We have visited Long Beach and Los Angeles, California, many times over the years and love this city. There is so much to see and do in the city that it's hard to decide what to do on any given trip. But one thing we almost always find time for is a trip out to Catalina Island to wander around Avalon. The official name of the island is Santa Catalina Island, but everyone just calls it Catalina.
Because Los Angeles, California, is so spread out, depending on the length of our stay, we will frequently change hotels, dividing the city up into quadrants. Typically, we will spend two nights down in Long Beach, which gives us one day to wander around there and another to spend on Catalina, catching the ferry out of Long Beach Harbor.
As soon as the ferry nears the town of Avalon, you know you are in for a peaceful visit, far from the noise and hustle of Los Angeles, California. The small city in Avalon Bay, nestled under the green hills, greets you as you near the island. The clear air and water alone should give you an idea of how far you have come, even though it's only an hour ferry ride.
The town of Avalon is small but sitting on the side of a hill. If you don't like climbing up the mountain, the walk along the waterfront is less than a mile and completely flat. You can visit dozens of shops and restaurants without ever leaving the harbor. The beach is right there for fun in the sun, or take a short walk over to the casino for indoor entertainment.
Your walk will begin at the end of Cabrillo Peninsula on Pebbly Beach Road, where the ferry drops you off. If you want more peace and quiet, head east along Lovers Cove for beautiful scenery. Or catch an Uber up to 3 Palms Scenic Overlook. It's only 800 feet from the cove, but it's up very steep and rocky hills. It's a mile and a half by car, and you can also stop by Buena Vista Point Scenic Overlook along the way.
We generally just enjoy the walk along the waterfront, shopping, and eating our way all the way around the cove to the casino and back. Your first stop should be at the shops and Conservancy Trailhead Building at the intersection of Pebbly Beach and Crescent Avenue. The fun starts as soon as you turn down Crescent, with a small boat ramp, colorful surfboard rentals, and the start of the small but busy beach.
Don't worry about keeping your strength up as you will soon come to Scoops Homemade Ice Cream. Or for more hearty fare, head out onto the pier to Eric's for fresh-caught fish and chips. After wandering around the pier for a bit, continue down Crescent to the small fountain where Crescent, Marilla, and St. Catherine's all come together. We always stop by Lloyds Candy Shop for some sweets or even more ice cream.
You may want to leave the waterfront at this point as there is a small mall-like area off of Crescent, between Metropole and Whittley, with many little hidden shops and cafes. I usually park myself at the Catalina Coffee and Cookie shop while my wife continues her shopping.
Once you head down St. Catherine through the arch and onto Casino Way, you have pretty much left the commerce behind. But keep going on around for less than a half-mile and check out the historic casino building. Your wallet is safe as they use casino in the original definition of the word meaning "gathering place." The building is beautiful. Be sure and get inside the luxurious old Casino Ballroom before heading back.
If you are wondering why you would take a ferry from Los Angeles, California just to go shopping and eating somewhere else, Catalina has much more to offer. There are only about 4,000 full-time residents, and 90% live in Avalon, leaving only a few hundred scattered across the remaining 70 square miles. Winding your way to the top of the 2,000-foot peak can be an adventure in itself.
There aren't that many native animals indigenous to the island, but there is a herd of about 150 American Bison that roam around the island's peak. They were brought here in the 1920s for a movie, but the producers left them on the island.
If heights aren't your thing, then how about depths? Snorkeling and scuba diving are very popular in the crystal clear water around the island and around the reefs and shipwrecks nearby.
There is one critical tip to keep in mind. Once cruise ships get ramped up again, you will want to check out the Catalina Cruise Ship Schedule. A single cruise ship can double the population in town, so if you are planning on catching a ferry over from Los Angeles, California, try to do so on an off day.
If you find yourself in Los Angeles, California, and want to get away from the big city, a ferry ride out to Catalina Island to visit Avalon is a great way to spend the day.