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A day on Catalina Island feels like a Mediterranean getaway sans the jetlag. Catalina Island has been a resort destination for over 125 years and continues to draw in people looking for some fun in the sun. I visited with my family as a kid, and I still remember stepping off the boat and feeling as if I’d entered another world. The sight of the colorful buildings, a touch of the breezy air, and the sound of the lapping waves mesmerized me. When I brought my family, I knew exactly what to do on Catalina Island with kids. It was the things that had thrilled me at their age.
With plenty of activities from land to sea, your family can revel in the flora and fauna that Catalina Island houses. Idyllic views from the southern city of Avalon also make for postcard-worthy pictures. Here is exactly what to do on Catalina Island. These are the best family activities when you, too, bring your kids to Catalina Island.
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Catalina Island Golf Cart Rental
This is perhaps the most popular activity on the island, and understandably so. Once your family rents a golf cart, you will be given a map to plan your adventure. The journey will take you along the water, then up the hills of Avalon (deemed “Avalon heights”). Points of interest include Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, as well as birds-eye views of the Casino and boats below. If you’re lucky, you might even see some majestic bison munching on grass!
Catalina Island Golf Cart Rentals & Tours is your best bet for rentals. For one hour, it’s $50 for a family of four and $70 for a family of six. If you’re planning to drive around without stopping, it’ll take an hour to complete. My family and I made loads of photo stops (and I’m glad we did), so we took nearly two hours.
There are also locals who love to share their experiences and the history of the island (officially called Santa Catalina Island). To book a golf cart tour with one of them click here.
Best Catalina Island Beach
Did you know that in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Catalina Island was a hotspot for A-list celebs? Well, your family will certainly feel like Hollywood elite when strolling along the soft sands of Descanso Beach. The Descanso Beach Club holds one of the last remaining publicly accessible private beaches in the state.
Spend your time at this Catalina Island beach with your family in one of many ways. Have a meal and drinks at the restaurant, which serves up fresh delicacies like bowls, wraps, and ceviche. If you’re feeling adventurous, try their signature Buffalo Milk drink. There are also chaise lounges you can rent to get your tan on. Rentals can be booked in pairs and include amenities like bottled water, beach towels, and even a personalized butler. If your family wants to go all out, rent a cabana by the day. Check here for updated rental information and for reservations.
Glass Bottom Boat Tour Catalina
This tour is almost like going to an aquarium. Except it’s cooler because you’ll be seeing fish in their natural environment! The Glass Bottom Boat Voyage will take your family into Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve. Considered one of the healthiest marine environments on the planet, this area boasts a rainbow of fish, sea creatures, and vegetation. A forty-minute trip is $17.95 for children and $19.95 for adults.
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Catalina Island Snorkeling, Kayaking, or SUPing
If your kids enjoy getting up close and personal with marine life, snorkeling is a great option. Since the waters around Catalina Island are so clean, you’ll get clear views. There are plenty of snorkeling spots to choose from, including Casino Point Dive Park, Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve, and the waters surrounding Descanso Beach.
If staying above the water is more of your jam, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Choose from one of many providers on the Avalon waterfront, or look into some here.
Catalina Adventure Tours
Catalina Island Zipline Eco Tour
Is your family always after an adrenaline rush? No worries, because there are a bunch of exhilarating activities to choose from. Zipline enthusiasts can check out the Zipline Eco Tour. It’s a two-hour excursion, during which you’ll be taken across Descanso Canyon, with views of the ocean. Your family will see plants and animals for which the island is known, as guides share interesting stories about them.
Rock Climbing Wall
If the climbing wall is where your fam gets its endorphins, then head to Catalina’s Rock Climbing Wall. It’s conveniently located next to the Zipline Eco tour, so you can hop from one activity to the next. The wall is 32 feet tall and has color-coded routes for skill levels ranging from beginner to advanced.
Catalina Aerial Adventure
But wait, there’s more! The Catalina Island Aerial Adventure is comprised of obstacle courses that will get your heart pumping as you work your way through balance beams, rope ladders, and log bridges. The courses range from beginner to advanced and are suspended above eucalyptus trees, offering a momentary escape into different terrain. Descanso Beach Club is a short walk away, so your family will still be near the heart of the island.
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Airport Loop Trail
Catalina Island boasts a whopping 165 miles of hiking terrain. There are trails that range from easy to challenging, whether your family plans to go for a leisurely stroll or a more rigorous hike. The Airport Loop Trail is a pretty part of the Trans Catalina Trail, geared toward all skill levels, and offers views of wildflowers. You’ll pass a 2,000-year-old soapstone quarry with bowls excavated by Catalina’s first residents, the Tongva, still visible. When you reach the Airport in the Sky, your family can kick back and enjoy refreshments from the DC-3 Gifts and Grill.
Trans Catalina Trail
If you can get your kids to go longer, the Trans Catalina Trail offers campsites along its nearly 39-mile journey. Start your hike at the Catalina Conservancy Visitor’s Center trailhead in Avalon where you can get free hiking permits (if you didn’t get one in advance), maps, and a membership to receive 50% off camping on the island. If you hike the entire route – without having to drag your kids too often – it’ll take about 4 days to complete.
Here is a detailed map of the many other routes. Do note that if your family plans to hike outside of Avalon, you will need to obtain a free permit. Do it in advance online or get it at the Catalina Conservancy Visitor’s Center. Additional hiking-related information can be found here.
With plenty of activities from land to sea, your family can revel in the flora and fauna that Catalina Island houses. These are the best family activities when you bring your kids to Catalina Island.
You know those museums that promise kids they’ll be entertaining, but they turn into a giant snooze-fest? Don’t worry, your kids will be doing anything but yawning at the Catalina Museum. The galleries will walk you through the island’s history, from its discovery 8,000 years ago to the real-life experiences of current residents. There are over 10,000 photos in the museum, as well as boat models and archaeological artifacts. With a vivid and rich display, your kids will be engrossed in all the museum has to offer.
Catalina Island is the perfect day trip from Los Angeles. With plenty to offer on land and in the sea, you’ll leave with smiling faces and sun-kissed skin. There’s something for every level of ability and interest. But honestly, no one’s going to judge you guys if you end up bummin’ it on the beach, either! And who knows, your day trip might even turn into a long weekend getaway next time.
When You Go
How To Get To Catalina Island From LA
Catalina Island is about a four-hour round-trip from L.A: one hour to Long Beach and then an hour-long ferry via the Catalina Express.
Where To Stay In Catalina Island
To be centrally located and have gorgeous views, try the mid-range Avalon Hotel. Or check out Catalina’s newest boutique hotel, Aurora Hotel, though it might be challenging to snag a reservation! The ever-popular Hotel Atwater is newly renovated in an ocean-inspired art deco style. Looking for more of a resort experience? Visit the Holiday Inn Resort Catalina Island, away from the crowds, tucked into the Catalina foothills. Rooms are spacious and there’s a spa.
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