If you are looking for a short little getaway that makes you feel like you are far from home, Catalina Island is the place to go. Located just over 32 miles off the coast of Newport Beach, Catalina is rather easy to get to, and fun to explore. Only 22 miles long and 8 miles wide, a few days is all you need, perfect for that quick getaway.
The family and I went in February over President’s Week to check it out since I hadn’t been to the island since I was about 12 years old (anyone else go there for 6th Grade Outdoor Education??).
We had a blast (especially the kids), but there were a few things I would have done differently (like going during the summer 😉 ), so here are my thoughts on traveling Catalina Island with kids.
HOW TO GET THERE
The two main ways to get to Catalina Island (the town of Avalon) are on the Catalina Flyer (out of Newport Beach) and the Catalina Express (out of Long Beach). We took the Catalina Express mainly because the Catalina Flyer wasn’t operating on both days we needed it to (it was still running on a Winter schedule). While I was initially annoyed that we couldn’t go out of Newport Beach, I was pleasantly surprised with the convenience of going out of Long Beach. The Catalina Express had a lot of travel times to choose from, a place to park our car overnight, and was clean and on time. I would definitely travel with them again.
WHERE TO STAY
We tried to book a VRBO but had no luck so we ended up staying at the Holiday Inn. Nothing fancy, but for our budget, it served us well. While we thought we would be within walking distance of town, we didn’t realize that the hotel sits higher up on the hill, so while you can technically walk to town, with small children, it’s probably not going to happen. They did, however, have a van running back and forth from town to the hotel which we used a lot and were grateful for. That may involve some waiting during the summer season, however. Click HERE for a good overview of the local hotels. It might be worth it to stay closer to town.
WHERE TO EAT
My biggest complaint with Catalina Island was the food. I don’t know if it was because we are used to so many amazing restaurants in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, or if it was because we were eating out three times a day WITH KIDS (we tend to VRBO on most vacations), but I had a hard time swallowing the price and the quality of the food. Next time I will be more prepared, run to the grocery store, and be armed with some cereal and sandwiches to break it up a bit. We did have a few good meals though so among my suggestions are The Pancake Cottage, Avalon Grille and Bluewater Avalon.
WHAT TO DO
THE SUBMARINE | This was probably our favorite part of the trip. We booked a trip on a semi-submersible vessel with Catalina Adventure Tours, and enjoyed watching life beneath the sea. While we didn’t see a huge variety of fish, the sheer number of fish was awesome, especially when they would come up to your window and seemingly try to make eye contact with you. Of course that all has to do with the fish food that you can purchase and “shoot” into the water by pressing a button inside of the submarine. Yup, the kids had a blast with that. The ride last about 45 minutes and was pretty reasonably priced.
RENT A GOLF CART | This is a great way to tour some of the Island. Golf carts are just fun in and of themselves, but we also enjoyed using them to get us around. We headed out to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Gardens as well as the Nature Center (both cool to see, but perhaps less exciting for the kids). And of course we had to stop by a playground on our way back. Priorities, right?! Overall I thought it was a good activity for the price. We booked with Catalina Island Golf Carts and thought they were great (but there are several others too). They provided a car seat for our 3-year-old and even gave us a few dollars back when we arrived a little before our time was up.
OPEN AIR SAFARI TOUR | We booked a 2 1/2 hour guided eco-expedition in a large safari type vehicle with Catalina Adventure Tours. While our guide was great and the views absolutely stunning (it took us all the way up to the top where the airport is), I was disappointed that we only saw one bison and one fox. It was a rather costly activity and I just didn’t feel like it was worth the money.
DESCANSO BEACH CLUB | Sadly, it was so cold and windy when we visited Catalina Island in February that the Beach Club was closed. But I can guarantee you that when we go back some summer, I will be spending a large portion of my time there. The Descanso Beach Club is set up right off of the water, with cabanas and lounge chairs on the sand. There is a cute outdoor dining area, and a stand complete with all your adventure gear, from snorkeling to paddle boarding. It’s a great excuse for us to go back!
ZIP LINE | About 600 feet above Descanso Beach Club is the zip line that crosses the canyon and runs you through the trees. Our kids were not old enough to do this activity so we didn’t get a chance to try it. However, I have been zip-lining before and highly recommend it. It’s a pretty good adrenaline rush.
KNABE PARK PLAYGROUND | As you leave port and head into town, you will come across the Knabe Park Playground (right next to a fenced in sand volleyball court). It’s a nice (small) playground with a pirate theme that had the kids entertained and running around making friends, all while creating some sort of pirate story. Not quite sure if they were the pirates, or they were fighting the pirates, but they were playing nicely so I stayed out of it and enjoyed my coffee.
There is no shortage of things to do, especially during the summer when the water is warm. With snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, fishing charters, dolphin and sea lion tours, parasailing, boat tours, bike rentals and even a scavenger hunt on your phone, you will have plenty of activities to choose from. You can find out more about visiting Catalina Island HERE or HERE.
**Please note that there are often cruise ships that dock for the day and drop off a large number of people. If there is an activity that you really want to do, it is best to plan ahead and make reservations, or buy your tickets in advance.