BeachOne departure daily (leaves Newport at 9am to Avalon, and departs Avalon at 4:30 to come back)$70 round trip
Leaves from Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana PointMultiple daily departures$73-75 round trip for an adult ticket ($60 round trip for a child)
If you’re coming from the LA area, the Catalina Express is closer, for doing a day trip to Catalina Island from Long Beach. 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. I took the Catalina Flyer with this Groupon deal when I went. The ferry ride will be about an hour.
Note: You must book your ferry tickets ahead of time, as they do fill up spots quickly. Also, the parking lot will be about $20 for the day, paid by a meter. It’s the kind of meter that connects to an app on your phone, so you are able to re-fill time in your meter while at Catalina Island if needed.
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! The Catalina Flyer has 3 levels- sit at the top deck to have the most enjoyable ride with a lesser-chance of getting seasickThey sell alcohol and snacks on board at affordable pricesBring 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 (the line gets super long- they really pack a lot of people on there!)
Top Things to Do on Your Catalina Day Trip:
Wondering what to do in Catalina Island in one day?
1. Cruise around Catalina by golf cart:
One of my favorite things I did at Catalina was cruising around on the golf cart and soaking in the incredible views! There are a few different companies that rent out golf carts, but no matter where you choose, it will be the same price- $90 for 2 hours for a 4-person cart. 2 hours is plenty of time to ride around the island.
While you are able to book online ahead of time, you don’t need to- there are plenty of golf carts there! You can also book your golf cart on the ferry on the ride over, which is what we did. We were set to arrive at 10:30 from the Catalina Flyer, and booked our cart for 11:00, which worked out perfectly and gave us enough time to get off the boat, grab a snack and some water, and go to the restroom before picking up our golf cart.
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- but also a notable legacy around Catalina Island for bringing many improvements to the area. The ticket to enter the gardens is $8. I didn’t go in, since we had a lot of things on the itinerary for our day trip, but if you are interested in botanic gardens, a stop would be worthwhile.
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. (Also, FYI- 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. Definitely recommend!
3. Drink on the Beach at Descanso Beach Club
Hanging out at Descanso Beach Club is one of the most popular things to do on Catalina Island, 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.
Dive Park: 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 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 also 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: 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 so I can’t vouch for it personally, but I’ve heard good things.
You likely won’t have time for any other activities for a Catalina day trip, since you have to get back to the ferry. However, if you are staying for more than one day in Catalina Island, or have more time, see below for other activities! Note- if you do want to stay overnight, most places on the island have a 2-night minimum, which is why I ended up doing a day trip instead.
Other Catalina Island Day Trip Activities:
Zipline Eco Tour ($130/person, 2 hours)Rock Climbing Wall ($10 for 3 climbs)ParasailingHikingGolfKayakingBoat ToursGo to Luau Larry’s in town for one of their famous “Wiki Whacker” drinksMarlin Club- oldest bar in AvalonScoops- Ice cream shopCheck out the inside of the Casino building- they have 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 additional weekend trips from Los Angeles, check out some of my other posts: