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Visible from the coast of southern California, Catalina Island lies roughly 26 miles (42 km) southwest of Los Angeles in the Pacific Ocean. The small island is known for its rolling mountains, diverse wildlife, and otherworldly blue waters. To the north is the rustic camping village of Two Harbors, while Avalon in the south is marked by hotels, palm trees, and cabana-lined beaches. Getting to Catalina by ferry takes only about an hour—or you can live like the LA elite with a breathtaking ride to the island on your own private plane.
Catalina Island is made up of 1 town and 1 village—Avalon and Two Harbors.
Since the 1920s, Catalina’s main destination has been a popular escape for presidents, film stars, and California locals looking to kick back and relax in style. The swanky and secluded spot has a selection of elegant hotels with easy access to the beach. You also have the option to stay in a historic home-turned-inn once owned by the wealthy founder of the Wrigley Gum company, who played a key role in both the development and preservation of the island. Avalon’s 4 beaches boast soft sand, warm sun, and gentle surf. On and around the town’s main street of Crescent Avenue, you can find a handful of restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, as well as chic boutiques, a museum, and a day spa. The cultural hub of the city is the Catalina Casino, a stunning Art Deco icon with a movie theater and ballroom.
Appropriately named, Two Harbors bears the nickname “The Isthmus” thanks to the 2 marinas that jut into the island, forming a narrow strip of land no wider than a half-mile (.8 km). The tiny destination has a permanent population of about 300, with only 1 hotel, 2 eateries, and a single general store. This quieter part of the island has several amazing sites for camping and is a popular spot for other outdoor activities including hiking, biking, kayaking, and scuba diving.
If the views of the deep-blue Pacific from the beach aren’t enough, there are plenty of other things to see on Catalina Island, as well. Escape into another world aboard a vintage 1950s bus for a ride along spectacular Skyline Drive. This winding road takes you 10 miles (16 km) into Catalina’s rugged wilderness, offering unparalleled views of the island’s sandy shores, unspoiled coves, and dramatic rock formations. Keep your eyes peeled for herds of buffalo grazing in the hills, and perhaps catch sight of the rare Catalina Island fox, a species found nowhere else in the world.
You can also see Catalina from a different perspective—just below the surface of the water. On a unique semi-submersible boat, explore the vibrant marine life off the coast of the island. From behind the wide viewing windows, gaze out upon an array of underwater dwellers like bright orange garibaldi, graceful bat rays, and dense gardens of kelp.
Of Avalon’s 4 beaches, perhaps the most popular is two-tiered Descanso, part of the picturesque Descanso Beach Club. For a small daily fee, you can soak up the sun in the lap of luxury. Rent a chaise lounge or a private cabana while kicking back with a cocktail. Every weekend from late May through the middle of the September, the beach turns into the ultimate party, with happy hour specials, live music, and DJs spinning the hottest tracks.
Catalina Island is a haven of natural beauty, bursting with ways to satisfy lovers of the outdoors. Back roads and hiking trails can be found for every ability level, with each offering fabulous views of endless ocean. The Trans-Catalina Trail is a 37-mile (60 km) hike that runs from Pebbly Beach in Avalon to Starlight Beach on the north point of the island—a favorite of hardcore weekend backpackers. You can also take your adventure to new heights with a zipline excursion over the verdant forest, or to new depths with scuba diving in the magical underworld world of Casino Point Marine Park.
While Catalina is most known for its relaxing beaches and exciting outdoor adventures, there’s plenty of history to uncover, as well. Head to the Catalina Island Museum to dive into the destination’s fascinating past, from its discovery some 8,000 years ago to William Wrigley’s purchase of the island to the rise of Avalon as Hollywood’s favorite vacation spot. Through hundreds of artifacts and photos, learn of the island’s connection to the Chicago Cubs, its role in World War II, and much, much more. After visiting the museum, embark on a tour of the Catalina Casino to go behind the velvet ropes at this historic building.