Los Angeles to Catalina Island

Catalina Island

            Los Angeles is a city filled with world-renowned landmarks and hidden gems alike. In fact, as a five year resident of this enormous city, I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to exploring all that it has to offer. While you could easily spend a lifetime experiencing the sights and sounds inside the city limits, there is one destination twenty-two miles off the coast of Southern California that is worth an experience all its own.

The Island of Romance

The Island of Romance

            Santa Catalina Island, known as “Catalina” colloquially, is a seventy-five square mile island that features a combination of outdoor exploration activities, and resort style accommodations.  To the non-native, Catalina may ring a bell from the 2008 comedy film Stepbrothers, in which Will Ferrel and John C. Reilly team up to produce the annual “Catalina Wine Mixer,” which has since manifested as a real event on the island. Catalina is divided into two main areas; the village of Two Harbors, which is a small community that boasts beautiful campgrounds and diving locations, and the more populous city of Avalon, where you’ll find the beach clubs, hotels, and all the souvenir shops your heart desires. Miles of nature preserves separate these two communities.

Distance from Los Angeles to Catalina

Distance from Los Angeles to Catalina

            While it is possible to spend an entire weekend or longer on the island, this particular blog post will focus on the best way to see Catalina as a day trip, and will include some tips and advice for someone visiting Los Angeles who is interested in getting a taste of what Catalina has to offer without spending their whole vacation off-shore.

Getting to the Island

            The most convenient way to access Catalina Island is via passenger ferry called the Catalina Express. The Express leaves regularly from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point for around $40 (American) each way. All ports arrive in Avalon, with the San Pedro port the only one offering Two Harbors as a destination. (Shuttles on the island offer a way to commute between Avalon and Two Harbors once you arrive.)

Los Angeles to Catalina Island

Catalina Express

            The Long Beach port is the closest to Los Angeles, and is the one I would recommend for anyone staying in the immediate Los Angeles County area. The port itself is large and comfortable with a free parking garage across the street. While the ferry leaves at intervals, I also recommend leaving on the earliest option possible, as you’ll want plenty of time to explore the island before catching the last ferry back to the mainland. The port itself is like a very comfortable airport, with its own food mart and cafe.

Activities on Catalina

Activities on Catalina

            TIP: If you’re catching an earlier ferry, check out the cafe in the port for breakfast. The food is surprisingly good and is extremely reasonably priced, especially compared to the prices you would pay for food at an airport or train station. I had giant chocolate chip pancakes that ran me around $6.

            TIP: An additional $15 will get you a fare with access to the “Commodore Lounge.” The Commodore Lounge is the second story of the ferry, where you will find your own cash bar for beer and wine, and table style seating as opposed to the airplane style seating found on the first floor of the ferry. The additional fare also includes priority boarding, and includes two drink tickets for the bar. I recommend this option, especially if you plan on buying drinks anyway— the extra $15 will pay for itself, and the priority boarding and extra room will make the 45 minute ferry ride much more comfortable.

Avalon in Catalina

Avalon in Catalina

Avalon

            When the ferry arrives in Avalon, you are greeted with the main harbor, surrounded by a few quaint streets sporting souvenir shops and restaurants. The “beaches” you will find near the Avalon harbor are more like sand bars on elevated cement docks with ladders that run down to the water. In the main harbor you’ll find a giant floating inflatable playground for the kids to play on. However, because there is no true shoreline, I recommend these “beaches” for kids who are very comfortable swimming in deep water without easy access to an area where they can immediately stand up.

            If you continue around the harbor, you’ll find the historic Avalon Casino— no, sorry gamblers, not that kind of Casino. There’s no gambling inside the building, as it’s used primarily as a movie theatre and a ballroom or convention center for private events.

            Just beyond the Casino is one of the more beautiful beaches in Avalon. A sandy beachfront provides public water access, and while the shoreline is moderately rocky, it is still a comfortable spot to lay out and catch a tan.

TIP: Bring your own beach chair, or be prepared to rent one for a hefty price! Another option, if you’re not worried about the cost of your trip, is to rent a beach chair and umbrella from the Descanso Beach Club.

Descanso Beach Club

            At the far end of this sandy beach, is the Descanso Beach Club. This is a private access beach that rents cabanas and chaise lounge set ups next to the water. It’s a pricier option and will run you about $150-$200 for the day. If in your budget, it is certainly worth it. Not only does it give you access to the beach club, but it affords you the most beautiful spot in Avalon.  They also provide you with towel service and a server who will bring delicious blended drinks right to your cabana or beach chair.

HIGHLIGHT:

            It’s also around the Descanso Beach Club part of the island where you can rent outdoor sporting equipment. During my travels, I rented a two person kayak and I was not disappointed. For about $30 an hour, you’ll sign a quick waiver and you’re ready to paddle out in your own kayak to explore the island. This was easily my favorite part of the trip. Once you leave the general vicinity of the beaches and head around to the rocky shoals of the island, you truly feel like you are immersed in the wilderness. The water is still and extremely clear. As you paddle around quiet coves with nothing but the sound of waves lapping against the cliffs, you can look down below your kayak and see beautiful swarms of colorful fish darting below you. I didn’t have a chance to go snorkeling when I was there, but seeing how clear the water was, and all of the colorful wildlife around me definitely makes me want to return just for a day of snorkeling.

Food:

            Personally, I ended my trip to Catalina with dinner at The Lobster Trap— a seafood restaurant that came highly recommended by the locals. We arrived early in the evening which was also highly recommended as the restaurant is small and can fill up quickly, especially during the summer months. The food at The Lobster Trap was both delicious and reasonably priced and it’s definitely the perfect way to end a trip to the island.

The Lobster Trap Catalina

The Lobster Trap Catalina

            When you’re ready to head back to the mainland, you just have to return to the harbor in Avalon around 15 minutes before the next ferry leaves. It’s important to keep an eye on the time if you are catching the last ferry home— once it leaves, the ferry service shuts down for the night, and you’ll be stuck scouring for a last minute hotel room, or having to charter a very expensive helicopter flight back to Long Beach.

All said, Catalina Island is a beautiful getaway that offers resort style relaxation and outdoor exploration activities. If you’re in the Los Angeles area and are looking for something to do outside of your typical Hollywood attractions, Catalina Island is the place for you.

After enjoying all that Hollywood and Beverly Hills have to offer with Glitterati Tours, we hope you take in this very informative view on the best options to go from Los Angeles to Catalina Island!

-By Tom G.