Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Before you embark on your Catalina Island getaway, you probably have questions about everything from transportation logistics to finding the iconic bison herd. Read on for answers to the most frequently asked questions about visiting this West Coast paradise.


Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Which airport should I fly into to travel to Catalina Island? Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) or Long Beach (LGB)?

Most visitors access Catalina via ferry or helicopter, not plane. However, if you fly, choose LAX over the Long Beach airport. LAX services all major carriers and offers more flexibility for rental cars, and hotels on the mainland. Long Beach is a small regional airport with limited flight options.

How do I get to Catalina Island?

You have four options:

  • Catalina Express (most popular): Ferries depart year-round from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point carrying up to 149 passengers. The ride takes about an hour. Purchase tickets for set departure times.
  • Island Express Helicopters: The flight time is 15 minutes, and service is available from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Santa Ana. Charters are available.
  • Private charter boat or yacht: Hire a skippered vessel for your group. Companies like Cruise Catalina handle all arrangements.
  • Private plane charter: Ideal for large groups wanting ultimate flexibility. Depart from regional airports like Long Beach.

How long is the ferry ride to Catalina Island?

Ferry crossing time ranges from 60 to 75 minutes, depending on your departure port. The shortest route is out of Long Beach, at around 60 minutes. Dana Point runs about 70 minutes. San Pedro takes the longest, at 75 minutes. Arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure to park and check in.

What is the best mainland port to depart to go to Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

This depends on what you want to prioritize: shortest ride, cost savings, or convenience. Long Beach is the fastest at just an hour and is also closest to major highways. Tickets cost slightly more than Dana Point and San Pedro, though. Dana Point Marina is in a quaint downtown setting with hotels and dining nearby. San Pedro’s ferry terminal has no frills, but tickets are the cheapest.

What is the best way to get around Catalina Island?

Golf carts are the island vehicles of choice. You don’t need a special license – just a regular driver’s license. Reserve your cart rental well in advance as demand exceeds supply in summer. Island Rentals has the largest fleet and excellent TripAdvisor reviews. Taxi golf carts are also readily available if you don’t want the hassle of driving.

How do I get to Two Harbors from Avalon?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Two Harbors village sits nearly 20 miles away on the opposite end of Catalina. You have a couple of options for getting there:

  • Ferry: The Catalina Express offers direct ferry service between Avalon and Two Harbors multiple times daily. The ride lasts about an hour.
  • Safari Bus: These retro-looking sightseeing buses provide guided tours inland with stops at Two Harbors for lunch or return travel. Book ahead, as seats are limited.

When is the best time to month to go to Catalina Island?

July-October sees ideal weather – sunny and warm during the day, cooler at night without intense summer heat or winter gloom. Spring can be gray and gloomy. Summer draws the most tourists, making the island crowded and causing lodging rates to peak. November through March you may score great hotel deals but limited operating hours.

Is Catalina Island still free on your birthday?

No. This used to be a clever tourism gimmick, but the island outgrew the free birthday promotion years ago. But don’t worry; you can still celebrate your special day with discounted birthday packages from ferry and helicopter carriers, hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. Perks generally include a free upgrade, meal, tour, or round of drinks.

Do I need a passport to travel to Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

No passport is required. Catalina Island is part of California and the U.S. An ID like a driver’s license or state ID card is all you need to travel there as an American citizen. International visitors should carry passports and any necessary entry documents as normal.

Is there public bus transportation on Catalina Island?

Yes. The city provides regular bus shuttle service around Avalon. The front or “Aurora” bus runs every 15 minutes and loops the main tourist areas downtown. The back bus makes fewer stops and runs every hour, going slightly farther to Descanso Beach. Bus rides only cost $2. Have the exact change ready.

Is there an Uber or Lyft on Catalina Island?

Unfortunately, ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft do not operate on Catalina Island, likely due to geographical limitations and low demand. However, there is no need to panic about getting around; golf cart rentals and taxi shuttles easily get you everywhere you need to go car-free.

Can I rent a car on Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Technically no. Traditional motor vehicles are banned on Catalina except for construction/utility purposes and emergency vehicles. No public roads or parking lots exist either. You can rent a golf cart that is the island “car” that zips you about. Or just hoof it – Avalon town measures only 1 square mile stem to stern.

Things To Do

Are there family-friendly things to do on Catalina Island?

Absolutely! From eco-tours to glass-bottom boats and zip lines, Catalina offers endless G-rated entertainment for households big and small. Top family picks include the Catalina Island Aerial Adventure ropes course, ZipLine Eco Tour, and 520 Steps Beach Walk to the Casino. Miniature Golf Gardens and Lancelot’s Medieval Dinner amuse along with some local history.

What are the top things to do on Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Must-do Catalina experiences include exploring Avalon Harbor via kayak or stand-up paddleboard, photographing views from high atop the unzipped scenic Descanso Beach Club with its iconic rainbow beach umbrellas, Catalina Casino landmark, discovering the island’s rich history at the Catalina Island Museum, or embarking on an underwater sea excursion. More adventurous travelers might hike the Trans-Catalina Trail or 4WD overland eco-tours inland.

What types of tours are offered on Catalina Island?

Name the mode or theme, and a Catalina tour probably exists! Boat tours, kayaking, and paddle boarding, golf cart excursions, helicopter rides, fly fishing, ecotours, cultural tours, food tours, photography tours, underwater diving, and snorkeling outings…they literally offer something for everyone. Most tours last 2-6 hours and include round-trip transport, gear, and an expert guide.

Where do you see bison on Catalina Island?

Catalina’s shaggy bison herd stems from just 14 animals brought to the island for a long-forgotten movie shoot nearly a century ago. They now roam free year-round except during breeding months, when they’re moved away from populated areas. Spotting these formidable 2,000-pound beasts just wandering into downtown Avalon is always a possibility. Scheduled eco-tours through the Conservancy maximize sightings.

What is the drinking age in Catalina Island?

As in the rest of California, you must be 21+ to drink alcohol on Catalina Island. Bars, restaurants, special event venues, and stores ID upon entry, so don’t forget your valid driver’s license or passport. Officially, drinking is prohibited on Catalina’s beaches and public walkways, though discretion and red Solo cups make enforcement spotty at best.

Is there a Casino on Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Yes! But not that type of gambling-centric casino. The historic Catalina Casino serves as the island’s premier special events venue. Built in 1929 under William Wrigley Jr., the circular Art Deco structure housed a theater and ballroom. Today it hosts everything from movie screenings under the stars to weddings alongside tours of its opulent architecture.

Can I rent a golf cart for multiple days on Catalina Island?

Yes. Most companies allow booking golf carts for whatever increment you need during your stay, whether that’s just a couple of hours or a few weeks. Reserve well ahead to ensure availability when carts become scarce during summer. Rates typically run $40-100+ per hour, depending on vehicle size and model. Island Rentals maintains the largest rental fleet, with new models each year.

Can you walk around with alcohol on Catalina Island?

Technically, no open containers are allowed in public on Catalina Island. But waves of tourists wandering with roadies or wine glasses in hand prove somewhat tolerated, especially during festivals and events. Just be discreet and avoid blatant offenses like stumbling drunk down alleyways. It’s best to finish beverages before leaving bars and restaurants and commencing your adventures.

Where do I obtain a Catalina Island bike permit?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Stop by the Santa Catalina Island Company office at #129 Metropole Street in Avalon to obtain your permit. You can also reserve online and pick it up on arrival. They issue annual, 30-day, and 7-day permits granting access to the island’s designated bike routes. Fees range from $18 to $30. Once permitted, hit the hills with Santa Catalina Island Bike Rentals or Brown’s Bikes.

Can you drink alcohol on the beach on Catalina Island?

Per California state law, open containers are prohibited in public spaces, including Catalina’s beaches. But crowds flocking to Descanso each summer certainly imbibe their fair share of cocktails in the sand. Technically, alcohol drinking is allowed only in designated areas like restaurant patios with permits. Be discreet should you choose to indulge beachside.

Is there horseback riding on Catalina Island?

Yes! It is one of the island’s favorite outdoor pursuits, with miles of scenic trails granting access deep into Catalina’s rugged interior mountains and valleys. Newcomers and seasoned riders can join guided trail rides through companies like Catalina Island Mountain Trail Rides. Their 1-2 hour tours take you along ridgelines unreachable by foot.

Hotels & Lodging

Where should I stay on Catalina Island?

Most hotels, inns, and vacation rentals cluster around Avalon Town. Top options like Aurora Hotel place you within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and ferries, while properties in the hills offer more seclusion. Book one of the Hamilton Cove vacation rentals in Two Harbors on the opposite end for ultimate tranquility and rugged nature. There and at Little Harbor, you can camp right on the beach.

How much are Catalina Island hotels?

Hotel pricing varies dramatically by property, room type, and season. In summer, you can expect rates of $250-500+ per night minimum, even for humble 3-star digs. Package deals with breakfast or dinner, ferry tickets, and more may help absorb costs. Outside June-August, you might snag rooms for around $175. Booking a vacation rental property is often more flexible and affordable year-round.

What Catalina Island hotels or tours are handicap accessible?

Many Catalina hotels and key attractions, such as the Pavilion Hotel, Hermosa Hotel, and Catalina Island Museum, offer handicapped facilities. Bluewater Avalon offers special-needs watercraft access. Balboa Golf Carts rents ADA vehicles, while EcoTour offers open-air bio bus transportation for wheelchairs.  

Do any Catalina Island hotels allow smoking?

No, all public buildings and hotels adhere to strict no-smoking laws. Some properties like Hermosa Hotel used to but recent regulation changes barred the practice. Vaping pens seem more permissible but sparingly used to avoid fees. Ask your lodging for designated outdoor smoking areas or policies regarding cannabis and vapes.


Where can I charge my phone on Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Rest assured, there’s no shortage of USB plugs around Avalon! Pop into virtually any cafe, hotel lobby, or restaurant to juice up your devices. Harbor Village shopping plaza even has solar-powered charging stations. For mountain adventurers, interior campground restrooms also have electrical outlets. Don’t forget your wall adaptor and cord.

What is the water/drought situation?

Like all of southern California, Catalina Island often faces drought conditions. Currently, the island imposes minor restrictions on landscape watering but ensures adequate potable water for residents and tourism. Smaller groundwater wells experience occasional shortages, so check current advisories. To be safe, pack personal drinking water for remote interior excursions.

Are there lockers to store my stuff on Catalina Island?

Yes. Since overnight ferry passengers often arrive hours before hotel check-in, several Avalon locations offer luggage storage. The Harbor Department operates lockers for public use near the ferry landing. Larger lockers stay locked for 12 hours, allowing plenty of trip exploring. Rates run just a few bucks per hour or all day for oversized items.

Are there public showers on Catalina Island?

Visitors have few options for grabbing a shower. The newly remodeled Avalon Community Center offers public showers and locker rooms for just $4 for 30 minutes. Beachgoers can also pay for the men’s/women’s rinse-off facilities at Descanso Beach Ocean Sports Club. Rental property managers may allow booking extra nights even after checking out to use showers, too, if available.

Where can I access WiFi on Catalina Island?

Many Avalon coffee shops and harbor-front restaurants, like Lloyd’s of Avalon Coffee & Treats or Island Spice Catalina, offer customers free WiFi. If you ask politely, several lodgings also have lobby internet access, even for non-guests. Connectivity ranges drastically across the island, though—don’t expect 4G speeds plastering social feeds from rugged Two Harbors backcountry!

Are there electric scooters or wheelchair rentals on Catalina Island?

Unfortunately, Catalina does not offer electric mobility device rentals at this time. Standard manual wheelchairs are available, though sometimes in short supply. Safari Transit’s Bio-Bus runs a lift-equipped shuttle for transport between Avalon and the interior island. Contact your lodging ahead about handicap room accommodations and access challenges walking the hills around town if needed.


How can I move to Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

If you are smitten with island living after a getaway, relocating takes patience, but it is possible! Housing opportunities only open when current residents vacate them, though. You can also purchase undeveloped land through the Santa Catalina Island Company to construct a new home. Competitive jobs also offer staff dwellings. Schooling requires relocation to the mainland. Plan significant budget factors for transportation costs to the “mainland,” lack of healthcare specialists, limited public services, and little to no job market.

Is there a public school on Catalina Island?

No current public schools exist despite the island’s roughly 4,000 full-time residents. Once reaching secondary education, children typically attend online or boarding schools on the mainland. The one-room K-5 Two Harbors Elementary Schoolhouse closed in 2014 after years of struggling to attract just a handful of students annually. Limited extracurriculars and high school options ultimately forced permanent cessation despite protests.

General FAQs

How do I get to the city of Avalon?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

The town of Avalon serves as Catalina’s main tourist hub and portal. Whether arriving by ferry, plane, or helicopter, travelers disembark near Avalon’s beachy Mediterranean vibe downtown. Ferries dock at the prominent round Casino building where classic 3-story steampunk red iron palms first greet visitors. Helicopters and private planes land just a quarter mile farther out on Pebbly Beach helicopter terminal.

Is Catalina Island Dog Friendly?

Very much so! Catalina ranks among California’s most dog-friendly destinations, with miles of pet-friendly beaches, trails, and activities. Numerous hotels, too, like the historic Hotel Villa Portofino and Hotel St. Lauren, permit pets. Just be aware that dogs ride separately on ferries for safety, so plan logistics wisely around their bathroom schedules.

What hotels are on Catalina Island?

Over 50 lodging options exist around Catalina, from quaint Avalon hotels to Two Harbors camping. Recommended spots include the Aurora Hotel for sleek, modern luxe vibes or the iconic Hotel Villa Portofino for old Hollywood romance. Hamilton Cove luxury villas boast jaw-dropping coastal views too. Camp among the foxes at Little Harbor, right on the sandy shores, for a rustic yet Instagram-worthy stay.

Can you stay on the Two Harbors side of the island?

Definitely. The quaint village of Two Harbors lies nearly 20 miles from mainland-facing Avalon on Catalina’s western shore. Over a dozen unique Banning House cottages dot the hillside, offering harbor views. Lodges anchor a central dirt road paralleling the waterfront. Tented camping and RV sites at the Banning House Lodge fill quickly, as do spectacular vacation rentals. Dining choices prove more limited to just a couple of eateries, so pack your own provisions.

Where should I eat on Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Every Catalina restaurant essentially offers waterfront dining with incredible harbor views. For fine fare, make reservations at Avalon Grille or Bluewater Grill. Lobster Trap serves generously portioned, affordable seafood. Landlubbers adore Lloyd’s of Avalon coffeeshop and Eric’s on the Pier burgers. And no Catalina trip is complete without a famous buffalo milkshake from Buffalo Nickel Arcade or house-made Kettle Corn.

What Should I Wear On A Catalina Jeep Tour?

Catalina’s high-clearance Jeep ecotours bounce you deep into the island’s rugged backcountry. Dress casually for changing temperatures with broken-in jeans or hiking pants. Closed-toe athletic shoes work best when navigating muddy patches and hillsides. Don’t forget sun protection, including hats and UV-shielded sunglasses for glare. Things get dusty, so avoid darker hues that show dirt. Bring a sweatshirt or light jacket should coastal clouds roll through.

What are 3 interesting facts about Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island
  1. Catalina was once owned by the infamous chewing gum family, the Wrigleys, for over 40 years.
  2. Its quaint main town of Avalon is a popular port of call for cruise ships, with as many as three dockings daily during peak summer months.
  3. The island is home to over 60 species of plants and animals, many of which only occur on Catalina, such as the endemic Channel Islands spotted skunk and Catalina orchid.

What makes Catalina Island special?

Several factors make Catalina shine as a coveted SoCal escape:

  • Isolation. Its channel-bound location 22 miles offshore cultivates tranquility and connection with nature, unique for Southern California.
  • History. From Native tribes to private ownership to Hollywood hideaway, Catalina’s past collides with iconic architecture in Avalon town.
  • Adventure. Miles of untouched wildlands with foxes, bison, and eagles contrast bright coastal enclaves tailor-made for play.
  • Accessibility. Despite feeling far-flung, Catalina actually lies just over an hour by high-speed ferry from major ports.

Why should you visit Catalina Island?

Common Questions About Visiting Catalina Island

Reasons not to miss Catalina include:

  • Bask on beaches without the typical crowds
  • Hike to capture ridiculous Instagram views
  • Snorkel ridiculously clear waters amid Garibaldi and octopi
  • Taste test island-made food and drink
  • Glimpse buffalo, foxes, and sheep roaming townsites
  • Immerse in old Hollywood glamour and maritime history

What is required to go to Catalina Island?

No passport is needed! Book ferry/helicopter tickets in advance since they often sell out in summer. Bring motion sickness medicine if you are prone to motion sickness. Avalon town is small and walkable, so no car is necessary, just comfy shoes! Cash helps for taxis, interior buses, and some businesses lacking registers.

Did Catalina Island get snow?

Extremely rarely seeing dustings a few times per century during exceptionally cold years when conditions collide perfectly. January 2023 saw light powder accumulate briefly around the island’s highest peak, Mount Orizaba (2,097 feet), thanks to an odd Arctic swell. Snow this low last occurred in 1962. Mostly, the island sees icy winter rain that keeps summits frosted white for months on end instead.

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