Kayaking in Catalina Island – Everything to Know

Kayaking in Catalina Island

Located less than 50 miles from Los Angeles, Santa Catalina is an island oasis for adventurers and laid-back beachgoers alike. As a Southern California resident and outdoor enthusiast, I was itching to get away and landed on kayaking Catalina’s rugged coastline for a quick spring break trip.

Although planning took some effort, the payoff of salty air, sandy beaches, and stunning scenery made it incredibly worthwhile. If kayaking Catalina has been on your bucket list, here’s everything you need to know to plan your own adventure. You can also check out more activities you can do on Catalina Island.

Getting to Catalina Island: Ferry Logistics

Kayaking in Catalina Island

The most straightforward way to reach Catalina is via the Catalina Flyer or Catalina Express from ports like Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. Double-check schedules to coordinate the earliest outbound and latest return ferries so you have maximum time to explore.

We took the first ferry out and the last one back to make the most of our days on the island. You’ll also want to book round-trip passes in advance.

Plotting Your Route

When it comes to picking the direction and endpoints for your journey, you have options. Most opt for the 13-mile paddle from Two Harbors to Avalon. For a longer trip, continue 7 miles further west from Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing, then double back east toward Avalon the next day.

Kayaking in Catalina Island

Alternatively, you can opt to go against the curve and kayak from Avalon to Two Harbors instead. Just ensure the ferry arrival and departure times for your chosen start and end points line up!

Securing Campsites

Before heading out, be sure to make reservations for both kayak rentals and campsites. To rent both single and double kayaks as well as camping gear, check out outfitters like Descanso Beach Ocean Sports in Two Harbors. For an added fee, they will meet you at drop-off and pick-up points to transport luggage and non-essentials.

Kayaking in Catalina Island

When it comes to campground options, there are nine designated boat-in spots to choose between. Reservations are required at each. Although any will get the job done, some definitely have more to offer than others when it comes to beach real estate.

Our favorite spots based on room to spread out and proximity to cool features like sea caves were Rippers, Cabrillo, Goat Harbor, and Willow Cove. We found calling to book campsites was quicker and easier than trying to reserve online.

Packing Essentials

Careful packing is essential for this kayaking adventure, as space is extremely limited, and there are no resources or shops to resupply from along the remote coast. When planning what to bring, think minimalist backpacking supplies.

Kayaks usually have two hatches for gear storage, but the more you pack, the harder boats will be to paddle and maneuver.

Kayaking in Catalina Island

Here’s what to include in your cargo:

  • All basic backpacking gear like tents, sleeping bags/pads, camp stove, cookware, utensils, headlamp
  • Waterproof dry bags to organize and protect non-waterproof items
  • Lots of heavy-duty trash bags to waterproof gear and for hauling out waste
  • Shelf-stable, calorie-dense food and snacks
  • At least 1 gallon of water per person per day
  • WAG bags for human waste disposal
  • Fishing rods and tackle
  • Snorkel masks and fins
  • A microfiber towel
  • Water shoes for camp
  • Detailed map of the coastline and campsites
  • Bilge pump and/or sponge for draining water from kayak hatches
  • PFD (life jackets) – safety first!

Kayaking Catalina Island’s Coast

Born and raised in Orange County, Calif., I’m no stranger to Catalina Island. Although relaxing in Avalon for a weekend is fun, getting out on the remote coastline is far more adventurous.

I’ve now paddled the leeward side of Catalina three times, and my most recent trip solidified that it certainly won’t be my last! On a sunny March morning, my friend and I boarded the Catalina Express Ferry in San Pedro, eager to embark.

Kayaking Catalina Island's Coast

To maximize our island time, we opted to spend 4 days and 3 nights circumnavigating the coast over spring break.

Day One

We started our journey in Two Harbors and paddled north to Rippers, one of the first boat-in campgrounds. After setting up camp, we put on our wetsuits and snorkeled around nearshore reefs in search of dinner.

As the sun set, we took advantage of hike-able terrain and enjoyed sweeping views of Catalina’s windward side from coastal ridgelines before turning in for the night under a blanket of stars.

Day Two

After waking with the sun, we departed Rippers, continuing east. We accidentally overshot Cabrillo, our intended campsite, by a few miles, which gave us the chance to explore the area’s famed sea caves around Lion Head Point.

We stopped for a lunch break at Italian Gardens before backtracking to Cabrillo to set up camp for the night.

Day Three

On our third day, we awoke to sore muscles and strong headwinds. Despite having the shortest distance to cover out of any day, the paddle to Long Point was most grueling. I was relieved when our tents were finally pitched and beach lounging with freeze-dried burritos commenced.

With no cell service or outlets, we resorted to stargazing and playing makeshift games by headlamp that night before zipping into sleeping bags.

Day Four

For our last day, we took our time working our way back toward Two Harbors en route to Avalon. We couldn’t resist exploring more sea caves and stopping to cliff jump along the way.

The abundance of local seabird species and frolicking sea lions kept us entertained for hours until we finally pulled into Avalon around lunchtime.

After returning our gear, we spent the remainder of the afternoon roaming around town, enjoying a hearty meal at Antonio’s Pizzeria, shopping, and snorkeling around the iconic casino before boarding the ferry home.

As you can probably gather from my elaborate itinerary, Santa Catalina has no shortage of sites, sounds, and outdoor adventures to discover – both on and offshore!

Kayaking Catalina Island's Coast

Don’t Miss the Opportunity to Unplug

While there were definitely too many trip highlights to name outright, one of my favorite aspects about paddling Catalina was completely unplugging from technology for a few days. With no cell service or outlets, we let the rhythm of nature guide our days.

In such a fast-paced, hyperconnected society, it was incredibly refreshing to slow down and be present with nothing but our surroundings. No work deadlines, social media updates, or text messages to distract us – just time with a friend, our thoughts, and Catalina’s abundant wildlife.

I’m glad to know this island escape exists right in my own backyard for those times when daily stresses inevitably ramp up. Even now, I find myself already counting down the days until I can journey back.

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