Whether you have a little time or a lot, Santa Catalina Island is a great way to have fun and rejuvenate at the same time. Located just a short ferry ride from Los Angeles, this beautiful and laid-back island getaway is the perfect place for families to enjoy the fresh air of the Pacific Ocean and get a little closer to nature.
The local marine life is one of the major draws of Catalina Island. The waters around the island are full of beautiful and fascinating creatures such as dolphins, seals, sea lions and all manner of colorful fish. Not only is there a wide variety of sea life to view, but a number of creative ways to view it.
The Catalina Island Company offers boat excursions on glass-bottom boats so guests of all ages can enjoy the wide variety of colorful fish in their natural habitat. Both daytime and nighttime cruises are available so you can experience the different species active at different times of the day.
The Ocean Runner Tour takes you on a high-speed ride out into the ocean for an opportunity to race with the dolphins and sea lions that enjoy playing in the local waters.
For a truly memorable experience, take the Undersea Expedition Tour. This incredible trip takes you underwater in a semi-submersible boat where you can view the local marine life face to face in their natural habitat.
Catalina is also home to a variety of land mammals, such as foxes, antelope and deer, not to mention birds, bats, snakes and lizards. Nature tours are the best way to see some of the more elusive creatures, such as the herd of bison that wander the island freely. These amazing creatures have roamed the island since the 1920s when they were brought there to film a movie and subsequently abandoned. They are now an iconic part of the island and a real treat to encounter. Since they have never been domesticated, they are best observed from a distance. Campers, hikers and off-roaders often stumble upon these magnificent animals and occasionally the animals react defensively, especially if they feel provoked, so make sure you keep your distance and treat them with the respect they deserve.
Catalina Island Company offers exciting aerial activities that provide visitors with a unique way to explore the island. Families can spend the day enjoying the beach and café at Descanso Beach Club, while the adventuresome members of the group partake in one of the many aerial attractions they offer.
The two-hour zipline experience takes you 300 feet into the skies above the island’s Descanso Canyon as trained guides assist you along a five-line course, all while teaching you nature facts about the island.
The Rock Climbing Wall lets climbers of various skill levels test their abilities on a 32-foot climbing wall that offers spectacular views of the island and surrounding ocean.
They also have an aerial adventure course that gives you an opportunity to test and hone your outdoor adventure skills by working your way through a series of obstacles suspended in the trees above the beach.
Off Road Excursions
The Catalina Island Conservancy offers an eco tour that takes visitors off the main roads and deep into the wild interior of the island. This four-wheel-drive, off-road Jeep tour shows you a side of Catalina rarely seen by tourists. Trained guides know the island well and are happy to share its history with guests. The island’s mountainous terrain is filled with incredible specimens of local wildlife and plant life, but, at times, nature’s beauty is trumped by the stunning views that can be enjoyed throughout the tour.
The island is an outdoorsman’s dream, with plenty of activities to keep anyone interested. Hiking is one such activity, and Catalina has plenty of hiking trails to go around. They are best conquered in the mornings — even with the fresh mountain air and cooler island temperatures, Catalina can get fairly warm the further away from the waterfront you venture. You can take a public bus up to the hiking trails or start at the edge of Avalon at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden, which gives access to some of the island’s most popular hiking trails. Hermit Gulch Trail Loop and the Garden to Sky Trail are two such hikes that offer great samplings of some of the local fauna, like cacti and wildflowers, as well as stunning views of the island with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.
Shopping and Sightseeing
If you’ve had your fill of outdoor activities, spend some time in the port town of Avalon. The sprawling town spreads out across the port and up the surrounding hillsides. The harbor is lined with a quaint shopping district where it is easy to pass the day wandering in and out of the cute boutiques and souvenir shops, stopping for a drink or a bite to eat whenever the mood strikes you.
At the edge of town sits the iconic dome shape of the casino, a living part of Catalina’s history. No longer in use as an actual casino, it has an intricately decorated theater, now in use as a movie theater. In addition to viewing a movie in a one-of-a-kind setting, it is a great place to tour and get a feel for Catalina’s past.
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