Catalina Island is part of the group of islands just off the coast of Los Angeles called the Channels. Catalina is a famed weekend getaway from LA as the ferry to the island takes only about 1 hour. Originally home to the Tongva people, the island was colonized by the Spanish, then passed ownership multiple times before becoming part of California.
Catalina is a breath of fresh air offering a semi-exclusive getaway at a close distance. This was my second time visiting the island, the first time we visited the northern part near Parson’s landing, while this visit started in the capital city Avalon and worked its way to Little Harbor campground and ultimately Two Harbors for the return ferry. If you are living in LA and are looking to visit Catalina, I can say it is an interesting thing to do. It’s an island with a fairly colorful history and mostly wild terrain. Catalina is known for its roaming buffalo or bison, mischievous foxes, diving, relaxing, deer and $1 tacos that we discovered. So, for your next visit, here are my top ideas for what to do in Catalina Island.
7 Things to do in Catalina Island
- Consider hiking the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) or part of it. The TCT offers some spectacular views of the surrounding terrain as well as tranquility. The trails are lightly traveled in comparison to common LA hikes like Runyon Canyon or the Culver City Steps. You can hike the entire length of 37.2 miles or walk just a segment of it.
- Observe a buffalo. According to locals, there are about 150 bison roaming around island. We saw 10-15 while hiking the TCT. One even walked into our campsite at Little Harbor. The animals should only be observed at a distance, but it is impressive to see these animals that are so representative of the great plains. They are huge!
- Rent a golf cart in Avalon. Renting a golf cart in Avalon was worth the experience for us. You do not have a lot of time on them, but the drive allows you to see the surrounding areas up close. We were given a maximum of 2 hours. The cost was reasonable when divided among a group.
- Take a stroll around the city of Avalon. Avalon is a bustling town for its size. Surely many of the people you pass are visitors and tourists, but during the high season and weekends the town is active. There are many bars and restaurants as well as the beach for swimming and relaxing. We found a place called The Sandtrap that offers $1 tacos!!
- Chill out in Two Harbors. The population of Catalina Island is only around 4,000 people and almost all of them are in Avalon. However, Two Harbors is the other population center yet it is much more rustic and undeveloped than Avalon. Two Harbors is the better choice if you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, but you will have fewer options.
- Eat lunch at the Airport in the Sky. There’s an airport near the center of Catalina Island that is high up on the mountain top called ‘the airport in the sky‘. It makes a nice stopping point for hikers on the Trans Catalina Trail as a café and restaurant are there with sandwiches, hamburgers, and other snacks. If you are trying to not carry too much food on your hike, this restaurant can account for one of your meals.
- Camp overnight in Catalina. There are multiple campsites around the island and most have basic amenities. We stayed in Hermit Gulch and Little Harbor on this trip, but the last time we slept at the Parson’s Landing Campground. On the TCT we passed through Blackjack since it was on the trial. Parson’s landing was the most primitive with no running water, but it was well worth it to wake up in front of rolling waves. Hermit Gulch was surprisingly wild even though it is close to Avalon and civilization. We had foxes and deer just outside of our tents within minutes of nightfall. Little Harbor had an amazing sunset and is much larger. You can even have groceries delivered to your there from the General Store. Spending a night under the stars is worth it anywhere, and Catalina is a great place to do this.
The next time we visit Catalina or any of the Channel Islands, I’d like to spend more time near the water to fish, snorkel, or maybe dive. We didn’t have the chance to do that on this trip but I think it is another great thing to do in Catalina Island. Before leaving, make sure you check out my YouTube video on the trip through Catalina.