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The 20 Best Things to Do in Catalina Island for First Timers

Have a Fun Night at Catalina Casino

One of California’s Channel Islands, Catalina Island is located off the southwest coast of Los Angeles. This island is a popular diving destination, and it is also known for its wildlife, the diverse landscape, and its stunning beaches. The towns on the island also provide a range of cultural, historical, and entertaining activities and attractions for tourists. Therefore, you will find things to do on this island regardless of your interests. Although people come from far and wide to visit this island, it is a popular weekend destination for people from Los Angeles as this is just 26 miles away by water. So that you can plan your visit in advance to get the most of your trip, here are the 20 best things to do in Catalina Island for first-timers.

Travel Around in a Golf Cart

20. Travel Around in a Golf Cart

Most people visiting Catalina Island arrive by boat, so they do not have a mode of transport once on the island. A popular way of getting around and seeing the sights is by hiring a golf cart, says Catalina Chamber. You can hire a golf cart for up to three hours at a time. Another option is to hire a bike so that you can explore the sights of the island.

Ride in a Submarine

19. Ride in a Submarine

An unusual activity to enjoy while you are visiting Catalina Island is to ride in a submarine. There are two submarines that visitors can ride when they are on Catalina Island: Seawolf and Nautilus. Riding on one of these submarines is an excellent family activity as it is both fun and educational. The tours are led by expert guides who will educate you about the history and ecology of the island.

Play with Clay at Silver Canyon Pottery

18. Play with Clay at Silver Canyon Pottery

Another fantastic activity for all the family is a visit to the Silver Canyon Pottery. This is the ideal place to visit if you and your family are creative or you enjoy hands-on activities. You will have the chance to make your own ceramic tile in this pottery studio under the instruction of a potter. No former pottery skills or experience are needed to enjoy this activity, and the end result is the perfect souvenir of your trip.

Go Bison Spotting

17. Go Bison Spotting

Many people are surprised to learn that there are bison living on Catalina Island. Originally, the bison were brought to the island for filming during the 1920s, but they stayed and a new generation of bison are now roaming the island. They live on the lands owned by the Catalina Island Conservancy, and you can see them if you take one of the eco-tours. This is an interesting activity for animal lovers, and children are also often fascinated by the sight of these magnificent animals.

Have a Drink at Luau Larry’s

16. Have a Drink at Luau Larry’s

Although there are many places where you can enjoy a drink on the island, a top spot to visit is Luau Larry’s. This is a burger shack with a bar, and it is one of the most popular spots amongst the locals. There is often live music if you visit this venue in the evenings. This is a fun place with a laid-back vibe.

Play Mini Golf at Golf Gardens

15. Play Mini Golf at Golf Gardens

We Like L.A. says that a fun activity to enjoy when you have an hour to fill is the mini-golf at Golf Gardens. It doesn’t matter if you are a golf novice, because this activity is all about having some fun. The 18-hole mini-golf course is suitable for people of all ages and abilities. This mini-golf course is part of the Catalina Island Golf Course, and it is an excellent choice of activity if you are visiting the island with children.

Try Some New Watersports

14. Try Some New Watersports

As you are surrounded by water, Catalina Island is the perfect destination to try some new watersports. At almost every pint along the coast, you will find water-based activities to enjoy. Just some examples of the types of activity you can try include swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing, and parasailing.

Take a Helicopter Tour

13. Take a Helicopter Tour

While there are many stunning sights you can enjoy from the ground, you may like to get some different views of Catalina Island. One way of doing this is to take to the sky in a helicopter tour to get a bird’s eye perspective of the island. Although this is one of the more expensive activities to enjoy on the island, it is worth it to enjoy such a unique experience.

Enjoy the Adrenalin Rush of a Zip Line Eco Tour

12. Enjoy the Adrenalin Rush of a Zip Line Eco Tour

Another unusual way to admire the views of the island is to enjoy the Zip Line Eco Tours. This is the ideal activity for thrill-seekers and adrenalin junkies. Visitors to the attraction descend from the highest point on the island along five zip lines. This activity is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, but only for those who are okay with heights.

Take a Boat Trip on the Flying Fish Boat

11. Take a Boat Trip on the Flying Fish Boat

One of the unique experiences you can enjoy during your visit to Catalina Island is to take a trip out on the Flying Fish Boat, says Time Out. This boat heads out every night and shines a searchlight that attracts the flying fish. Those on the boat can watch the fish leaping out of the water or see them swim below the glass-bottomed section of the boat. This is an activity that all the family can enjoy.

Play a Round of Golf at Catalina Island Golf Course

10. Play a Round of Golf at Catalina Island Golf Course

Golf enthusiasts visiting the island will be thrilled to learn that there is an outstanding golf course at this destination. Catalina Island Golf Course was built in 1892 by the Banning Brothers. This means it is the oldest operating golf course west of Mississippi. Although it was originally a three-hole course, it has been updated and redesigned on multiple occasions, and it is now a nine-hole golf course with two sets of tees to allow people to play an 18-hole round of golf. While you are playing a round of golf, you can enjoy the pretty surroundings.

Visit Catalina Island Museum

9. Visit Catalina Island Museum

If you are the sort of person who enjoys learning the history of every destination you visit, then you should head for Catalina Island Museum. This is a well-curated museum that explores the history of the museum, starting from when the island was founded more than a hundred years ago by a chewing gum magnate. Specific aspects of the history that this museum covers include the proto-CIA military exercises, the spring training program of the Chicago Cubs, and the suspicious death of Natalie Wood. It is also possible to take a tour out of the museum to Catalina Casino, Mt. Ada, and the former Wrigley Field.

Go Scuba Diving

8. Go Scuba Diving

Catalina Island is famous for being a top diving destination, and this is down to the stunning underwater sights. A popular tourist activity is scuba diving, and there are several companies offering equipment hire, guides, and instruction. If you are not brave enough to explore the deeper waters, then you may prefer to try snorkeling. This is an activity that will allow you to see the wonders that lie below the surface. A top spot for scuba diving is Casino Point Dive Park. This is a marine sanctuary with magnificent coral reefs and impressive underwater gardens.

Hike the Trans-Catalina Trail

7. Hike the Trans-Catalina Trail

Many people who visit Catalina Island enjoy hiking as an activity that allows them to explore the outdoors and to see the sights. There are more than 165 miles of hiking trails across the island, but the best hike is the Trans-Catalina Trail. As the name suggests, this hike takes you from one end of the island to the other. It is a relatively challenging trail at 37 miles. This hike takes you through some of the prettiest areas of the island and showcases the geographical diversity. You will also pass by some of the island’s best landmarks.

Go to the Nature Center at Avalon Canyon

6. Go to the Nature Center at Avalon Canyon

Located along Avalon Canyon Road, this nature center was established by the Catalina Island Conservancy. Its aim is to restore and protect the natural flora and fauna of the island. Visitors can enjoy various educational exhibits that focus on conservation efforts and natural history. There is also a Resource Center where you can get involved in a range of interactive activities. This attraction is open seven days a week, and it is easy to access on foot, on a bike, or riding a golf cart.

See a Performance at Avalon Theater

5. See a Performance at Avalon Theater

Located on the lower floor of Catalina Casino is the Avalon Theater. This is a movie palace that was first opened in 1929, and it has a classic, Roman-style that features tiled mural panels alongside Art Deco murals. Prior to watching a movie, the moviegoers are treated to a performance on the Page Organ Co rank theater organ. Movies are shown every weeknight, and at weekends, there are special screenings and performances. It is best to book tickets for the movie theater in advance to avoid disappointment.

Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden

4. Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden

William J. Wrigley is the man who founded this island, and the botanical gardens are a tribute to him. This is one of the most beautiful spots on the island, and the gardens cover 37 acres. The focus is on the plants that are native to California and the Channel Islands. One of the best ways to access this attraction is to hike, and this will take 30 minutes starting from the beach. Within the gardens, there is a memorial to the island's founder and a tower overlook that is built from rocks quarried from the island. You will need at least two hours to explore this attraction.

Have a Fun Night at Catalina Casino

3. Have a Fun Night at Catalina Casino

While many of the activities on Catalina Island involve exploring the outdoors during daylight hours, there are also some fun things that you can enjoy at night. The top entertainment destination is Catalina Casino, which offers all the fun you would expect to find in this type of venue, including slots, roulette wheel, and card tables, there is also live entertainment on each night. This is the best place to have some fun in the evenings during your stay on the island.

Spend Time at Starlight Beach

2. Spend Time at Starlight Beach

There are stunning beaches on every side of Catalina Island, and one of the top beaches to visit is Starlight Beach. This beautiful, north-facing beach is set against the stunning backdrop of rugged cliffs. It is particularly spectacular at sunrise or sunset. You can take a walk along the beach, enjoy a picnic, or take the children along to play in the sand. There is a campsite by this beach which is most often used by those who have had a physically exerting day hiking across the island.

Beach Club

1. Dine at Descanso Beach Club

According to Vacation Idea, the best thing to do on Catalina Island is to visit Descanso Beach Club for dinner and a cocktail. Although the name gives the impression that this is a private resort of some kind, it is actually a coastal restaurant and bar. In the day, you can enjoy a meal and amazing view, or hire a lounger to soak up the rays on the beach while sipping a cocktail. You can enhance this experience further by taking advantage of the beach massage service that is available. Alternatively, you can enjoy water sports as the club offers equipment hire for a variety of activities. There is also a climbing wall if you want to try something different and you have no interest in lying around on a lounger. At night, this venue transforms into a party hot spot.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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