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Photo By: Amanda Proudfit
Photo By: Amanda Proudfit

Everything You Need to Know to Have a Blast on Catalina Island

A Day in Southern California’s Hidden Paradise Catalina Island

Written By: Blake Pinto Catalina Island
Photographed By: Amanda Proudfit

On a crisp, clear and beautiful day in sunny Southern California, Catalina Island sits about 22 miles off the coast; a mysterious treasure of land resting on the horizon, oft forgotten among the many activities offered along California’s shoreline. “Why haven’t we ever been there before?” people ask themselves. “I bet it’s beautiful.”

It most definitely is.

For those not afforded the luxury of leisurely floating across the pacific on their yacht, the Catalina Express departing from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point is a perfect alternative. A general admission ticket is required, or there is an option to upgrade for those feeling fancy, which grants exclusive access to “The Commodore Lounge.”  For those that plan to be there for only a day or two, everything you need can fit into an ordinary backpack, which is convenient for the amount of walking the island has in store. The key is to pack light—an outfit or two, bathing suit, towel, sunscreen, sunglasses. For everything there is to do on the island, most items will be provided.

The glide across the ocean from Long Beach took about an hour, but felt like mere minutes. Sunscreen and a sweater are all that is needed for this part of the journey, and only for those who plan to sit outside, which should be everyone.

The deck of the Express greets its passengers with sunshine, a cool ocean breeze and, on most trips, views of a school of dolphins to point and giggle about with a mixed crowd of people from California to the Middle East. Sometimes it’s even possible to see a breaching whale.

Soon enough, the Catalina Express reaches the quaint little inlet of Avalon Bay. Time to reapply that sunscreen. Now, there are a few options for transportation on the island, most notably the famous Catalina golf carts. Everything in Avalon is within a 15-20 minute walk and this is the option most people will choose. So, it is important to take footwear that is comfortable walking distances in, or at least something to change into at the hotel.

Just a five-minute walk from where the Catalina Express docks is The Pavilion Hotel. There are two choices: check in immediately or go for a nice walk and begin discovering the multitude of activities the small city has to offer. There are more than 25 tours to take part in just in Avalon.  

So, forget the waiting lines—it’s time to explore. We head north along the Catalina coastline, passing the famous Catalina Island Casino, pristine water at our side inviting a gaze at the school of fish beneath its surface, eventually reaching the secluded but alluring Descanso Beach Club. Our table for lunch is maybe 25 feet away from petite waves on the coast slapping against the pebbles on the beach, as various reggae artists set the ultimate beach vibe with their island accents serenading us from the speakers at the bar. The wooden tables are simply set, with a small metal pail in the middle holding all of our utensils, while beach umbrellas rise above keeping us cool on this particularly sunny day. After enjoying a Cobb salad and their Fisherman’s Catch with a couple of water bottles, we head in the direction of Catalina’s wildly popular Zipline Eco Tour.

Closed toed shoes are a requirement to zip line, so it is important to bring a pair with you. The rest of the equipment is provided: helmet, carabiners, zip line trolley, straps, lockers (for anything in your pockets), locker keys and most importantly hilarious tour guides.

After a brief ride in a bus to the top of Catalina’s mountains, with some history and fun facts mixed in, we head through the Zipline Eco Tour gate and step onto the first of five wooden platforms with a zip line extending out until reaching another platform in the distance (from 500-1, 000 yards). Trees and rocks are all that sit below. There are no safety nets here.

Though all the equipment is already provided, there is one thing each person must bring: personality. The tour starts off with nervous jitters and a lack of volunteers willing to step off the wooden ledge, but by the end has people jumping at the opportunity to go first and striking a pose while they zip through the air at speeds up to 45 mph, offering beautiful views of the island and The Descanso Beach Club below.

Upon finishing our exhilarating tour, we stroll back towards the ocean and find a small water sports rental stand offering kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkeling. Kayaking is the most common rental, and again not much equipment is needed to have a blast. The employees hook us up with a two-person kayak, life jackets and oars. Sunscreen is especially important here as well, along with a bathing suit (good luck NOT getting wet) and for pictures it’s best to go with a GoPro in watertight casing for the best shots. The kayaks are allowed most places, minus the main harbor at Avalon, and the employees advised us we can go as far out as we dare; even back to the California coast as long as the kayaks are back by 5:00 p.m.

Following kayaking, it’s finally time to check into The Pavilion. Sure enough, the crowd has dissipated by this point and check in is a breeze. The airy hotel, mere steps away from the beach, feels like a miniature resort. A field of grass creates a central courtyard, complete with pairs of lounge chairs to sunbathe and relax on as well as a fire pit to lounge next to after a long day walking the island. The rooms surround the courtyard, with miniature palms and other shrubbery providing privacy for each room’s personal patio. Upon entering the room, especially after a day of adventures, the spacious layout makes it the perfect breathe of fresh air. We leave the patio door open to let a light breeze sweep through and fall into cloudlike mattresses and pillows; only after eating the complimentary chocolates that have been awaiting our arrival. But there’s still so much left to do.

Complimentary wine and cheese hour is a great way to kick off the evening, before trekking off again on a five-minute walk to the local miniature golf course, “Golf Gardens.” Fun fact: it is known as one of the most difficult putt-putt courses in the country. Again it is best to keep things simple, and by this point a light sweater is more proper attire than a bathing suit. Then simply grab some balls, clubs and a scorecard and get golfing.

After crossing “golf’s hardest miniature golf course” off the bucket list, there can be only one thing left: Happy Hour! Though, most hours in Catalina are quite happy, there’s only one kind that offers discounted booze. Avalon Grille is going to be the spot you’ll find many frequenting. Again, steps from the beach and with an airy and open atmosphere, the restaurant provides a perfect cap to an eventful day. A Happy Hour offering of fish or chicken tacos, sliders and wings paired with beer, wine, martinis or cocktails to sip on while people watching the Catalina crowd from one of the most polished restaurants on the island becomes an adventure in itself. Finally we returned to our rooms, after a brief stint enjoying the mesmerizing fire pit, and said goodnight to a wonderful day.

The worst part about the next morning is the knowledge we would soon be departing. But, not before a complimentary breakfast spread of quiche, bacon, sausage, bagels and some fresh squeezed orange juice. Packing light means it’s easier to repack, and after a short walk back to the Catalina Express, we bid farewell to Southern California’s most overlooked gem.

Native Knowledge: Not only does the Zipline Eco Tour provide an exhilarating experience for guests, but the employees are a part of the Catalina Island Conservancy; helping to protect all wildlife on the island as well as the undeveloped land.

5 Wildlife to Keep an Eye Out for During a Visit to the Island

  1. Catalina Island Fox: The largest, and cutest, predator on the island.
  2. Bald Eagles: Because ‘Merica
  3. Santa Catalina Island Shrew: Rumored to be the size of a dime.
  4. American Bison: Imported in the 1920’s, their numbers once grew to around 600. The conservancy now attempts to keep their numbers around 200 because of a lack of water.
  5. Harbor Seal: If you plan to go fishing, you better watch your bait!

Catalina Express Long Beach Port
320 Golden Shore
Long Beach, CA 90802

Pavilion Hotel
513 Crescent Ave.
Avalon, CA 90704

Zip Line Eco Tour
1 St. Catherine Way
Avalon, CA 90704
A Day in Avalon

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Amanda Proudfit’s passion for photography began in a beginning film class in high school. From there a love for both analog and digital photography grew. She finds joy in many types of photography, whether it is landscapes or portraits, lifestyle or wedding shoots, any chance she can take to get behind the camera always makes her happy.

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