Credit: Catalina Express

How to Spend a Sunny Fall Day on Catalina Island

Everything You Should Do on a Getaway to This Scenic Island

Summer may be coming to a close, but Catalina Island is just as sunny and stunning as ever. In fact, a fall visit to Catalina Island means you’ll avoid the busy crowds and still enjoy the pristine weather. Though you can easily fill a weekend with fun on Catalina, it is also a great place to escape for a SoCal trip. From the ferry trip there to dining on the water and exploring by foot or Jeep, you’ll surely soak up the natural beauty of this magical island with our tips on how to plan the perfect fall day on Catalina Island.

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Head Over on the Catalina Express

Catalina Island Day Trip
Credit: Catalina Express

No, you don’t need a private boat to get to this California island. The Catalina Express is a spacious and modern ferry that takes you to Catalina in style. For 42 years, this passenger ferry has been porting people to the island, with over 1 million passengers who set sail every year. What started with one boat and one phone has emerged as an entire fleet—each vessel with innovative features like full ride-control systems, modern navigational abilities, airline-style cabin seating and panoramic viewing windows. Travelers can leave from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point, and each port has different schedules of departure—one leaving as early as 6 a.m. While the boats do have seating inside, the upper deck is great for those who want to enjoy the fresh ocean air. It is also pretty common to sail alongside dolphins, adding a little magic to your adventure before you even dock.



Visit Catalina Museum for Art & History’s “Cabinet of Curiosities”

Credit: Catalina Museum
Credit: Catalina Museum for Art & History / James Kao

In the heart of Avalon, you will find the rich history of SoCal’s favorite island. The Catalina Museum for Art & History showcases the best displays in art, history, music, dance and film by creative talent from all over the world. Starting Sept. 9, the iconic museum will feature a fun and fascinating exhibition—“Cabinet of Curiosities: 70 Objects for 70 Years”—to celebrate its 70th anniversary. This display will feature a collection of rare objects that have hidden within the vaults of the museum, many yet to be seen by the public. Don’t miss these treasures from the permanent collection!



Camping or Boat and Hotel Packages

Credit: Catalina Island Company

A true immersion into island life involves camping in the elements. There are multiple campgrounds on Catalina, including Black Jack, which is situated at the foot of Mt. Orizaba; Parson’s Landing, a secluded option 7 miles west of Two Harbors; and Little Harbor, located on the backside of the island. If none of those are remote enough for you, consider the boat-in camping options for a truly secluded coastal stay. Or go rustic with the Tent Cabins in both Avalon and Two Harbors. Should a hotel stay be more your speed, take a look at the Boat and Hotel Packages offered by Catalina Express. You can select from various bundles, such as the Paradise Package, which provides round-trip ferry travel, oceanfront hotel accommodations, continental breakfast and milk and cookies before bed! There’s even a Weekday Getaway Package that includes taxi travel to and from the boat—a way to ensure you’ll break from the office—and a bottle of sparkling wine. 



Lace Up Your Hiking Shoes

Catalina Island Day Trip
Credit: Catalina Island

It should come as no surprise that Catalina Island offers some of the best hiking in the state. Accessible from Two Harbors and Avalon, there are three hiking trails that traverse the entire island. If camping and backpacking is the plan, then the 38.5-mile Trans-Catalina Trail is a great option. You can hike from one side of the island to another, or break it up into smaller excursions. With Catalina Backcountry, you can hire a team to deliver your gear, supply firewood, set up your campsite and even bring you dinner. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Garden to Sky Trail is a 2.5-mile hike that offers 360-degree views amid diverse microclimates. Because it starts at The Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, there is a small entrance fee. The Two Harbors to Parsons Landing Trail is a beautiful, 6.6-mile hike alongside the island’s coast.



Jeep Tour Excursions

Credit: Ernie Rodriguez

What better way to experience the natural beauty of Catalina than on an exciting Jeep tour? This naturalist-led Conservancy Eco Tour allows visitors to explore parts of the island most people never see. This educational experience teaches travelers about the rich history of the island while wheeling them into the wildlands. You’ll see unique plants and wildlife—even bison! When booking, select from two- or three-hour tours and a preferred start time.



Lunch at Bluewater Grill

Credit: Palm + Ocean

There’s no better spot to dine than a waterfront restaurant that has an airy outdoor deck overlooking the water, and Bluewater Grill checks all of those boxes. This inviting bistro is famous for its fresh, sustainably caught seafood and seasonal specials. Bluewater Grill is the perfect late-lunch spot, where you can ease into a Catalina night with good food and great atmosphere. Enjoy appetizers like the Maryland-style crab cakes or the seared scallops with roasted jalapeño aioli. And definitely save room for dessert—go tart with the Key lime pie or rich with the java mud pie.


Relax at Descanso Beach Club

Credit: Catalina Island Company

Descanso Beach Club is the ultimate place to unwind with a refreshing drink in hand. The Original Buffalo Milk is a must-order cocktail (or go classic with a colada or daiquiri) that’ll help you kick back and relax amid an epic ocean view. The crystal-clear cove is perfect for swimming or floating, and you might even see some vibrant Garibaldi fish during your dip. You can also rent chaise lounges or a luxe cabana during your day club visit. 



Dinner at Avalon Grille

Credit: Avalon Grille

Despite having an upscale vibe, Avalon Grille is a laid-back and delicious restaurant that’s located steps away from Avalon Bay. The handcrafted cocktails and world-class wines pair perfectly with the coastal California cuisine. Try the famous Wrigley Martini, a local favorite that pays tribute to the island’s owners. For dinner, start with the lobster crostini and flash-fried green beans before enjoying the bison filet with asiago cheese polenta. 


Have a Drink at Luau Larry’s

From tiki-themed decor to tropical cocktails, a drink at Luau Larry’s is the perfect way to end a trip to Catalina Island. Catch the tail end of sunset and soak up the harbor views out front before heading inside for a Wiki Wacker cocktail. Both refreshing and tasty, this libation comes with one of the bar’s iconic straw hats, ensuring that you’ll leave with a buzz and a souvenir.


Boat Back or Stay the Night

Once the day has come to a close, board the Catalina Express and head back to your port! The boat ride takes around an hour, and sailing through the ocean at night is a special experience. If you’re not ready for the fun to end, however, book a room at one of the island’s charming hotels with one of the Boat and Hotel Packages. From the recently renovated Bellanca Hotel to Mt. Ada, home of the former Wrigley Mansion, there are plenty of great options to enjoy before ferrying back the next morning.


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Allie Lebos graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2017 with a BA in Communication. While in school she was a staff writer at The Daily Nexus for nearly two years. Since graduating she has written for The Palisades Magazine, as well as Hidden Hills Magazine. Currently living in Santa Monica, Allie loves to indulge in good food, hot yoga, and daily walks along the beach; writing articles on travel, special events, as well as features on local businesses and individuals.




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