When you feel tired or overwhelmed, have you ever just closed your eyes and pictured yourself on a tropical island somewhere far, far away? We’re here to help you make your dreams of wanderlust into a reality on Santa Catalina Island (also known as Catalina Island). This quaint island spans 22 miles in length and lies just off the coast of Los Angeles. It is known for its rich wildlife, captivating dive sites and beautiful island scenery (P.S. Marilyn Monroe lived there!).
If you’re craving a tropical getaway but want to avoid the exhaustive planning that comes with Hawaii, consider spending a day or two on Catalina Island. It is just a one-hour ferry ride from Long Beach, California, and offers similarly gorgeous island views. Hooked? Here’s what you’ll need to know.
About Santa Catalina Island
Santa Catalina was originally inhabited by a Native American tribe called the Tongva. The island was colonized by the Spanish Empire and later purchased by William Wrigley Jr., founder of the Wrigley Company. Wrigley, famous for his chewing gum enterprise, spearheaded the development of Catalina Island for tourism.
Today, Santa Catalina is world-renowned for its clear waters —perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling — beautiful beaches and diverse wildlife.
What to see
If you’re serious about diving, Lover’s Cove and Descanso Beach are the two most popular scuba diving spots on the island. For shore diving, visit the beautiful non-profit site, Avalon Underwater Park, which is located at Casino Point (shown below). Its intricate architecture makes it a popular tourist photo stop as well!
You can also rent snorkeling equipment and kayaks for a couple of hours on Descanso Beach. You can often catch vibrant fish that are swimming close to shore! Or you can walk the streets of Avalon to explore the many small shops and restaurants. Lloyd’s of Avalon is the go-to confectionary shop on the island for freshly made fudge and ice cream!
Catalina Island offers many tourist attractions, including the Catalina Miniature Golf Gardens, Catalina Aerial Adventure, Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, submarine tours, glass-bottom boat tours and more. Our favorite is the flying fish tour (pictured below), which takes curious visitors out at night to observe schools of flying fish that whiz past the boat.
Tips and tricks
Before your trip, check Costco and Groupon for seasonally discounted ferry rates to Catalina Island. Also, consider spending the night before your visit in Long Beach, so that you can catch the first ferry to Santa Catalina in the morning! Don’t forget to bring sea sickness medication, though, as the waves can get turbulent at times, and always keep a camera ready — you might spot a pod of dolphins or two along the way!
Rent out a golf cart for an hour to literally cruise around the island! For first-time visitors, this is a great way to get the lay of the land and potentially spot families of deer.
If you have time, visit some of the larger hotels on the island. They are truly gorgeous and offer fun amenities. The Holiday Inn Resort is the only hotel on the island that has its own swimming pool!
Descanso Beach is privately managed by the Descanso Beach Club, which strictly enforces the “no food or drinks rule” (unless they are bought from the Club itself). Eat lunch ahead of time, or make sure to bring your wallet to the beach!
Hopefully, if you hadn’t heard of Catalina Island before, you’re thinking of heading there now! Playfully nicknamed “Baby Hawaii,” this beautiful island makes for the perfect opportunity to get some well-deserved R&R in a short period of time. Start making your next three-day weekend plans today!