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How to do Catalina Island for the first time

a view of a city

Located just a short boat ride – or an even shorter helicopter ride – from the Southern California mainland, Catalina Island offers an intriguing getaway for a day, a weekend or a lifetime. Read on for how to do Catalina Island for the first time.

Decide on when: While you can get a taste of Catalina on a day trip, there’s so much to do on this compelling destination we recommend planning to stay at least a night or two. The island is also intriguing no matter what time of year you decide to visit.

Make your reservations: Once you’ve decided on when to visit Catalina, make sure you make reservations for both your hotel and your transportation to the island. In the summer months and on weekends, hotels frequently sell out. No matter when you come, if you are traveling aboard Catalina Express advance reservations are nearly always required.

a helicopter flying over a body of water

Plan your activities: If you’re wondering how to do Catalina Island for the first time, you’ll definitely want to be planning for some of the many things to do. Here’s just a few of the activities we recommend for first time visitors:

  • Experience the Catalina Casino: You can’t miss this stunning landmark, which has been perched alongside Avalon Harbor for a century. And you won’t want to miss a glimpse inside of this architectural marvel. Named for the Italian word for gathering place, the Casino has never had gambling, but it does have spectacular murals inside and out, a massive circular ballroom and some of the best views in town.
  • Catalina Eco Tour: Most visitors never see beyond the charming village of Avalon, but if you want to really experience Catalina, you want to get out of town and into the wildlands of the island, where bison roam, foxes play and vistas will take your breath away. One of the best ways to see the rest of the island is on an Eco Tour with the Catalina Conservancy.
  • Kayak: The Catalina coastline is spectacular, featuring steep cliffs, secluded bays and beautiful beaches. The leeward side, which faces the mainland, is also – usually – the perfect spot for ocean kayaking. Paddling along the coast you may spot bald eagles, sea lions and, beneath the surface, the bright orange garibaldi which make the island their home.

a person standing next to a body of water

Repeat: Now that you know how to do Catalina Island for the first time, it’s time to start planning your return visit to this Southern California paradise.