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Take a Ferry to Catalina Island

By Edited Jun 14, 2014 2 4

See Charming Avalon Beach

For a Relaxing Catalina Island Vacation

If you are planning a trip to Southern California, there are many wonderful attractions you will want to include in your itinerary. You may want to see Hollywood, spend a day at Universal Studios, or go for a bike ride in Venice Beach. You may also be interested in visiting Disneyland or the Aquarium of the Pacific. Whatever else you have on your list, one excursion you may want to include is a trip to Catalina Island. The charming small town of Avalon on Catalina Island has been a popular tourist destination for decades. It has a temperate climate, and seems far away from all the hustle and bustle of the city of Los Angeles. Best of all, the island is located only 22 miles from the coast of Southern California.

Because of its proximity to Los Angeles County and Orange County, first time visitors may assume that Catalina is just another crowded tourist attraction. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The island is 22 miles long and 8 miles wide at the widest spot, and less than 15% of it is occupied. There are two towns on the island ... Avalon, which has a year round population of less than 4,000 people, and Two Harbors, which has a population of about 300.

Santa Catalina Island Beach

Most people who take a trip to Catalina absolutely fall in love with the place.  If you are interested in reading more about about it, or finding great places to eat or stay, you may want to use this direct link to books on Amazon.com about Catalina Island.

Traveling to Catalina Island is Easy

Visitors normally take the ferry to Catalina Island, although it is also possible to take a helicopter or fly on a private plane. The ferries leave from San Pedro, Newport Beach and Dana Point. The ferry ride takes about 60 to 90 minutes, depending on which port you choose to begin your trip, and a helicopter ride takes about 15 minutes. In the right season, you may be able to see dolphins or whales on the ferry ride. Catalina Island is also a popular destination for Southern California boaters who enjoy taking their yachts to the island during summer weekends. If you are planning to arrive by ferry, here are the phone numbers you will need to make your reservations:

Catalina Express at (310) 519-1212 or (800) 618-5533. They depart from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point.

The Catalina Flyer at (800) 830-7744. They depart from the Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach.

I have used both ferry services, and found them to be efficient and pleasant.

The Town of Avalon is Lovely

When your ferry reaches the pier at Avalon, you will discover a town unlike anything else you will see in Southern California. The entire community is only about one square mile and consists of a variety of colorful old cottages, shops and small hotels. However, the focal point of the village is the lovely Casino building. It is still called the Casino, even though gambling no longer goes on inside. However, you will find a fascinating museum there that includes a permanent exhibit that depicts the island's history.

Explore the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy

Approximately 88% of the island of Santa Catalina is controlled by the non-profit Santa Catalina Island Conservancy which is dedicated to keeping most of the island in its natural state. Among the more unusual wildlife you may see is the herd of wild bison which roams the conservancy area of the island. The herd tends to range in size from about 150 – 600 animals. With a special permit, it is possible to hike or bicycle in the interior conservancy areas. You can contact them at (310) 510-2595.

There's plenty to do on Catalina Island

Just taking a stroll around Avalon is a fun day long excursion, and since the main village is so small it is easy to walk everywhere. However, don't assume that this sleepy little town is devoid of other fun activities. There are lovely beaches, several tennis courts, a golf course, fishing excursions, tour boats, a botanical garden and many lovely spots to go hiking and biking. Automobiles on the island are severely restricted, so the most common mode of transportation is to rent a golf cart. You can even rent carts that will carry up to six people! However, there are a few vehicles on the island and you can take a taxi, a trolley or a shuttle bus to your destination, if necessary. Bicycles are also available for rent.

While on Catalina Island you can also go parasailing, diving, kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking. If you don't want to get wet, you can also take a glass bottom boat ride, or go down in a "semi-submersible." They are similar to submarines, but they just barely go beneath the surface. In addition, Catalina now has a Zip Line Eco Tour that is a truly unique way to see some of the Conservancy land. Information about most of these opportunities will be available at the pier where you land. That is also where you will be able to rent a golf cart.

Quaint Catalina Island Hotels

There are also some charming old hotels where you can stay if you decide to spend a night or two on the island. Among the hotels are the Hotel Atwater (that has operated since the 1920's), the Pavilion Lodge, the Hermosa Hotel and Cottage, the Glenmore Plaza Hotel and the Catalina Canyon Resort. There are bed and breakfasts on the island, as well, including The Old Turner Inn and the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel. If you decide to go in the winter, many of them have very affordable vacation packages available. Here are some contact numbers to help you:

The Old Turner Inn at (310) 510-2236 or (800) 410-2336

Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel at (310) 510-0966 or (800) 3-PUEBLO

Atwater Hotel at (800) 626-7270

The Avalon Hotel at (310) 510-7070

Catalina Beach House Hotel at (310) 510-1078

Catalina Canyon Resort and Spa (310) 510-0325

Glenmore Plaza Hotel at (310) 510-0017

Hermosa Hotel & Cottages at (877) 453-1313 or (310) 510-1010

Pavilion Hotel at (800) 626-7270

If you are looking for a vacation rental on the island, you should contact Castaway Cottage at (310) 510-9574, Catalina Island Vacation Rentals at (310) 510-2276 or Hamilton Cove Vacation Rentals at (310) 510-0190.

If you are traveling in Southern California, and are looking for other fun places to visit, you may also want to read some of these articles:

Enjoy the Laguna Beach Summer Art Festivals

New Attractions at Southern California Theme Parks

Top 10 Things To Do In Newport Beach California

Top 6 Things To Do Near Disneyland

Top 10 Things To Do In Laguna Beach 

A Handy Guide for Planning Your Vacation

Catalina Island 2008 Vacation Planner: Relax, You're on Island Time
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Jun 14, 2014)
Get the vacation info you need for a wonderful trip to this charming, romantic village.


Jun 7, 2011 10:40am
"Take a ferry to Catalina Island" is something we have talked about doing on each of our four trips to CA. Each trip, it got bumped off the list for another stop. Next trip, (I wish it was this year so I could drop in on the IB lunch.)it will be at the top of the list. Thanks for sharing tips on how to make the arrangements.
Jun 7, 2011 10:46pm
We love going over to Catalina. Is is such a charming town. My husband and I have been going there for 40 years, and it is still very similar to the way it was then. It's almost like a time capsule!
Jun 8, 2011 2:52pm
Sounds like a blast. The last time I was on a ferry was in 2008 in NZ, from the South Island to the North!
Jun 9, 2011 1:30pm
We had friends who got married at the casino. Spectacular setting for a wedding! When you take a helicopter to Catalina, you may see schools of Dolphins playing in the water. If your pilot is friendly, he may even hover for a while so you can take in the sight and get some photos!
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