Sign Up for Our Daily Newsletter
Located about 20 miles off the coast of Southern California, Santa Catalina Island offers scenic beauty, old-timey charm and one-of-a-kind outdoor opportunities, all just quick ferry boat ride away.
Although Catalina can be “done” in one day, a two- to three-day trip is ideal for active travelers hoping to experience all that Catalina has to offer. Below are just a few favorite places to stay, eat and play in this tropical paradise.
(Note: The best times to visit are early summer and fall, as many tourist attractions close down for the off-season.)
Where to StayAn assortment of budget and upscale hotels populate the island, but before booking, clients must choose between the lively town of Avalon or the peaceful village of Two Harbors. Avalon contains most of Catalina’s attractions, eateries and tour operators, while Two Harbors caters to nature lovers such as campers, fishermen, hikers and mountain bikers.
Hotel Vista Del Mar — conveniently located on Avalon’s main road — is the No. 1 choice for accommodations in Catalina on TripAdvisor. In addition to its clean, spacious guestrooms and suites, the hotel wins over guests with its personal touches, such as providing warm cookies and milk every evening, and stocking guestrooms with beach mats and chairs.
Meanwhile, clients who opt to stay in Two Harbors will enjoy Banning House Lodge, a charming 12-room bed-and-breakfast with individually decorated guestrooms and nightly wine-and-cheese socials on the main terrace.
Where to EatIn Avalon, Bluewater Avalon is the go-to place for fresh seafood, where visitors can try seasonal catches such as the Blackened Broadbill Swordfish, topped with a refreshing fruit salsa and served with a side of chipotle dirty rice. Or, clients can sample the classics: Wild Alaskan Halibut, Lemon Pepper Mahi Mahi and Rock Lobster Tail. Over in Two Harbors, Harbor Reef Restaurant (located inside of the Banning House Lodge) features locally caught fish in a relaxed setting.
Back in Avalon, visitors are sure to have a good time after hours at Luau Larry’s, a tiki bar that serves colorful concoctions such as the Wiki Wacker (light rum, brandy, pineapple/orange juice and grenadine). At least one stop at the old-fashioned candy store, Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionary, is also advised. After all, is a beach vacation really complete without ice cream and vintage taffy?
What to DoSightseeing, outdoor excursions and animal encounters are a few of the reasons that travelers flock to Catalina every year. Clients can tour the historic Catalina Island Casino with Discovery Tours, which offers three exclusive walk-through tours, highlighting the 11-story building’s art deco ballroom, aka the largest circular ballroom in the world. The casino also houses the Avalon Theatre, where visitors can catch a movie nightly at 7:30 p.m.
The Catalina Island Conservancy, a nonprofit that protects 88 percent of the island, offers guided hikes, volunteer trips and eco tours. During the popular Eco Jeep Tour, clients can learn about Catalina’s unique terrain and endemic plants with the help of a trusty naturalist guide. Although animal sightings are not guaranteed, it is not uncommon for tourists to spot wild boars and bison — the latter of which was originally brought over for a film shoot in the 1920s and left to roam free afterward.
Since 1962, Catalina has been home to one of the only underwater dive parks in the world. The Casino Point Underwater Park features several shipwrecks and a diverse population of wildlife. Though shipwreck diving is limited to more experienced divers, adventurous travelers (ages 12 and up) can try Diving Catalina’s Introductory Scuba Dive in the dive park, where glimpses of giant kelp, octopi and giant black sea bass are aplenty.