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Guide to Catalina Island

Catalina Island is 22 miles long and 8 miles across. Catalina Island is the southernmost island of the Channel Islands chain and is located approximately 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles.

Guide To Catalina Island

Visitors often explore the island via golf cart, bike, or on foot. There are two towns on Catalina Island – Avalon is located on the east end and Two Harbors is located on the west end. Catalina is a popular weekend getaway destination for California residents and visitors and a popular destination for fishing and camping. Many mainland fishing charters travel to the waters surrounding the island for day-long and overnight expeditions in search of White Sea Bass, Yellowtail, Marlin, and Tuna.

Visitors to the island can enjoy a variety of activities including the Casino in Avalon, golf, walking tours, the spa, shopping, dining, land tours, and enjoying the relaxed island life. Catalina Island is also home to around 150 bison and 60 plant, animal, and insect species that are only found on Catalina.

The Banning Brothers purchased the island in 1891 and began developing the city of Avalon, paving roads, and offering stage coach tours. They built the pleasure pier and created beach access at Lovers Cove, Descanso Beach, and Casino Point. A fire in 1915 destroyed many of the buildings that the brothers had built and they eventually sold the island. William Wrigley Jr, owner of Wrigley Chewing Gum and the Chicago Cubs bought the island and began transforming it into the spring training grounds for the baseball team. Wrigley took a great interest in the island and continued development, turning it into a resort destination.

Avalon

The incorporated town of Avalon is the more bustling resort-style destination of Catalina Island and has been a popular tourist getaway since the early 1900s. The town of Avalon gives visitors access to beach activities and other recreational activities, but the area also features a pedestrian mall, lots of shops and restaurants to enjoy, plus the Descanso Beach Club and the Catalina Casino. The Pleasure Pier in the center of the bay gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy some of the many tours the Island has to offer including the Glass Bottom Boat, the Undersea Expedition, and the Ocean Expedition. The Pavilion Hotel, the island’s featured resort destination, is located in Avalon. Additional points of interest that guests to Avalon may enjoy include the Catalina Island Museum, Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens, Casino Point Dive Park, and Lovers Cove Marine Preserve.

Two Harbors

Catalina Island Buffalo

Two Harbors is located at the west end of Catalina and is approximately 22 miles from the mainland of Southern California. Two Harbors is the ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with access to recreational activities including hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, swimming, boating, snorkeling, fishing, SCUBA diving, and camping. There are several options here for dining and there is a general store for campers and visitors in need of supplies. Two Harbors is more of the laid back recreational side of the island with few options for shopping. Two Harbors was once inhabited by Native Americans, and others stayed briefly on the island including Spanish Explorers, pirates, and fur traders. You can still see the barracks from the Union Soldiers who were stationed on the island during the Civil War. The west end of the island is also where the famous buffalo herd roams. Brought to the island for the movie, The Vanishing American, the herd is maintained at approximately 150 head, although at one point the herd grew to nearly

Getting There

The Catalina Express has high speed ferries from Dana Point, Long Beach, and San Pedro that connect visitors to the island from the Southern California Mainland. The Catalina Flyer offers round-trip ferry service to Catalina Island from Newport Beach. All trips are approximately 22 miles and take about an hour.

Visitors can also fly over via helicopter or private plane and land at Catalina’s airport in the sky at 1,602 feet above sea level on an island mountain top. Personal boats are welcome to travel to the island and rent one of the 700+ moorings that are available.

Points of Interest & Things To Do

Camp Emerald Bay

Located on the west end of the island in an undeveloped area, Camp Emerald Bay serves scouts, school groups, and youth summer camps. Offering access to secluded beaches and coves, hiking trails, and some of the areas best snorkeling and scuba diving, Emerald Bay is an unforgettable destination for campers to experience.  

Catalina Island Casino

The Catalina Island Casino in Avalon Bay opened in 1929 and is the central entertainment destination for the Island. In addition to being a casino, it is also a venue for Broadway productions, live entertainment, and motion pictures. The circular building was the first of it’s kind during the 1920s and is approximately 12-stories tall. The casino features the world’s largest circular ballroom without supporting pillars.

Catalina Island Country Club

The Catalina Visitors Country Club was originally built for the Chicago Cubs – William Wrigley’s baseball team. Today it features sports memorabilia on display and renovated Spanish Colonial Style Country Club now serves as a venue for weddings and private events.

Catalina Island Museum

The Catalina Island Museum displays 7,000 years of island history through a collection of unique exhibits. Guests will learn about early inhabitants, and the development of the island. Guests are invited to attend lectures, workshops, and events that are centered around the history and preservation of the island.

Civil War Barracks

In 1864, Catalina Island welcomed 83 U.S. soldiers to survey the area with plans to develop a reservation for Native Americans. The barracks were built to house the soldiers, but the plan for the reservation was never completed. The barracks were used off and on during the Civil War and WWII. The barracks were also used as housing for crews during development of Hollywood productions on the Island, including Mutiny on the Bounty and Old Ironside.

Descanso Beach Club

The Descanso Beach Club is a private beach with public access located in the cove near the Catalina Island Casino. The beach club is perfect for relaxing and enjoying the island waters and they offer cabanas, lounge chairs, and a restaurant that will deliver food and drinks right to your beach chair. Descanso Beach Club is also the central access point for island adventures with easy access to the zip line, climbing wall, aerial adventure, and water sports. The beach club hosts a variety of events including the annual Descanso Beach Club’s Beach Party, held every Saturday and Sunday during the summer with DJ’s and live music.

El Rancho Escondido

El Rancho Escondido is a working ranch located approximately 12 miles from the town of Avalon in an Island Valley. The ranch began as the Wrigley Family’s Arabian horse ranch. Today the ranch is home to Rusack Vineyards, an organic, sustainable agricultural operation for wine grapes.

Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens

The Wrigley Memorial was built in honor of William Wrigley Jr., founder of Wrigley Gum and the man who made great improvements to Catalina Island. Mr. Wrigley loved the island and brought many things to the area including public utilities, the casino, a hotel, steamships, and more. The Wrigley Memorial was built with materials sourced from the island. The Botanical Garden was developed for Ada Wrigley, and was originally planted with a variety of plants from around the world. The 37-acre garden was revitalized and today the garden puts an emphasis on plants native to the area, including those that are only found on Catalina Island. There are many rare and endangered plants located in the garden.

Avalon Beaches

Avalon has three public beaches and one private beach. Step Beach is located in the area in front of the Via Casino Arch, Middle Beach overlooks the center of the harbor and South Beach which is just to the right of the Pleasure Pier. Descanso Beach is the private beach.

Hiking

Catalina Island has more than 165 miles of roads and trails for hikers to explore including the 38.5 mile Trans Catalina Trail. There are many loop trail options and out-and-backs for hikers of varying skill levels. Hiking permits are required on Catalina Island and can be obtained online or at the Nature Center, the Conservancy House, the Airport in the Sky, and the Two Harbors Visitor Information Center for free. The Catalina Island Conservancy has a list and descriptions of many Catalina Island hikes.

Trans Catalina Trail:

  • Length: 38.5 miles
  • Trailheads: Avalon, Parson’s Landing, Two Harbors
  • Permit required

The Trans Catalina Trail covers over 38 miles of backcountry hiking through the hills and valleys of beautiful Catalina Island.

Fishing & Boating

There are multiple fishing and boating opportunities in and around Catalina Island including fishing charters, tours by boat, and personal boating options. Joe’s Rent-a-Boat and AFISHINADOS are available to rent boats for fishing or provide guided fishing trips. In addition to these local island businesses, there are several boating tours to help visitors explore the island and learn more about the water and wildlife. Some of the tours available are the Flying Fish Voyage, Cyclone Seal Rocks Safari, the Glass Bottom Boat Voyage, the Discover Two Harbors tour, and the Undersea Expedition.

More Things to Do

  • Golf Cart Rental: Private golf cart rentals are available in Avalon. Drive around cascading canyons and atop scenic hillsides while enjoying the breathtaking views of Avalon and beyond.
  • Catalina Ocean Runner: Skim across the water on a 500hp inflatable Ribcraft boat.
  • Glass Bottom Boat: See a variety of colorful fish and other sea life.
  • Falconry Experience: Learn the history and basic techniques of falconry
  • Extreme Hummer Tour: Climb 1,500 feet above sea level for views of Santa Catalina Island and the ocean beyond.
  • Skyline Drive Tour: Explore Santa Catalina Island’s protected wilderness area.
  • Zip Line Eco Tour: Propel down 5 separate zip lines dropping from 600 feet above sea level with one run that is 1,100 lineal feet long.
  • Undersea Expedition: See Catalina’s abundant marine life by cruising five feet under water.
  • Inland Expedition: Follows the 1800’s stagecoach route through Middle Ranch where you will see the Native Plant Nursery and the Bald Eagle habitat.
  • Bison Expedition: Ride in a convertible hummer takes you around the island to see the buffalo and other natural wildlife.
  • Helicopter Tour: Explore Santa Catalina Island from above.
  • Golf: Play golf with a canyon setting offering ocean Avalon Bay views or play a round of mini golf at Golf Gardens.

Camping

Bahia Azul

Bahia Azul is a secluded group camping site located at Two Harbors Campground. The campground comes with a fire pit and seating area, a gas grill, and portable toilets. The group campsite requires a minimum of 20 adults and can accommodate up to 30 adults.

Boat-In Camping

Catalina Island has nine boat-in camping locations and a total of 17 campsites. All boat-in camp sites are primitive and have no running water, structures of any kind, or restrooms. Campers must pack in their own equipment and supplies to these boat-in campsites, and all trash and waste must be packed out. Fires are not allowed in the primitive boat-in campsites, so campers should bring self-contained BBQs or camp stoves for cooking. It is recommended that campers to these locations bring a portable restroom and dispose of waste properly. Rangers check boat-in campsites daily. The locations of boat-in campsites are:

  • Rippers – 8.6 miles from Avalon / 4 miles from Two Harbors
  • Paradise Cove – 8.4 miles from Avalon / 4.25 miles from Two Harbors
  • Lava Wall – 8.1 miles from Avalon / 4.5 miles from Two Harbors
  • Gibraltar – 7.1 miles from Avalon / 5.5 miles from Two Harbors
  • Cabrillo – 7 miles from Avalon/ 5.75 miles from Two Harbors
  • Goat Harbor – 6.2 miles from Avalon / 6.4 miles from Two Harbors
  • Italian Gardens – 5.25 miles from Avalon / 7.4 miles from Two Harbors
  • Long Point Beach – 4.875 miles from Avalon / 7.75 from Two Harbors
  • Willow Cove – 2.75 miles from Avalon / 9.9 miles from Two Harbors

Blackjack Campground

Blackjack Campground is a hike-in campground located near Mt. Orizaba on Catalina Island, with groves of pine and eucalyptus trees. The campground sits 1,600 feet above sea level with sweeping ocean views and features 11 campsites. Blackjack campground includes picnic tables, BBQs and fire rings, chemical toilets, fresh water, and showers. Campers can take a shuttle to the trail head and hike a moderate 1.5 miles into the campground. Currently, no fires are allowed in the campground, but propane stoves are acceptable for meal preparation. Check with rangers to determine whether the fire status has been updated prior to camping.

Brisa Del Mar

Brisa Del Mar is a beachfront group camping site located at Two Harbors Campground. Brisa Del Mar is a prime camping location for fishing, snorkeling, and kayaking enthusiasts with easy access to the pristine island waters. Brisa Del Mar accommodates up to 30 adults, and a minimum of 20 adults is required for reservation. The group camp site features include a shade structure, toilets, and a charcoal grill.

Hermit Gulch

Hermit Gulch is the only campground located within Avalon’s city limits and is near the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens and the Nature Center. Hermit Gulch offers easy access to hiking trails and offers campers the occasional view of local wildlife. Amenities at Hermit Gulch include picnic tables, BBQ stands, restrooms with flush toilets and lights, outdoor sinks, potable water, coin operated showers, lockers, and vending machines. Hermit Gulch offers easy access to the campground office for basic supplies and is very close to town for convenient access to groceries, dining, shopping, and nightlife. Hermit Gulch is an ideal camping destination for first time campers.

Little Harbor

Little Harbor is a beachfront campground on the sand located on the back side of Catalina Island approximately seven miles east of Two Harbors. Campers can access the campground via Safari Bus, or by hiking or biking in on a strenuous trail. Amenities at the remote campground include picnic tables, BBQ, fire ring, chemical toilets, showers, and fresh water. Campers at Little Harbor will enjoy a variety of recreational activities including hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, and more.

Parsons Landing

Parsons Landing offers eight primitive beachfront camp sites in a secluded area located approximately seven miles west of Two Harbors. The campground is only accessible via kayak or a moderately difficult hike in to the area. It is a two and a half mile hike from Emerald Bay or a seven mile hike from Two Harbors. There are no shade structures or running water and campers must pack in all supplies and equipment. Campers must purchase a locker key with their reservation and each locker contains a bundle of firewood and two and a half gallons of water. Other amenities at Parsons Landing include picnic tables, chemical toilets, BBQs, and fire pits.

Two Harbors Campground

Two Harbors campground is located on the bluffs a quarter mile from Two Harbors. There are 42 camp sites and three group sites. Two Harbors campground is suitable for tent camping and also offers tent cabins. The tent cabins sleep up to six people and come equipped with cots, sun shades, camp stoves, picnic tables, lanterns, a BBQ, and fire rings. Additional amenities at Two Harbors campground include showers, chemical toilets, and fresh water. Rangers are available for equipment rentals, and for the purchase of firewood, charcoal, and propane.


Annual Events

January

Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Run – An annual run from Avalon to Two Harbors and back.

February

Annual Avalon Harbor Underwater Cleanup – Clean up the island waters and enjoy the only time of the year that allows SCUBA diving in Avalon Bay.
An Evening with Oscar – Catalina Island Medical Center benefit.

March

Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon

April

Annual Catalina Island Conservancy Ball
Community Easter Egg Hunt – Bring the kids to hunt for Easter Eggs at this community event.
Two Harbors Easter Egg Hunt
Catalina Spring Art Fair & Craft Festival

May

Catalina Island Rugby Festival

The Avalon Ball – Enjoy a blast to Catalina’s past as Dean Mora and the Avalon Ball Orchestra play hits from the 1920s and 30s.
Annual Silent Film Benefit – Enjoy silent films with live music accompaniment.

Annual Taste Around Avalon

Descanso Beach Club Beach Party – Summer beach Party runs May through September on Saturdays & Sunday from 1:00 p.m.- 5:00 p.m.

June

Annual Avalon Restaurant Week
Catalina Wine Mixer – Annual event at Descanso Beach Club with live music, food, and wine tasting.
Catalina: The Wild Side Dinner, Art Show & Sales
Descanso Beach Club Beach Party – Summer beach Party runs May through September on Saturdays & Sunday from 1:00 p.m.- 5:00 p.m.
Annual Summer Wine Festival

July

4th of July Celebration – Enjoy a day packed with fun including a parade, a USC Marching Band performance, BBQ Buffet dinner in the Casino Ballroom, and fireworks over Avalon bay.
Two Harbors Independence Day – Fireworks show, Children’s Fesitval and dinghy parade.
Two Harbors Summer Wine Festival
Descanso Beach Club Beach Party – Summer beach Party runs May through September on Saturdays & Sunday from 1:00 p.m.- 5:00 p.m.

August

Descanso Beach Club Beach Party – Summer beach Party runs May through September on Saturdays & Sunday from 1:00 p.m.- 5:00 p.m.
Summer Concert Series – Free family friendly concerts on Wrigley Stage on Front Street.
Summer Beach Bingo – South Beach Lifeguard stand on Tuesday & Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Kids Fishing Derby – 7:00 a.m. at the Green Pier on Wednesdays.

September

59th Annual Catalina Channel Crossing – U.S. Outrigger Championships
Catalina Mini Golf Open 
Catalina Island Women’s Forum Wine Festival 
Catalina Film Festival
Annual Catalina Festival of Art
Catalina Island Conservancy Half Marathon
Annual Jimmy Walker “Buffalo Chip” Toss
Two Harbors Microbrew Fest

October

Annual Buccaneer Days
The Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival

Fall Fest 
Catalina Film Festival
Oktoberfest
Annual Halloween Parade

November

Annual Catalina Island Triathlon & Duathlon 
Catalina Trail Venture Weekend

December

Annual “Shop Avalon” Night
New Year’s Eve Celebration


Where to Stay

Banning House Lodge

Banning House Lodge is a craftsman-style bed and breakfast with views of Catalina Harbor. Banning House was built in 1910 and is located on a hill near Two Harbors. There are 12 rooms with private baths, a Common Lodge, Courtyard, and Sun Room. A complimentary continental breakfast is served for guests daily, and wine and cheese socials every evening in the courtyard from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Banning House is conveniently located near Two Harbors, offering guests the opportunity to enjoy all the amenities the Island has to offer including beach activities, sight seeing, shopping, and dining.

Catalina Cabins

Catalina Cabins are located in Two Harbors and are available for reservation from November through March. Cabins accommodate two people and include a small fridge and heater. Guests are required to bring their own towel, pillow, and sleeping bag. Catalina Cabin guests have access to an outdoor community kitchen, coin-operated showers, and restrooms. Catalina Cabins are ideal for guests who are looking for a step above camping, rather than a traditional hotel.

Hotel Atwater

Hotel Atwater in Avalon was fully renovated in 2019. Reservations are being accepted for stays beginning in August 2019 for the Grand Reopening. Originally opened in 1920, the historic hotel will include 94 all new guest rooms, a fitness center, and PKW Restaurant & Bar.

Mt. Ada

The Mt. Ada Bed and Breakfast located in Avalon features six guest rooms, a den with a bar, a cozy fireplace, and a wraparound terrace for enjoying sprawling views of the island. Guest at Mt. Ada will enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner receptions, and a complimentary Butler’s Pantry stocked with fresh fruit, soft drinks, mixed nuts, beer and wine, snacks, and more. Each guest receives complimentary golf cart use during their stay. Guests can also use the pool, hot tub, and relaxation deck at the Island Spa Catalina.

Pavilion Hotel

The Pavilion Hotel in Avalon is the island’s premier resort destination located just steps from the beach. Guests at the Pavilion Hotel will enjoy a variety of amenities and activities, many of which are included in the cost of the stay. The hostel offers a hot breakfast with build your own omelet bar, evening wine and cheese receptions, access to Descanso Beach Club, use of the Island Spa Catalina’s Wellness Studio, complimentary tours and activities, and much more.

Villa Santa Cruz

Villa Santa Cruz in Two Harbors is a cottage-style destination in a fully furnished home. Villa Santa Cruz features three bedrooms and a loft, a fully equipped kitchen, a solarium, and a patio with Harbor views. Guests of Villa Santa Cruz are invited to enjoy complimentary continental breakfasts and evening wine and cheese socials at Banning House Lodge.

Villa Santa Rosa

Villa Santa Rosa in Two Harbors is a fully furnished home with two master suites, in-suite bathrooms, and two additional guestrooms to accommodate up to eight guests. Guests will enjoy the fully equipped kitchen and the over sized patio with sweeping island views. The amenities of Two Harbors are just a short walk away, and guests are invited to enjoy daily complimentary continental breakfasts and evening wine and cheese receptions at Banning House Lodge.


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Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.