24 Hours on Catalina Island

I have a thing for discovering United States cities that feel like international destinations. That’s why, when I learned that Catalina Island, the southernmost island of California’s Channel Islands, resembles one of my favorite destinations, Italy’s Amalfi Coast, it was a no-brainer for me to visit while I was in Los Angeles. Catalina Island is only 22 miles south of LA. The island consists of two towns: Avalon Harbor on the east end and Two Harbors on the west end.

Here’s a travel guide to spending 24 hours on Catalina Island:

Best time to visit Catalina Island

According to one of my tour guides, while Catalina Island is beautiful all year, March and April is the best time to visit to experience its lush greenery.

Getting to Catalina Island

The most common way to get to Catalina Island is taking an hour-long ferry ride. The two boat companies that offer ferry services to the island are the Catalina Express and the Catalina Flyer. The Catalina Express offers more departing options. It departs from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point, and stops at both Avalon and Two Harbors, but the Catalina Flyer only departs from Newport Beach. I traveled on the Catalina Express with a Commodore Lounge ticket which granted me priority boarding, a complimentary snack and beverage (includes both alcoholic and soft drinks), and reclining seats.

Pro-tip: Get an early ferry ticket to maximize your time and to experience the island when it’s less crowded. We took the 9:50 am ferry from Long Beach, but the earliest departure time is 6 am.

Where to Stay on Catalina Island

We decided to spend our time in the main town of Catalina Island, Avalon. We stayed at the chic art-deco-inspired Hotel Atwater. The location of Hotel Atwater is fantastic. We were walking distance away from most activities.

Where to Eat

Descano Beach Club

By the time we checked in and stored our luggage at Hotel Atwater, it was lunchtime. We grabbed lunch and drinks at the Descano Beach Club, Avalon’s only beachside restaurant and bar. We sat on the ocean-view patio, relaxed, and soaked up all the beautiful surrounding scenery while enjoying our meal.

Pete’s Cafe

We stumbled upon Pete’s after our afternoon Bison Tour. From 2-5pm they have a happy hour where they offer $1 tacos and 1/2 priced beers, margaritas, and Palomas. The tacos and drinks were so good we returned the next day.

Other restaurants that were highly recommended but we weren’t able to make it to include:

For breakfast…

Original Jack’s Country Kitchen, Breakfast fare

For Lunch…

Lobster Trap House, Seafood restaurant

Antonio’s, Italian fare

For Dinner…

Avalon Grille, American Eatery

The Naughty Fox, American Fare

El Galleon, American Comfort Fare

How to get around Catalina Island

Rent a golf cart

If there’s one thing I regret not doing is renting a golf cart to explore the island. It’s one of the best ways to drive around the island and take up all the amazing views. Downtown Catalina has golf cart rental companies where you can rent the cart by the hour.

Things to Do

Go on a Bison Expedition Tour

After lunch, we headed to our Bison Expedition Tour. This 2- hour 4-wheeler adventure was so much fun! We lucked out and came across 16 bison during our tour. Although bison spotting is not guaranteed, this expedition is a fun way to learn about Catalina’s history and get some of the best views of the island. Cindy, our expedition leader was hilarious and really sweet.

Walk around Avalon

Avalon is a walkable city. It was fun strolling along the waterfront admiring the harbor during sunset and also relaxing to walk around its quaint residential streets. There are several self-guided walks around Avalon you can enjoy.

Pro-tip: Check out Chimes Tower for some of the most beautiful views that are conveniently accessible from town.

Go on a Ziplining Eco Tour

On the morning of our departure, we went on the Zipline Eco Tour. I’ve been on many zip lines all over the world and this was one of my favorites! Our guides Hunter and Trent got us ready for the adventure with the most comprehensive ziplining onboarding I’ve ever received and they led us throughout the excursion. What makes this experience unique is that because it’s an eco-tour, in between zipping canopies, the guides talk about the different flora and fauna found in Catalina.

Things I didn’t do this time but will do next time…

Try Buffalo Milk

Buffalo Milk is the official drink of Catalina Island. It’s a creamy libation similar to a White Russian. I asked my guides which restaurant makes the best Buffalo Milk on the Island and they recommended Buffalo Nickel.

Go on a Tour of the Catalina Casino

There’s no gambling at the Catalina Casino. This art deco architectural masterpiece was once used as a movie theater, for dining, and dancing. It currently hosts major events throughout the year. There are two tours offered that discuss the history of the casino: Discover the Casino and Behind the Scenes Casino.

My overnight stay at Catalina Island was adventured filled! I definitely want to go back to experience more of the beautiful Island sooner than later.

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Disclaimer: I was hosted by Catalina Island Company, but all opinions expressed here are my own.


Jewels Rhode

Frequent Flyer. Chief Enjoyment Officer. Helping you make your travel dreams a reality!