California can really be a country of its own. Did you know California consists of islands outside the coastline of the state? In fact, according to The Geographic Names Information System, California has 527 named islands. Besides San Francisco having islands out of the bay area, Southern California got islands going on too. In Southern California, Santa Catalina Island is a rocky island that can be found and it’s part of the Channel Islands of California, an archipelago with eight islands in the Pacific Ocean (whereas most of these islands are part of the Channel Islands National Park).
Catalina Island is a gorgeous sight to be by and its island closely represents what you see in Europe (mostly like South France): houses and buildings on the green hills, being surrounded by blue water, streets close together, roads sloping down like hills and a tight community. Though it’s got a lot of its own California roots it takes after with the beachy culture that takes pride in its sea activities, palm trees, and it’s like an escape for most locals as it’s easy to have access to a shuttle and ferry off places from California like Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, and Newport Beach.
Catalina Island is divided into two sides: Avalon and Two Harbors. Avalon is the bigger resort area while Two Harbors is the smaller one. I came to Catalina Island when my family and I went on a cruise from Long Beach, California to Ensenada, Mexico and we visited the Avalon area, which is also the only incorporated city on the island.
Here are a few cool and exciting ideas of things you can do when you embark on Avalon, Catalina Island.
1. Take a bus tour around Avalon
If you want to really see how stunning the island is and the charm it holds from its coastal homes to important buildings and to the atmosphere it has, taking a tour bus that drives around the majority of this side of the island is a great way to see it all, up close and personal. You also get breathtaking views from above it all of the Avalon Bay that shows the iconic lookout scenery of Catalina. There are bus tours you can book right from the pier with companies like Catalina Island Company (or get a list of reliable tour deals on TripAdvisor here).
What I love about these bus tours is that you get a full-on interactive experience with most likely a great storytelling guide/driver who will be very informative on the history, the culture, the biodiversity, and interesting facts of the island. Our bus tour guide stopped a little to allow people to photograph and take in the views. Some of the memorable things I saw on the bus tour: Eucalyptus trees that are spread in Catalina, the Chicago Cubs’ clubhouse as the Chicago Cubs spent 30 years spring training there (fun fact: William Wrigley Jr. purchased Catalina Island in 1919 — the same man who had ownership of the Cubs), the Wrigley Mansion, a fun curving ride around to see cacti, trees, and small colorful homes.
2. Hangout and explore the pier and shops
The turquoise colored 407-feet pier boardwalk called Green Pleasure Pier is a quaint place to be on and to walk around on. You can book tours from there, do some shopping on there, buy some food and snacks there, and just overlook the sea there. It also serves as the official weigh station for sport fishermen.
Along the bay and right across the Green Pleasure Pier, you can find some shops and restaurants that are all lined up to each other. These shops include stores where you can buy your souvenir or lovely coastal-themed items. There’s also the Metropole Market Place that’s not far from the pier and these shops. The market place has cobblestone walkways and fountains that add a welcoming atmosphere and it is lined up with boutique stores from art to jewelry and there is also a bakery and espresso bar.
This is highly recommended by a lot of people who come to visit Catalina Island. Unfortunately with the limited time and budget, as we were on a cruise, we weren’t able to do this awesome option, but it’s definitely going to be for the next time I come to visit. Catalina Island is known for having crystal clear water, so this activity really works. A glass-bottom boat tour is an interactive experience to see and observe what’s in the seafloor and see the colorful sea life that exists out there, in the comfort and safety of being inside of a boat (perfect for those who don’t snorkel or scuba dive!). It’s like a semi-submarine but the styles of these boats can differ.
The Glass Bottom Boat Voyage tour by Catalina Tours is a popular option if you choose to do this.
4. Rent a golf cart or bike around the island
Golf carts are not uncommon to use or see around Catalina Island. Cars are more pricey to maintain and the gas is even more ridiculously overpriced (whether you’re filling up a car or your golf cart). Last time I went, the tour guide informed us that the gas is $6 a gallon (OMG!). Ideally, golf carts and Smart cars are better and more fit to roam around on the island. It’s also a convenient way to explore it and to go to your destination. These fun golf carts can get you through the tight narrow roads around the island.
For a 2 hour ride in a 4 passenger golf cart rental, it can cost you $100 if you use the Catalina Island Golf Cart company. The company also offers other tour packages such as Inland Expedition, Zip Line Eco-tour, and Undersea Expedition (like the glass-bottom boat), to name a few.
5. Try some foods in the local businesses
There’s a lot of great food options to find on Catalina Island! Many of them are waterside restaurants in Avalon, so you can always munch on your dish and take a look at the gorgeous turquoise-hued bay. Whether you’re looking for a fancy and flavorful cocktail to sip on or handmade frozen treats or for some surf and turf, with only a city that’s sized to a few blocks, you’ll end up somewhere with something you won’t regret having.
Here’s a detailed list of the best eating and drinking spots you can go to in Catalina Island. When I went, I had authentic Mexican food at Pete’s Cafe (they are quick with their service!) and found some sweet fresh Conchas (Mexican bread) at Avalon Bake Shop, which is conveniently located next to a few boutiques to check out too.
6. A bunch of water activities
What’s an island and its tourism without having options to do water activities? There is A LOT to find around here and one may fit you more than the other. There’s:
- Scuba diving
Descanso Beach in Avalon, Catalina Island, offers most of these activities. You can also find these activities on the other side of Two Harbors if you decide to get out of Avalon!
7. Visit the museum
Lastly, the museum Catalina Island Museum is a stop to see to learn more about the history on the island, especially on its architecture. There are also exhibition galleries to look into that are based on the history too and precious collections that are educative and eccentric. Artwork and art installations are featured there too. The admission fee for adults is $17, members are free, and $15 for seniors, military, and students. Children are free with an adult ticket.
Catalina Island may be a small island, but in Avalon, you can find yourself enjoying the busier side of the island. Two Harbors, although I did not get to visit it this time, is supposed to be a great vacation escape too! If you have time, visiting both sides and finding the right fit for activities for you is the ideal situation to add to your itinerary.
Find a place to stay at in Catalina Island
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