Catalina Island is a very unique experience and offers a number of things for families to do with some planning. It is a popular day trip for Los Angeles residents coming over to explore the island, dock their boats in the harbor or enjoy the nightlife. Granted, it’s a bit more touristy than we expected as there are a large number of T-shirt shops and bars in Avalon. But, our girls still enjoyed the trip as it is beautiful in the daytime – but we suspect it would be a different experience with several couples to go and enjoy the patios and drinks into the night which we expect we will do at some point in the future.
Before arriving, you may want to purchase tickets for the Undersea Expedition Semi-Submersible which is a small submarine shaped boat (the green one) which includes viewing ports along the bottom of the ship to watch the fish and plants pass by as you circle the harbor. Large storks greet you at the docks and sea lions rest on all of the buoys in the bay as you head out to the harbor. We were lucky as Spring Break was not very crowded when we visited so we could walk around the ship looking out the various port holes at the ocean below.
In the afternoon, you can either rent golf carts from Island Rentals to explore or play putt putt at Golf Gardens. The island also offers inland excursions to explore more of the uninhabited areas. But we chose to stay in town to play putt putt with the kids and walk the small streets and enjoy the area. In the evening, families can purchase tickets for the Catalina Island Movie Theater (aka Catalina Island Casino) which is a beautifully restored historic casino and probably the most recognizable image on the island. Or, for something different, there are Flying Fish Tours where you can take a boat ride out at night and see the flying fish jumping into the air. So it is very easy to find a number of activities to plan for a day on the island.
For our overnight stay, we chose the Hotel del Mar which if you book early has two rooms looking out over the main street and the pier below. It can be a bit noisier with crowds at the bars below at night below but we enjoy a bit of people watching and views of the boats at night while our children watched a movie in the bedroom.
For food, the area is known for its fish and chips (a favorite of my husband) which you can either enjoy on the pier or head a block inland to The Lobster Trap which we did. For breakfast, the island is famous for its pancake houses so we planned a stop at the Pancake Cottage before heading back to the marina to catch our boat back to shore. If you are planning to visit, all of the ferries are run by Catalina Express and you should plan to purchase tickets ahead of time in either the general seating area or above in the Commodore lounge. After returning to shore, we had told our children the trip was over and we were heading back to the airport – except we were actually making our way to the Grand Californian at Disneyland for two nights.
And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itineraries for Ojai, Catalina and Southern California or destination notes for Ojai, Disneyland, San Diego, Joshua Tree/Palm Springs, Newport Beach and Los Angeles.