Outdoor Activities Catalina Island
Credit: Love Catalina

8 Things to Do on Catalina Island for the Adventurous Traveler

From Camping and Boating to Beach Clubs, Here’s How to Enjoy a Breath of Fresh Air on Catalina Island

For the outdoorsy jetsetter looking to skip the airport hassle—Catalina Island is the place for you. The mountainous island remains mostly undeveloped, but it’s punctuated with the lovely towns of Avalon and Two Harbors, making it ideal for outdoor exploration. From the moment you step onto the fast and convenient Catalina Express to the time you get back to the mainland, your connection to the island will surely scratch your itch for adventure. So pack your hiking boots and head to the harbor to start your endless summer. Here are eight things to experience on Catalina Island for the adventurous traveler.

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Adventurous Tours

The rugged nature of the west side of Catalina is undoubtedly what solidifies the island’s earthy charm. There are several tours available that’ll help you experience the island’s natural beauty and marine life, including the Undersea Sub Expedition, which takes guests 5 feet below sea level in a spacious, climate-controlled vessel, and the Glass Bottom Boat Voyage, where guests get to explore Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve. For a nighttime excursion, the Flying Fish Voyage offers an up close and personal after-dark experience aboard the Cyclone, which is equipped with a searchlight that entices the fish to jump and soar across the water’s surface. For those who aren’t afraid of heights, the Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour is an epic way to see Catalina from a new perspective. Zipliners will enjoy sweeping ocean views as they zigzag down and across the canyon on five separate lines through a grove of eucalyptus trees.

 

Sea the Marine Life

For an even closer look at Catalina’s abundant marine life, grab a set of fins and dive into the refreshing island water! Snorkeling is an interactive activity for all skill levels. Pack the GoPro and swim with seven-foot sea bass, striped yellowtail and California’s iconic garibaldi! Catalina also boasts the best diving spots in Southern California. Scuba divers can find angel sharks, bat rays and even sunken ships at the 2.5-acre Casino Point Dive Park in Avalon. This protected underwater oasis offers the best snorkeling and diving on the island. Looking for something equally as thrilling but slightly less wet? Jet out on a boat and soar 800 feet above the water for breathtaking views on an unforgettable parasailing adventure.

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Explore the Rugged Coast

Outdoor Activities Catalina Island
Credit: Love Catalina

As the Catalina Express pulls into the island’s harbor, you’ll immediately spot bright garibaldi fish through the glassy water. The 52-mile coast is teeming with vibrant marine life and lush kelp forests. Get a closer look at Wonderland-like wildlife and explore hidden coves while piloting a stand-up paddleboard or kayak. Paddleboards provide a bird’s-eye view to the action below, and ocean kayaks make for easy fun for the whole family. Embark on your own adventure with rentals from Wet Spot Rentals—Avalon’s one-stop shop for water sport essentials—or from the Two Harbors Dive and Recreation Center on the other side of the island. To discover more about native species and the island’s history, we recommend a guided tour.

 

Experience the Historic Catalina Casino

Step back in time as you wander through one of Catalina’s most iconic landmarks: the Catalina Casino. It’s not that kind of casino, but prepare to be enchanted by the magnificent, hand-painted murals that adorn the entrance of this architectural gem. Originally constructed in 1929, the Avalon Theatre has been fully restored to its original splendor, featuring opulent solid black walnut panels, art deco furnishings, Tiffany-inspired lighting fixtures and stunning gold-leaf embellishments. The awe-inspiring acoustics, resonating beneath the theater’s magnificent 50-foot domed ceiling, were not only revered but also meticulously recreated by the architects behind New York’s Radio City Music Hall. During your tour, don’t miss the opportunity to step out onto the Ocean Promenade, encircling the Wrigley Ballroom, which offers some of the most breathtaking vistas of Avalon.

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Stay 3 Nights Package

Outdoor Activities Catalina Island
Credit: Pavilion Hotel

Spend more time exploring all that Catalina Island has to offer with an extended escape. When booking two nights at the Pavilion Hotel or Hotel Atwater, you’ll get a third night! Use your extended time on Catalina to hike on the beautiful trails, zip-line through a grove of eucalyptus trees and wine and dine at the many seaside restaurants and enjoy epic sunsets!

Local Insight: Feeling extra adventurous? Make a reservation at Avalon’s only campground, Hermit Gulch! This campsite is tucked into the surrounding hills of Avalon Canyon and is close to hiking trails and downtown Avalon, making it perfect for travelers who want the best of both worlds.

 

Culinary Experiences

Outdoor Activities Catalina Island
Credit: Catalina Island Company

Catalina Island may be small, but it isn’t short on places to sip and savor. Adjacent to Hotel Atwater, Bistro at the Atwater is a hip spot to start your day with everything from tasty bagels and muffins to fresh sandwiches, salads and wraps. For a family-friendly hotspot, head to Antonio’s and enjoy their menu of wood-fired flatbreads, bison burgers, hearty salads, wings, tacos and amazing desserts! Other local favorites include Avalon Grille for California cuisine, Bluewater Grill for fresh seafood and Luau Larry’s for Hawaiian-inspired fare (and festivities!). Those who are 21 and up can enjoy the Flx Biergarten—the island’s first and only biergarten tucked in the town of Avalon!

 

Explore El Rancho Escondido

Discover the charm of El Rancho Escondido by embarking on a journey into the captivating interior of Catalina Island. This recently revitalized “hidden ranch” showcases its rich history and breathtaking surroundings. Originally constructed by Philip Wrigley back in 1930 as an Arabian horse ranch, it now serves as a sanctuary for the family’s horses and a source of grapes for Rusack Vineyards. Visitors can look forward to a captivating horse demonstration, a glimpse of cherished ribbons, trophies and Western relics, and an opportunity to marvel at The Bishop’s Chapel, which offers awe-inspiring vistas and plenty of history to delve into. To cap off this memorable experience, savor a relaxed alfresco lunch at the renowned mountaintop Airport in the Sky before returning to Avalon.

 

Kick Back at Descanso Beach Club

Best Alcohol-Friendly Beaches in CA
Credit: Catalina Island Company

Descanso Beach Club offers a unique blend of experiences, combining a relaxed beachside restaurant and bar with an acclaimed Mediterranean-style club. Here, you can enjoy the serene sight of boats drifting by or unwind with a cocktail in your very own private cabana. These luxurious cabanas, boasting breathtaking views of Descanso Cove and the iconic Casino, provide the utmost in beachfront comfort. They can comfortably accommodate up to six guests and include plush Oshibori towels, premium bottled water, two chaise lounges and your own dedicated beach butler. Should you desire, you can also opt for additional food and bottle service!

 

Lover of the beach, food and fitness, Emily enjoys exploring all sunny Southern California has to offer! She has a passion for sharing about her favorite local gems and began writing for Locale in 2022. On the weekends, find her creating recipes for her food blog or out in Laguna!

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