2 Day Trip to Catalina Island, California

May 1, 2016

Duration: 2 days 
Mileage: 0
Starting point: Irvine, CA
States: CA
Budget for 2 people: $360 ($100 camp, $140 boat tickets, $60 food, $40 Uber, $20 other)

  • Day 1: take a boat from Newport Beach, CA to Avalon, CA; explore the island
  • Day 2: explore Catalina island, CA; take a boat back to Newport Beach, CA

Day 1:

The most convenient ferry for us is Catalina Flyer. It departs from Newport Beach, CA at 9am and arrives to Avalon at 10:30am. Return time is 4:30pm. We purchased our tickets in advance, but apparently they sell more tickets than there are sitting spaces, thus passengers need to arrive to the boarding gate at least an hour in advance to line up. On our way to Avalon there were big waves and half of people on board felt sick (including me, I was standing the whole trip at the back of the boat looking at horizon and getting fresh air).

Our initial plan was to cycle on our first day, but upon our arrival we learned that cycling permit is $35 (can be used the whole year) and the island is all about the hills. Thus we decided to explore some hiking trails and postpone a decision about cycling (we didn’t do it :) at the end). Hiking permit is $3 per day per person, unless you are staying in camps.

During our visit we stayed at Hermit Gulch camp (green triangle on the map below), so we left our backpacks in baggage section in Avalon upon our arrival. We picked up our stuff at 5pm after hiking when we were ready to go get some beer and head to the camp.

The most popular route for serious hikers is Trans Catalina trail (yellow on the map below). Some people go backpacking across the island for several days, but not us. On our first day we went along the ocean to the Pebbly Beach and then took the Renton Mine Road. We hiked for ~2 hours one way and headed back.

These are the typical views on the way:

On our return way instead of going along the beach we took another road: road on the left from the red cross "A" on the map. This is the road from where you can see the best views over Avalon. If you don't want to walk you can rent a golf cart for $40 an hour and get to the vista point to see this:

As an alternative, there are many excursions on the islands. You can get by a tour bus to any point on the island. Or you can rent a golf cart or a bike.

Day 2:

On day 2 we spent some time exploring Avalon city. It is small with lots of restaurants and colorful houses. Catalina offers different entertainments: expensive hotels, massages, zip line, boat rental, snorkeling, kayaking, SUP, golf cart rental, scuba diving, bikes rental (including electro bikes), jet ski, paragliding etc etc. Majority of people go there to spend time in restaurants and just chill in the city. That’s not what we like to do. We had high expectations about the hiking, but it offers very similar views everywhere. At least hiking is challenging, most of the time it is walking uphill.

Avalon looks really nice though, very European style:

We also spent several hours hiking the Hermit Gulch trail from our camp. It is a good exercise, but can be way too hot as there are no shadows on the way. The views from the trail:

Tip: make sure you check weather forecasts, because our friends got stuck on the island due to a stormy weather and cancelled boats. There is an option to go home by a helicopter ($125) if weather allows it to land.

Conclusion: I think 2 days is more than enough for the island. You'll like it if you enjoy spending money on different touristic stuff and restaurants, or if you like hiking for the reason of.. hiking :) Beaches are small and crowded, I wouldn't be able to spend a day there. It can be a very nice trip if you go there just for a day. You'll be able to see all main attractions, see something different and don't get bored.