Catalina Island is known as The Island of Romance but it offers sights and activities sure to please the whole family. Catalina Island is known as “The Island of Romance,” but that doesn’t mean this oasis off the coast of Southern California isn’t fit for families. In fact, whether you are looking for a place to bring the entire family for some fun in the sun or to leave the kids behind for a romantic getaway, Catalina Island offers sights and activities sure to please everyone.
Just a short boat ride away, Catalina Island is easy to get to but feels like a world away. Avalon, the island’s only city, is truly the hub of Catalina Island and where you’ll find the majority of restaurants, hotels, beaches, and activities.
With its tree-lined pedestrian walkways that trace the waterfront and homes that climb the steep hills surrounding town, Avalon is reminiscent of a Mediterranean village. It is almost free of cars, with most people opting to walk – great if you are traveling with small children and don’t want the hassle of lugging over a car seat. You can also rent bicycles or a golf cart. The fact that Avalon is only one square mile makes it easy to get around, and the picturesque harbor that Avalon is nestled around provides a good excuse to slow down and enjoy the view.
A Charming Island Village
The town of Avalon is like Main Street USA…with an ocean view. With the exception of Cold Stone Creamery, there are no chain stores, just quaint shops and eateries lining the town’s main drag, Crescent Avenue. You won’t find any hotel chains either. But that’s part of Catalina’s charm. Cozy inns, romantic ocean-view hotels, and beach cottages are just some of the options for accommodations.
Your best bet for visiting the island with kids is to reserve a vacation rental with a full kitchen. Besides saving money by not having to eat out all the time (and yes, it can get pricey), a vacation rental will give your family some extra space to spread out and feel more like a home away from home. Catalina Island Vacations Rentals offers the largest selection of vacation lodging on Catalina Island with over 100 privately owned properties, ranging from beautiful villas at Hamilton Cove to quaint houses and condos in the village of Avalon.
Avalon’s beaches – while smaller than you’d expect – are located in the center of town and within easy walking distance from most hotels, restaurants, and the boat terminals. The water in Avalon is calm, protected by the harbor, so it is safe for children to swim and play. Be sure to arrive early in the summer, as the sand quickly fills up with families staking their claim along the sunny waterfront!
One question locals often hear is “Do people really live here?” The answer is, of course! Avalon has a full-time population of about 3,500. Part of Los Angeles County, Avalon has all the services of a larger town, including a post office, K-12 public school, hospital, fire department, churches, bank, and more. For visitors in need of medical assistance, the Catalina Island Medical Center has a walk-in clinic.
Catch All That Catalina Has to Offer
Even if the sun is shining and beckoning you towards the beach, take some time to explore Avalon’s many other treasures. Catalina’s most recognizable landmark, the Casino Building, is one of the first things you’ll notice upon arriving in Avalon. The round, white building rises the equivalent of 12 stories, and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. Built in 1929, the Casino – which is actually not a gambling hall but “place of entertainment” – played host to dozens of big bands through the 1930s and 1940s. Guests danced the night away to the music of Glen Miller, Harry James, and many others over the years.
Today, visitors can explore the inside of the Casino Building on one of several daily walking tours offered by Discovery Tours. Catch a glimpse of an era gone by; the Casino Building is home to a meticulously restored 1,800 seat theater, which houses one of only two rare pipe organs in the world, and of course the legendary art deco Casino Ballroom.
The Catalina Island Museum is also located in the Casino Building, on the lower level. From the Native American Indians who inhabited Catalina 7,000 years ago to the Hollywood legends who vacationed there in the 1950s, the museum is a great place to immerse yourself in the island’s history. Open daily, the museum boasts an outstanding collection of archaeological material excavated on the island, as well as historic photographs, displays, and Catalina pottery. It’s fairly small and inexpensive to enter, perfect for kids with short attention spans who are eager to get on with their other adventures!
And there are plenty of other adventures just waiting to be had. Snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing are just a few of popular water sports on Catalina Island. There are plenty of options to fill the day on land, as well, including horseback riding, golf, bicycling, or just strolling through Avalon’s quaint shops and galleries.
Tour the Island
Catalina Island is a blend of rich history, natural beauty, never-ending adventures, and even a few island quirks. You can experience its splendor in many ways, but the best way to get to know the island – to really become a part of it – is to spend some time with the people who live here. And the best way to do that is to take a tour.
Start with a tour of Avalon; it’s the ideal way to get acquainted with the town. You’ll journey along the beachfront, up the hillsides, and through the heart of Avalon as your guide points out all of its landmarks and shares interesting Catalina Island history and folklore.
And of course, don’t miss your chance to experience one of the best parts of any island adventure – the ocean. Come face-to-face with Catalina’s abundant marine life in a semi-sub vessel on either the Undersea Tour or The Nautilus Tour. This is the closest you can come to getting up close and personal with the marine life without having to put on snorkel gear. Tour guides throw fish food into the water from the deck above, and fish flock to the semi-sub to gobble up! Kids will love this opportunity to see eye to eye with literally dozens of species of fish.
You can also experience Catalina Island’s waters on a variety of glass bottom boat tours, and cruises to Seal Rocks and Two Harbors. All tours are led by friendly and knowledgeable local guides, and they are always open to answering questions and talking with your kids.
Catalina’s Protected Wilderness Waits to be Explored
Protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy, more than 85 percent of the island is unspoiled, undeveloped wilderness. This 75 square mile paradise is home to hundreds of native plants and animal species, as well as some of the most beautiful views of the Pacific you’ll ever see!
You can get a taste of Catalina’s rugged side on one of several sightseeing tours that travel into the interior, and maybe even catch a glimpse of Catalina Island’s famous herd of buffalo. Buffalo have called the hills of Catalina Island home since 1924, when the original herd of 17 was brought to the island as “extras” and left behind after filming the movie The Vanishing American.
Experience Catalina Island’s “outback” on the Cape Canyon Tour, in a comfortable, open air, Mercedes Unimog – a one of a kind off-road vehicle. This one might be a little rough for younger children, but your tweens and teens will love it! With spectacular views of the coastline, canyons, and wild habitats, this is truly a unique tour. You can also venture into the island’s interior on the Inside Adventure Tour, Inland Motor Tour, Buffalo Safari, Hummer Tour, or the Jeep Eco Tour.
For more information about Catalina Island, including transportation, hotel availability, activities, and special events, visit www.CatalinaChamber.com or call the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau at (310) 510-1520.