Catalina Island is a beloved place in Southern California. Located just 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, the mostly undeveloped island centered around the car-free village of Avalon is a popular day trip or weekend getaway for couples and families looking to escape the noisy metropolis.
I lived in L.A. when I was in my early twenties, for two years in a coastal neighborhood where my kitchen window faced the ocean. Each day I saw the peaks of Catalina looming off in the distance. Still, I was young and single and it never seemed a place suited to my travel demographic, so I never made plans to visit the island.
Fast forward ten years and things have changed. In the last few years, Kevin and I talked a about planning a trip to Catalina to explore the quaint town of Avalon and the rugged interior of the island. A friend raved about a dive company on the island and recommended we get our scuba diving certification there. Then a few months ago, vacation rental company FlipKey invited me to come check out some things to do and apartments they list on the island. Though it was a quick trip and Kevin wasn’t able to come, I decided to go, explore and plan our own Catalina getaway.
And now I can’t wait to return!
Here are some photos of Catalina Island:
Leaving Long Beach behind on the Catalina Express passenger ferry. The trip takes about one hour.
Arriving in Avalon. With only 3,700 people it’s the largest permanent settlement on the island.
The Catalina Casino from the harbor — the picturesque building is a historic dance hall and movie theater, there’s no gambling here.
Boats in the Avalon harbor
Because car ownership is limited on Catalina (with a 14 year waiting list for permits!) most locals travel around the island using a golf cart.
Exploring Avalon by golf cart!
A tiny FedEx truck. Isn’t it adorable?
There is no mail delivery on the island. Locals have to visit the post office to get their mail.
Colorful tiles made at a historic pottery company island adorn the streets of Avalon.
The Art Deco facade of the Catalina Casino
Ornate murals adorn the front of the Casino. Artist: John Gabriel Beckman, 1929.
Some of the displays at the Catalina Island Museum, showing history of the island (From top left: Island developer (and chewing gum magnate) William Wrigley, Jr.; A figure salvaged from a Chinese smuggling ship that went down in the Harbor; Catalina Clay Company pottery; Photos of Marilyn Monroe in Avalon where she lived for two years as a teenager.
Bird of Paradise in front of a home in Avalon
A tour bus climbing the hills outside of Avalon
We took an open-roof jeep tour of the rugged interior of the island, with a naturalist from the Catalina Island Conservancy
On the jeep tours, you get to see one of 150 American bison that roam the island. They are not native to Catalina. Producers brought them to the island 1924 for use on the set of a Hollywood movie.
The Santa Catalina Island Fox, endemic to the island and previously endangered, but now due to conservation work by the Catalina Island Conservancy, the population is starting to recover.
Vast views of protected land and undeveloped coastline. The Catalina Island Conservancy protects over 90% of the island’s land.
Our jeep tour ended at the Airport in the Sky, a tiny mountaintop airport for private and charter planes.
The airport’s gift shop offers plenty of options — if you like buffalo!
Hamilton Cove is a European-inspired residential development located just outside of Avalon. They offer privately owned vacation rentals bookable on Flipkey.
The interior (and view) from the Hamilton Cove vacation rental I stayed at.
Hamilton Cove by night
The quaint streets of downtown Avalon
Tiny car in downtown Avalon
The diverse decor of downtown Avalon vacation rental condos, all bookable on FlipKey
For a small place, CC Gallagher had a long list of unique craft beers, wines, and sake. The tiny cafe/bar/boutique gift shop in Avalon offers a tasty assortment of carefully crafted sandwiches and sushi. They also had a great selection for vegetarian and vegans.
Saying goodbye to Catalina Island