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Fun things to do on Catalina Island

Updated on January 25, 2014

Beautiful Catalina Island

Avalon, the main part of the Island, the most visited.
Avalon, the main part of the Island, the most visited.

Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California

Santa Catalina Island is a small island off the coast of Southern California. You can see Catalina from many beaches like Corona Del Mar, Balboa Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington and maybe many more. I grew up seeing it in the distance. It is definitely too far to swim, and its takes time to get out by boat.

One year when visiting my family, we chartered a boat for a "daily tour" (thinking Gilligan's Island here! haha) and had a wonderful time seeing the sites in Catalina. We left out of the Balboa Peninsula area. We left very early and were off crossing the beautiful ocean to a wonderful little island I had always wanted to visit. Here are some of the other things we did, and that I would recommend to you if you ever get the chance to go there.

First though, the main thing to keep in mind about Catalina is that you don't really need to "do" anything and just enjoy the laid back atmosphere of being on an island in the ocean! You can rest on the beaches there, and look out to see or towards the docks where all the boats are. You can walk all around and see many neat stores and studios and find food to eat, or just go on the pier. You can see so much just by taking your time and enjoying things as you happen upon them. However if you want to do more, there is much you can do.

Catalina Island:
Santa Catalina Island, Avalon, CA 90704, USA

get directions

Avalon, on Catalina Island
Avalon, on Catalina Island

Take a tour of the Island

While taking a tour of an island like Catalina may not be your first idea of a great time, the tour we went on was actually wonderful! We got to see so much more of Catalina than we otherwise would have. I would recommend this maybe as a first thing to do if you are going for a one day trip to Catalina. The reason is that you can narrow down the other things you also want to do, and not miss out on anything that looks especially great.

We saw old and new buildings, we saw wonderful views as well of the coastline and the ocean, etc. You are able to learn history of the island and take some quick shots as the vehicle slows down. It was an open air vehicle we were on, and not quite a bus but much more relaxing. Between the four of us, it helped us to narrow down the other things we wanted to do throughout our day.

One of the highlights of this tour was seeing and learning about the Wrigley Mansion. If you are thinking Wrigley's gum, you are right! He bought and owned a lot of Catalina Island. Now you can book far in advance and stay there and have a wonderful view. This would be something I would love to do in the future. The history that goes along with it was very interesting.

They also offer off road tours, as well as an eco jeep tour, so there are many options.

Some Travel Tips for Catalina Island

Catalina Botanical Garden

I have always loved botanical gardens and the beauty they offer about the flora in a given region.  I was happily surprised to hear Catalina had its own botanical garden.  You will find it on Avalon Canyon Road and see some locally growing plants, succulents, flowers, etc.  If you love succulents and cacti, you especially will love to see this botanical garden. 

You can see the Wrigley memorial and take a hike on a trail above it, to a ridge.  As you can imagine, the higher you go the more beauty you can see.  I recall feeling torn between wanting to be closer to the beach, but up high as well to see the views.  For this reason and many more I would like to go back for more than a day in the future, to really explore the whole island. 

Catalina Island Map

Santa Catalina Island:
Santa Catalina Island, Avalon, CA 90704, USA

get directions

Hotels on Santa Catalina Island

Cruise boat off the coast of Catalina.
Cruise boat off the coast of Catalina.

What is going on underwater near Catalina Island?

Catalina has beautiful clear water which makes it perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as viewing fish from a "glass bottomed" boat. 

From before we even arrived, we had heard about the glass bottomed boat tours you can take near the shoreline of Catalina.  You get on the boat, then go way down into an area you can sit watch all the things going on underwater.  This is a great way to see the beautiful diversity of life in that setting.  We saw really cool plants and all kinds of fish swimming all around the boat.  They were literally right next to us.  As a photographer, I try hard to get pictures of all these kinds of things, but it wasn't easy because of the "glass" between us and them.  Once towards the end of the trip, one of the guys went up on top and threw out some fish food for the fish, and they came swarming around the boat so we could see how neat it was and that was really cool!  It made some people jump away from the windows. 

There are two main areas that are the most popular places to enjoy the world underwater.  These are Lovers Cove, and Casino Point.  One of the great things about Catalina is there is something for all people no matter what your skill level.  Depending on the day you can rent wetsuits (remember Pacific coast is cold!), and all kinds of supplies for whatever you may need.

The other fun thing to do when at the beach is to buy some fish food and hand feed the fish!  They will come right up to you and one even snapped at my sons hand but he thought it was really cool. 

You can even take a night tour and see the lobsters moving about on the ocean floor.  You can even see sharks on occasion. 

Avalon is the name of the City on Catalina Island

Avalon CA:
Avalon, CA, USA

get directions

Avalon CA:
Avalon, CA, USA

get directions

Catalina Island - Poll

Have you ever been to Catalina Island off the Coast of Southern California?

See results

© 2010 Paula


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    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Edward, thanks for mentioning that about the zip-lining! Some people do love to do that, and this would be a great place to do it. I went up in the hills there some, and the views are incredible of course. I know some others might enjoy knowing that is an option on Catalina Islan, so thanks for sharing that. Oh, for more time!

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 

      4 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      On my last visit (11 months ago), I learned there was a zip-lining operation in the hills above Descanso Beach, a short walk from the Casino that began operation in 2010. That's another activity for the visitor's enjoyment.

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Edward, that is so great to hear that Catalina Island is one of your favorite escapes and for some time! I don't blame you for that one bit, and hope I can go back again and again in the future. Like you, I think sometimes of possible future travel plans. We shall see! Thank you for the comment.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 

      4 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      Avalon has been one of my favorite escapes since 1975 and I've enjoyed shore diving and boat dives on the east (leeward) side of the island. I've since relocated to the Pacific Northwest and migrate south only rarely to revisit Casino Point. Thank you for your Hub; it's a great reminder and an incentive to rearrange a few personal travel priorities.

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello James, Isn't it beautiful? I agree, its a great place to visit and a gorgeous spot on the globe. Thank you so much for your visit here and the comment. :)

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      I have been to Catalina Island. It is an absolutely wonderful place to visit. Thank you for the excellent reportage. I enjoyed reminiscing about this gorgeous spot on the globe.

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you very much Phoenix, I just love Catalina Island and could live there if I was able to!

    • PhoenixV profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Very cool hub!

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Simone, if you ever get the chance, do go and see Catalina as you won't be disappointed.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      I've never had the chance to visit Catalina Island, but now I definitely want to. How lovely it looks! It'd be crazy fun to hand-feed the fish XD

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you Crolina, yes I love it too, and hope to go back to spend a bit more leisurely time there.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 

      8 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Another favorite spot of mine... very cool hub!!!


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