top of page
  • Writer's pictureWanderlust Mike

Exploring Paradise: Top Activities to Enjoy on Santa Catalina Island, CA

Catalina Island is definitely Southern California's island vibe!

We try to get to Santa Catalina Island, California, at least once a year. It's approximately 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, and a great place to see pristine underwater kelp forests or just relax. With a local population under 4,000, it's got that laid-back island vibe, and very few vehicles other than the occasional golf cart.

One-million visitors escape to the island oasis of Catalina each year. There are multiple locations that offer ferry boats to the island via the Catalina Express. We usually embark from Long Beach, but you may also choose San Pedro or Dana Point here in Southern California.

descanso beach catalina island
Descanso Beach

A few of our favorite shops and restaurants in Avalon include Afishinados with handcrafted decor that's everything ocean, Catalina Bath & Body, Coyote Joe's Bar & Restaurant for some hearty Mexican food, Antonio's Pizzeria with seating over the marina, and Descanso Beach Club (because it's all about location).

Along with shops and restaurants, there are many activities on the island. You can take the Garibali Public Bus to the Wrigley Memorial Botanic Garden, enjoy ziplining down a canyon, go parasailing past the harbor, or snorkel or scuba dive at the marine sanctuary, Descanso Beach, and Lovers Cove. You can rent a wetsuit and snorkel gear at Descanso Beach Ocean Sports, where you can also rent kayaking equipment. This year, we attended the 33rd Annual JazzTrax Festival in the casino ballroom. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy the views and lighting from the ballroom and was a spectacular event!

Wrigley monument at the gardens
parasailing catalina island
catalina island snorkeling underwater
Underwater near the casino
jazztrax catalina island
JazzTrax at the casino

If you don't want to snorkel or scuba, you can still witness the abundant underwater life with a semi-submersible boat ride. If you're there during the Summer months, you can witness the fabled flying fish at night! Another activity for the evening is catching a movie at the nostalgic art deco theater inside the casino.

Undersea Expedition Semi-Submersible boat
Semi-submersible boat
flying fish catalina island
Flying fish
Mural inside the casino theater

We strongly recommend spending a night or two on the island. Once the day-trippers have left, you'll find the harbor town of Avalon much more peaceful and relaxing. While we haven't yet found the perfect lodging for us, you can search for your own using Google maps, AirBnB, or VRBO.

Catalina Island was once owned by William Wrigley, Jr., and during it's heyday from the 1920's through the 1950's was the site of Hollywood films, lavish celebrity parties in the casino, and even the Chicago Cubs Spring training camp! For more about the history of the island, we recommend a visit to the new Catalina Island Museum.

Today, Santa Catalina Island is an escape for many Southern Californians and also a world-class destination. While times have changed, the island remains timeless. You really must experience our beloved Catalina for yourself.

santa catalina island harbor california


bottom of page