Places to Visit on Catalina Island

Places to visit on Catalina Island

Floating just off the Southern California coast, the beautiful island of Catalina provides a Mediterranean escape that feels worlds away. With its postcard-worthy coves, colorful villages, and opportunities for aquatic fun, Catalina offers endless sights and activities to fill an island getaway. While Catalina boasts wild natural beauty, some of its most famous attractions are the manmade landmarks and communities that invite exploration. 

Discover standout destinations and landmarks on your Catalina bucket list, from Avalon’s walkable downtown to the majestic Catalina Casino.

Avalon: The Island’s Bustling Waterfront Town

No Catalina trip is complete without spending time in the island’s main town of Avalon along its idyllic crescent bay. Avalon packs Catalina’s signature charm into just one square mile. Explore the pedestrian-friendly oceanfront walkway and iconic green Pleasure Pier jutting into the harbor. Off the pier, you can kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or take a sightseeing cruise. 

Wander downtown Avalon to experience its relaxed island vibes. Snap photos of the 1929 Catalina Casino, tiled steps, globular streetlights, and classic late 1800s to 1920s architecture lining walkable streets. Pop into the myriad local shops, cafes, and restaurants to taste Catalina culture. 

Places to visit on Catalina Island

Don’t miss these top Avalon sights:

  • Avalon Harbor Beach – Relax on the main sandy beach with water sports rentals and the Pleasure Pier.
  • Catalina Island Museum – Exhibits on Catalina’s Hollywood heyday, early tourism, Native American history, and more. 
  • Catalina Casino – Iconic landmark hosting tours, movies, events, and the Catalina Island Museum.
  • Descanso Beach – Popular spot for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, beach bars and campsites. Free shuttle transport.

With so much packed into its tiny footprint, exploring Avalon offers a chance to soak in Catalina’s rich history and character.

Two Harbors: Catalina’s Secluded Village 

On the opposite end of Catalina lies the quaint, sleepy village of Two Harbors, accessible only by ferry, boat, or inland excursion. This hidden gem offers a quieter Catalina experience. Stroll the scenic waterfront walkway, go swimming and kayaking, or simply relax on the expansive beach and watch the harbor seals. 

Two Harbors has a charming general store, lodge, rustic dining spots, and just 18 cottages, plus some campgrounds. It makes for a peaceful base camp for adventures like kayaking, diving, fishing, hiking, and touring Catalina’s rugged interior. Or just nap in a hammock while waves lap the pebbly shore.

Places to visit on Catalina Island

Don’t miss:

  • Isthmus Cove – Tranquil-protected waters are perfect for snorkeling in bright fish and kelp forests. 
  • Banning Harbor – Spot seals and sea lions lounging on the breakwater rocks enclosing Two Harbors.
  • Western Ridge Hike – Spectacular coastal views along this ridge trail reaching a height of 1,652 feet.
  • Campgrounds – Tent and RV camping immersed in nature steps from the coastline.

For an escape from crowds, Two Harbors is a hidden island jewel that offers natural rejuvenation and outdoor adventures.

The Famed Catalina Casino 

Catalina Island’s most iconic landmark is the majestic Catalina Casino, looming over Avalon Bay. Despite its name, this circular white beacon of Art Deco architecture does not offer gambling but rather offers visitors a peek into Catalina’s storied past. 

Places to visit on Catalina Island

Built in 1929 under the direction of chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr., the Casino was conceived as a grand entertainment hall. Its showcase is the magnificent 12,000-square-foot ballroom featuring the largest circular dance floor in the world. Surrounding the famous ballroom, circled by arches, is the upstairs Avalon Theatre and murals lining the gleaming domed lobby.

Today, you can tour the interior to admire sweeping sea vistas through the exterior windows and learn fun historical facts. The Casino still hosts concerts and events like the long-running big band dances that first made it famous. The iconic Casino is the jewel in Catalina’s crown. Don’t miss:

  • Landmark-guided Casino tours from the ground floor into the iconic domed ceiling. 
  • The first theater in America designed specifically for talkies like gala film premiers.
  • The ballroom’s stunning Tiffany chandeliers and replica French wood inlay dance floor.
  • Hollywood lore and stories of the celebrities who lived, played, and filmed there.

No Catalina getaway is complete without an up-close look at the architectural and historic wonder of the majestic Catalina Casino.

Descanso Beach: Ideal for Watersports and Relaxation

Visitors looking to enjoy aquatic fun in the sun should head straight to Descanso Beach. This popular palm-tree-lined beach offers access to Catalina’s calling card activities like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, and swimming. Rentals and lessons are available for all skill levels.

Places to visit on Catalina Island

Beyond water play, Descanso Beach Club offers beachside dining, bars like the laid-back sand floor Hurricane, cabana rentals, beach chairs, fire pits, and campsite and vacation home rentals. It’s an ideal home base for families and groups. Free shuttles from downtown Avalon make Descanso easily accessible.

The top highlights of Descanso Beach include:

  • Snorkeling the rocky Point with its sprawling kelp beds full of bright fish
  • Beachside watercraft rentals from kayaks to clear bottom SUPs
  • Lover’s Cove, with its beginner-friendly calm lap of waves
  • The scenic coastal walking path dotted with beachy bars and cafes 

With its ideal blend of facilities, breathtaking views, and access to Catalina’s wild shores, Descanso Beach delivers the quintessential island experience.

More Catalina Destinations Not to Overlook 

Beyond must-see Avalon, the Casino, Two Harbors, and Descanso Beach, Catalina offers countless coves, activities, and distinct communities to explore:

Places to visit on Catalina Island
  • Avalon Harbor Underwater Park: Snorkel or scuba dive kelp forests and bright marine life off Avalon’s coast.
  • Inland Island: Traverse Catalina’s rugged interior via permit-access hiking or 4WD eco-tours like an African safari. 
  • Wrigley Memorial Botanic Garden: Be awed by the native plant diversity that overlooks the Avalon from this hilltop garden.
  • Zip Line Eco Tour: Traverse Catalina’s interior and coastline from new zip lines up to 600 feet over canyon terrain.
  • Avalon Harbor: Cruise or paddle this protected beach-lined bay to glimpse sea lions, seabirds, classic yachts, and the iconic Casino. 
  • Airport in the Sky: Touch down on Catalina’s famously precarious mile-high landing strip, which has sheer cliffs on either end.

With its wealth of landmarks, communities, and outdoor activities, Catalina offers unlimited adventures. Let these top island destinations inspire you to plan your own Catalina itinerary.

Still have questions? Check out these answers to some commonly asked questions. 

Which part of Catalina Island is best?

Most recommend staying in the main town of Avalon for its iconic landmarks, shops, restaurants, and activities. Two Harbors offers a quieter getaway. Exploring both gives a well-rounded experience.

Is it worth going to Catalina Island?

Yes, Catalina is a top Southern California destination. With its beaches, villages, hiking, wildlife, and abundant activities, it makes for an idyllic weekend or vacation escape from the mainland.

Can I spend a day on Catalina Island?

Yes, you can see highlights of Avalon and sights like the Casino in one full day. However, a Catalina Island trip of 2-3 days provides a more relaxed experience to enjoy activities like kayaking, interior hiking, or touring further spots.

How long should you spend on Catalina Island?

Most recommend spending at least 2-3 days to see the top sights in Avalon and enjoy some activities like hiking or kayaking without an overly rushed schedule. Stay for 4+ days to explore more extensively at a leisurely pace.

Can you walk everywhere in Catalina?

The town of Avalon is very walkable, but visiting beaches further from downtown or exploring the backcountry would require other transportation like shuttles, tours, or bicycles. Golf carts are also popular for getting around Avalon.

How do you get around Catalina without a car?

Private cars are banned in Avalon, so visitors walk, bike, or use the free city shuttle. Further afield, tours, ferries, shuttles, and recreation rentals like kayaks or golf carts transport visitors between Catalina’s sights and towns.

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