If you haven’t been to Catalina Island in a while, now is a great time to visit for a quick fun getaway. New or reimagined activities and restaurants, along with multimillion-dollar hotel makeovers, have breathed new life into this island. And you can be on the banks of Avalon in less than 90 minutes from the mainland via either the Catalina Express or the Catalina Flyer.
Things to do on Catalina Island
A humdinger of a tour
The Ridgetop Eco Adventure and the Bison Expedition, both offered by the Catalina Island Company, use open-air Hummers to take visitors on 2-hour tours into the island’s interior in search of pristine wilderness views and bison (descendants of a herd used in movies). Adults, $90 per tour.
The Catalina Island Conservancy marks its 50th year in 2022. It celebrates with special naturalist-guided hikes on July 22 as part of its anniversary weekend. The conservancy expanded its trail system in recent years, resulting in many more miles to explore on foot and by bike. Get the required permit, maps, and information at The Trailhead visitors center, which opened in 2019 on Crescent Avenue near the ferry terminal.
Journey to the past
The Catalina Museum for Art & History, located in the Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building in central Avalon, showcases the island’s 8,000-year history, as well as the works of world-class artists. (Be sure to see glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s Sunburst chandelier, located in the second-level gazebo.)
Closed for a year during the pandemic, the museum has returned with new exhibits and an expanded outdoor sculpture collection. On view until October 2022 is “Norman Rockwell in the 1940s: A View of the American Homefront.” Adults, $17; children 15 and younger free with paid adult admission.
An oldie but goodie is a tour of the art deco Catalina Casino—highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot circular ballroom where Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire once danced the night away. Adults, $19.95 for Discover the Casino and $29.95 for Behind the Scenes Casino.
Make like Tarzan
Swing from trees and balance on logs and ropes at Catalina Aerial Adventure (rates start at $49.95 per person; also available as a nighttime activity), located in a eucalyptus grove a short walk from the Catalina Casino. For even more adrenaline-inducing thrills, try the 2-hour Zip Line Eco Tour (rates start at $136 per person).
Where to eat on Catalina Island
The Bistro at the Atwater
This eatery opened in 2019 next door to the recently renovated Hotel Atwater, about a block from the beach on Sumner Avenue. Pick up grab-and-go food (think bagels, wraps, and more) for breakfast or brunch.
The Bluewater Grill and the Catalina Island Conservancy teamed up in 2019 to create the Toyon Grill at The Trailhead visitors center. Grab a bite for breakfast or lunch before hitting the trails.
Enjoy globally inspired casual coastal cuisine and original cocktails* at the Naughty Fox, the new beachfront eatery at the Bellanca Hotel, while watching the action on Crescent Avenue.
NDMK Fish House
Located close to the ferry pier is NDMK Fish House (pronounced “endemic”). Opened in 2019, the restaurant—owned by Adam Thoricht, whose family goes back 5 generations on Catalina—features sushi and locally caught fish.
There’s a delicious new twist on ice cream in town. The island’s first paleteria (Mexican popsicle shop), Seaside Sweets, opened in 2020 at the Metropole Market Place. The shop carries La Michoacana paletas (with cream or dairy-free) in an array of flavors, including coconut, strawberry, and watermelon.
Where to stay on Catalina Island
In 2020, the 40-room Bellanca Hotel (formerly the Portofino Hotel) on Crescent Avenue reopened after a $4 million remodel that transformed the property into a hip hangout for island visitors. Hotel guests have exclusive access to a rooftop lounge serving cocktails and small bites. Rates from $179 a night.
The 95-room Hotel Atwater, located about a block from Avalon’s beach, completed a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2019. Built by William Wrigley Jr. in 1920, this historic property retains many early-20th-century design features and pays homage to its Wrigley pedigree. Rates from $169 a night.
Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel
Located atop a hill on Chimes Tower Road, the 1926 Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel reopened in late 2019 after an 8-year makeover that brought it up to modern standards while respecting its historic roots. This former home of the prolific author of Westerns still exudes a Southwestern adobe charm (e.g., ceiling beams and posters of the novelist’s books) while proffering amazing views of Avalon and the bay. Rates from $299 per night.
*Please be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.
Vani Rangachar loves the laid-back vibe of island getaways and has written previous stories on Catalina and Two Harbors for Westways.
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