A Perfect Catalina Island Day Trip

Catalina Island Day Trip

Looking to escape Los Angeles for a sun-soaked day filled with adventure and exploration? Then a day trip to gorgeous Catalina Island is just what you need! This charming island paradise is located just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, making it an easy and exciting getaway.

In this guide, you’ll discover everything you need to plan the perfect Catalina Island day trip from start to finish, including how to get there, the best things to do during your visit, top tips for making the most of your time on the island, and more. Let’s get started!

How to Get to Catalina Island

The first order of business when embarking on your Catalina Island retreat is actually getting yourself to the island. Here are the two main options for making your way across the ocean to Catalina:

By Sea

Catalina Island Day Trip

For most visitors, the easiest and most popular way to reach Catalina is via ferry. You can catch a ferry from ports in Dana Point, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and San Pedro. The ferry rides operated by the Catalina Flyer and Catalina Express take about an hour. Ferry tickets generally run $80  roundtrip. I recommend booking your ferry travel in advance since tickets can sell out, especially during the summer high season.

By Air

Catalina Island Day Trip

If you’re looking to get to the island faster or just want a more adventurous ride, you can also take a helicopter. Helicopter service is available from Long Beach and San Pedro. Flights take approximately 15 minutes one-way. Prices start at around $179 per person. Taking a chopper certainly makes for an unforgettable Catalina arrival!

How to Get Around Catalina

Catalina Island covers 75 square miles, so you’ll want solid transportation arranged to take in all the sights. Here are your main options for getting around during your day in paradise:

Do you need a golf cart to get around Catalina?

Golf carts are hands down the most popular mode of transportation on Catalina, but they’re not an absolute must. The main town of Avalon is small enough to tackle on foot if you’d prefer. However, a golf cart does make getting between attractions around the island quicker and easier.

Catalina Island Day Trip

Where can you rent golf carts?

There are numerous rental facilities in Avalon, like Catalina Island Golf Carts & Tours, if you opt for golf cart travel. Booking must be done 24 hours earlier if only you have a valid driver’s license. Their rates for 4-passenger golf carts are $110 for 2 hours. 

Some hotels, like the Mt. Ada, include complimentary cart rentals with your stay. You can expect to pay $45-65 to rent a four-seater golf cart for a few hours. I recommend renting one for at least part of your day. Zipping around in a golf cart is part of what gives a Catalina trip its charm!

What to Do on Your Catalina Island Day Trip

Catalina Island Day Trip

Now for the fun part, how exactly should you spend your action-packed day on Catalina? With so many options for adventures, tours, shopping, beaches, and more, you certainly won’t run out of things to keep you busy. Here are some of my top ideas to help you make the most of your Catalina escape:

Rent a Golf Cart

As mentioned earlier, renting a golf cart is a popular Catalina activity. Once you have your own set of wheels for the day, you’ll have the freedom to cruise from sight to sight across the island easily. Make sure to drive along some of the island’s higher points for those incredible ocean views!

Walk Around Downtown

The main town of Avalon has a wonderful charm and energy about it. Wander along the vibrant downtown strip to visit the various shops, restaurants, and attractions. Be sure to stop at Lloyd’s Confectionery for saltwater taffy. This candy shop is iconic on the island!

Go Snorkeling

Snorkeling is one of Catalina’s main activities as an underwater playground. Grab some snorkel gear and gaze upon the area’s vibrant marine wildlife, from bright orange Garibaldi to swaying sea kelp. Lover’s Cove near the Casino and Descanso Beach Club are top spots to snorkel from shore. Or you can book a dedicated snorkel tour.

Catalina Island Day Trip

Take an Underwater Cruise

Speaking of witnessing marine life, going on a glass-bottomed boat ride is another excellent way to admire Catalina’s sea creatures and kelp forests. The semi-submersible Undersea Tour vessel allows you to travel THAT deep underwater for next-level exploration through porthole windows. How cool is that?

Zipline Across the Island

For thrill-seekers, soaring across Catalina while strapped to a zipline cable is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. Catalina Zipline Eco Tour features five separate lines that let you take in the island from exhilarating new heights at speeds around 40 mph. What an unforgettable way to experience Catalina’s rugged landscape!

Catalina Island Day Trip

Lay Out on the Beach

Of course, no Catalina Island day trip itinerary would be complete without some good old-fashioned beach time. Settle in on the sandy shorelines around Avalon or take a quick shuttle bus ride to the secluded beaches of Two Harbors. Descanso Beach Club is a top option featuring upscale amenities like beachside dining and cabanas. Relax on the beach, and just don’t forget that SPF—the California sun is intensely strong!

Kayak Through the Waters of the Island

Paddling around Catalina’s pristine coastline in a kayak allows you to access hidden mini-beaches and soak in those glittering ocean vistas. Plus, kayaking grants you front-row seats to the island’s natural splendor that larger tour boats can’t reach. Sign up for a guided kayaking eco-tour or rent your kayak to chart your course.

Catalina Island Day Trip

Enjoy the Good Food

With all that adventuring around Catalina, you’re bound to work up an appetite! When hunger calls, Avalon offers no shortage of excellent dining establishments to refuel at. Dig into mouthwatering sustainable seafood dishes on the Harbor View Restaurant patio. Indulge in Spanish tapas and sangria at El Galleon Restaurant with its dreamy harbor views. Or keep things casual with burgers and beer at Luxe Beach Club Descanso. You can’t go wrong when eating through this island paradise!

What To Do In Avalon

Want to focus your day trip exclusively on vibrant Avalon? Here’s a suggested Catalina itinerary to make the very most of your time in this charming main town:

Catalina Island Day Trip

Catch a morning ferry from Los Angeles to Avalon

Most ferries depart between 9-10 AM, which gives you a perfect late-morning island arrival. Enjoy your coffee and a snack while watching the Californian coast fade into the distance!

Rent a golf cart for a few hours and drive around the loop to all the scenic viewpoints

Cruising around Avalon in a golf cart is a time-honored pastime. Drive along the winding coastal roads near the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens to fully take in those sweeping Pacific panoramas.

Walk around the downtown area, grab lunch at Bluewater Grill, and do a little shopping

Lose yourself for a couple of hours wandering Avalon’s quaint downtown district. Grab an oh-so-fresh fish taco lunch on the sunny patio of family-run eatery Bluewater Grill. Then browse the boutiques for the perfect Catalina souvenir—perhaps some salted caramel fudge or a dreamcatcher made from island botanicals.

Go to Descanso Beach Club and enjoy this beautiful and upscale private stretch of sand with cabanas and cocktails that will transport you to the Mediterranean.

Descanso Beach Club specializes in delivering luxurious yet laidback beach days. Sip your signature tropi-colada beach cocktail under a shaded cabana as you gaze out over those glittering waves lapping gently onto the sand. Pure heaven!

Book an afternoon activity, like a glass bottom boat tour, parasailing, scuba diving, or even sunset ziplining (It will be fun).

Still feeling energized after lunch? Then, tack an adventure tour onto your afternoon Catalina itinerary! Pick your thrill level; from mellow submarine sightseeing to adrenaline-spiking parasailing rides soaring 600 feet above sea level, this island truly has it all. That way, you can sightsee and put a check next to trying a new activity too.

Time to head back to LA!

After all the fresh air, sun, and excitement, you’ll surely be ready to nap on the ferry ride back to the mainland. Watch the sun dip down over Catalina’s mountains in the distance as you journey back to reality, reflecting on your island memories.

What To Do In Two Harbors

Looking for a slightly less touristy and more remote Catalina experience? Consider spending your day trip on the island’s western frontier, Two Harbors. Nestled between towering cliffs and the open ocean, this tinier village delivers big doses of wilderness and charm. Follow this recommended Two Harbors itinerary for an off-the-beaten-path Catalina adventure:

Catalina Island Day Trip

Take the morning Catalina Express ferry from San Pedro to Two Harbors

You’ll cover more ground if starting your day bright and early! The high-speed Catalina Express vessel whisks you to Two Harbors in just over an hour. Greet the day with salty ocean breezes whipping through your hair up on the open-air deck.

Head to Harbor Sands at Two Harbors 

This tucked-away waterfront oasis beckons you with its red circular tent pavilions, and dreams of s’mores dance in your head. Made for lounging the day away on cozy rattan sofas and beach chairs while snacking to your heart’s content from their grill menu and honor bar system.

Rent paddle boards from Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center 

What better way to take in Two Harbors’ majestic rugged shoreline scenery than from atop a stand-up paddleboard? This fun water activity helps you find your balance—both physically AND mentally. Don’t be surprised if curious island foxes pop their heads up from shoreline bushes to glimpse you wobbling away on the water!

Go for an afternoon hike

Boasting over 20 miles of multi-use trails, Two Harbors serves up no shortage of stunning hikes. Trek out on the Hermit Gulch Trail for spectacular panoramic views of bison from the clifftops, or wind your way through the island’s unique flora along the Canyon Trail for a more woodsy experience.

Take the 6:30 PM ferry back to San Pedro 

Still in vacation mode as you board the early evening ferry back to the mainland after your whirlwind Two Harbors daycation. Watch the pastel sunset over the island’s ridgelines for one last Catalina moment.

Catalina Island Day Trip Packages

Booking a convenient Catalina Island day tour package takes all the hassle out of planning. Knowledgeable local guides whisk you away to stunning island sights not reachable on your own. Plus, packages bundle vital transportation logistics like shuttle transfers and ferry or helicopter passage.

Catalina Island Tour Options

Catalina Island Day Trip Packages

Myriad exciting Catalina Island tours exist, but sorting through them solo can overwhelm you. Reputable outfitters like Karmel offer pre-packaged day tours that handle all necessities – even ferry transport – in one fell swoop.

Their combo full-day tour packages include roundtrip boat transport from mainland California aboard the Catalina Express Ferry, plus your choice of premier Avalon and inland Catalina excursions. It’s truly an effortless island adventuring!

Packages start around just $121 per adult ticket ($87 for ages 3-11, $30 for infants) and span 8 am hotel pickup through evening return ferry arrival. 

What’s included varies by package, but here’s an overview:

  • Karmel shuttle collects you from OC/LA hotels or residences
  • Catalina Express boat passage – just one smooth hour!
  • Your choice of phenomenal Catalina Island half-day tours
  • Return shuttle drop-off upon ferry arrival

After a day of island adventure, your Catalina tour package includes return boat transport back to the mainland. The ferry departs the Avalon port at 3:45 pm, arriving approximately an hour later so you can unwind and reminisce on the scenic cruise back. Optional later evening departures from Avalon are also available at 6:00 pm or 7:30 pm year-round. Check out the schedule here.

Catalina Island Packages

With transport covered, all that’s left is to select your favored Catalina Island tours. Top choices like the panoramic Avalon Scenic Tour, majestic Casino insider’s tour, zip line eco-tours, Two Harbours spa dates, or remote Skyline Drive ecology escapade deliver awesome island experiences. Let the island adventures begin!

Avalon Scenic Tour 

Catalina Island Day Trip Packages

($21 Adult / $19 Child)

Duration: 50 minutes

This spectacular drive introduces Catalina newbies to the island’s main town’s culture, sights, and intrigue. Winding past Avalon’s sun-kissed shoreline to its hilltop heights and back down again, lively guides regale you with Catalina history and folklore.

The tour provides a lively overview of Catalina’s most dynamic burg, great for first-timers. Key sights like the 1929 Avalon Casino, palatial homes of golden-era stars, local landmarks, and that signature harbor view parade by your window. Don’t forget to have your camera poised!

Behind the scenes Catalina Casino Walking Tour

 ($32 Adult / $30 Child)
1 – 1.5 hours

Step inside Santa Catalina’s legendary landmark – the world-famous Casino building. On this unforgettable walking interior tour, your guide whisks you backstage to areas unseen since construction in 1929.

You’ll gain insight into this icon’s glitzy heyday, viewing rarely glimpsed spots like the Casino’s ornate Avalon Theatre and monumental screen. The tour culminates inside the ethereal Casino Ballroom – a vista recognizable from countless classic films!

Strolling these halls feels like a step back through decades of history, cinema, and song. It’s easy to see why generations view the Casino as Catalina’s crown jewel.

Skyline Drive & Airport in the Sky Tour 

Catalina Island Day Trip Packages

($59 Adult / $56 Child)
Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes

On this sightseeing expedition, venture beyond Avalon’s coastline into Catalina’s vast protected backcountry. A local guide narrates your drive along the Skyline road’s breathtaking ridges and canyons. Keep watch for endemic Catalina Island foxes and iconic shaggy bison en route!

Ten miles out, the tour pauses at the Airport in the Sky Visitor Center. Once California’s busiest general aviation airport, today, its vistas and exhibits educate visitors about the island’s ecology and conservancy efforts. Sweeping Pacific overlooks provide prime photo ops.

Inland Expedition 

Catalina Island Day Trip Packages

($90 Adult / $87 Child)

Duration: 3.5 hours

Catalina’s rugged wild interior waits to be explored on this epic 31-mile foray. Visitors ride restored vintage buses along stagecoach routes used when Buffalo Bill and Zane Grey inhabited these parts. Exclusive stops include the island’s Native Plant Nursery and a Catalina Island fox habitat location.

The epic route continues to the Pacific shoreline with jagged coastal views, unlike any other Catalina tour. A loop back through Skyline Drive’s ecosystems and the Airport in the Sky with potential bison sightings completes the expedition. Island adventurers rejoice!

East End Adventure Tour 

Catalina Island Day Trip Packages

($82 Adult / $79 Child)

Duration: 2 hours

Hold on tight for this open-air Hummer ride along Catalina’s steepest roads! The exhilarating journey climbs 1,500 feet to the island’s highest point, treating riders to breathtaking aerial island vistas.

The Extreme East End tour traverses rugged ridges and canyons for perspective found nowhere else. Strapped into provided safety harnesses, participants will get their hearts pumping as skilled drivers handle hairpin switchbacks. Bring your camera for astonishing coastal views rarely witnessed.

Undersea Expedition 

Catalina Island Day Trip Packages

($41.50 Adult / $39 Child)

Duration: 45 minutes

Delve below Avalon’s picturesque harbor aboard windowed semi-submersibles and come face-to-face with Catalina’s exotic marine inhabitants! Schools of garibaldi, bass, and bat rays swim alongside the 5-foot-deep vessels. Safely enclosed from the elements, riders of all ages behold an underwater world usually reserved for divers.

The Undersea Expedition provides 45 minutes of aquatic splendor as schools of fish are fed around you. Two daily departures mean you can float through Avalon’s kaleidoscopic sea life – then return after dark when an entirely different cast of creatures emerges!

Quick Tips for Taking a Day Trip to Catalina Island

Catalina Island Day Trip

To ensure your Catalina day trip goes as planned, keep these tips in mind:

Choose between spending time in Avalon or Two Harbors

As outlined above, busy Avalon and remote Two Harbors offer quite different experiences. Choose which vibe suits your crew best. Families and first-timers may prefer easygoing Avalon, while adventurous couples could opt for Two Harbors’ peaceful escape from civilization.

Consider the best time of year for you to go

Summer is Catalina’s peak visitor season for good reason; expect sunny bluebird days and warm beach-prime conditions from June to  August. However, spring and fall offer their charms and smaller crowds. If you don’t mind brisk ocean temperatures, winter attracts whale-watching enthusiasts spotting migrating gray whales.

Keep track of the ferry times

Nothing ruins the island fun faster than missing your ferry ride back! Avoid logistical nightmares by always keeping your departure time at the top of your mind. Give yourself a generous buffer as ferry lines get busy in the afternoons.

Don’t overbook yourself

It’s tempting to jam-pack your Catalina itinerary trying to experience “everything”—but that’s a recipe for exhaustion! I recommend picking 1-2 key activities/attractions per visit. Whether that means kayaking and beach time or ziplining and shopping, quality over quantity makes for the most enjoyable Catalina trip.

The Perfect Catalina Island Day Trip

Craving a healthy dose of California cool? Then make Catalina Island your next sunny day trip destination! With its gorgeous shores, charming small towns, and wide offering of adventures, this island paradise ticks all the boxes. From ferry rides to good food and beach lounging, each detail of your Catalina getaway is bound to be fun. Just don’t forget the SPF; you’ll undoubtedly catch some iconic island rays!

So now that you’re equipped with all the fine details of drafting your visit to Catalina Island itinerary, the only thing left to do is pick a date and board that ferry! 

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