Your Guide to Visiting Catalina with Kids

Catalina Island, Spring Break California, Winter in Catalina
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Looking for an island escape that promises adventure, Mediterranean-style views, and a hefty dose of relaxation without months of planning or international travel costs? Hop on a ferry to Catalina Island where sandy shores, sea lions, and plenty of family-friendly activities await. From how to get there and must-try excursions to where to go for the best pancakes in town, check out our ultimate guide to visiting Catalina Island with kids.

Aimee Della Bitta

Voyage to Catalina on The Catalina Express

The Catalina Express offers daily trips to Avalon and Two Harbors, leaving San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point. Book ferry tickets in advance and arrive early so you can park in the dedicated spot and still have plenty of time to usher your entire crew to the ferry. The 23-mile ferry ride takes less than 90 minutes, with available indoor and outdoor seating and restrooms. There are also snacks and drinks available on the boat. 

Cost: Roundtrip from Long Beach and San Pedro to Avalon:  Adults, $77; kids (2-11), $61.50; children under 2, $7

Cost: Roundtrip from Dana Point to Avalon: Adults, $76 roundtrip; kids (2-11), $60.50 roundtrip; children under 2, $6

Online: catalinaexpress.com

If you want to save a few dollars on the ferry price, check out Goldstar—they frequently offer discounts on tickets or if you want to book a last-minute trip, take advantage of the Best of Winter deals and enjoy package discounts on boat and participating hotels. 

Avalon (one of the two towns on the island, the other is called Two Harbors) is a walkable town, even for little ones. Aside from a few, the hotels are just a 5-to-10 minute walk from the ferry. If you need to get around on four wheels, there are taxis, or you can also easily rent a golf car—under six years old or under 60 pounds require a car seat. Most activities are found on either the “green” pier or in the Island Plaza, just behind the pier a block or two. There’s also a fun, little playground near the dock for kids coming on or off the ferry to stop and play. 

What to Do in Catalina with Kids

Descanso Beach Club: This ocean-front beach club is the spot to rent lounge chairs and private cabanas for the day. Are watersports more your speed? You can rent a paddleboard onsite or snorkel off the beach—the crystal blue water will keep everyone entertained looking at all the fish in the sea. Lunch and drinks are available to order so you can easily spend the day. Speaking of ordering beverages, this is one of the only beaches in Southern California you can legally drink at—make sure to order the Buffalo Milk—a Catalina specialty made just for 21 and over. 

Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Rate: $2 fee to access the beach

1 St. Catherine Way
Avalon
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/things-to-do/descanso-beach-club

Golf Gardens Mini Golf: No sea-side retreat is complete without a round of mini-golf where classic family competition and bonding is par for the course.

10 Island Plaza
Avalon
Online: visitcatalina.com/activities-adventures/golf/mini-golf

Ridgetop Eco Adventure: The island golf cart culture is ever so easy to embrace. Pretty much the only time you’ll set foot in any kind of motor vehicle is if you board an open-air biofuel H1 Hummer to see the island, Indiana Jones style. This escorted expedition is rugged and rumbling that reaches its peak at 1500 feet above sea level. Expect stunning views and hairpin turns; breathtaking drops.

About midway through there’s a stop where you can get off and hike to the top of the world (or so it feels). This gives them a lesser-known glimpse of the island outside of Avalon, and a firsthand look at the bison that wander the barely-inhabited island. Don’t forget to bundle up (higher elevations equal lesser temps) and buckle up—it’s a car seat-free experience.

Good to Know: For kids 5 & up, this tour is two hours long. Operates year-round, weather permitting.

Cost: Adults $84.95; Kids $80.95

10 Island Plaza
Avalon
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/things-to-do/land-tours/ridgetop-eco-adventure

Glass Bottom Boat Voyage: With this glass-bottom boat adventure through Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve, every passenger gets their own porthole (no fighting over window seats here). If you’ve never been on a boat like this, it’s like scuba diving without the form-fitting get-up and claustrophobic breathing thingie.

The tour guide will grace you with their knowledge as the proof swims right past you (like that 70% of the world’s oxygen comes from kelp—who knew?). When you take this kid-friendly approach to view life beneath the surface, prepare for multiple jaw drops. Yours, theirs, and possibly a Garibaldi or two (they’re the ones that look like someone colored them in orange highlighter).

Cost: Adults $19.95; Kids $17.95

Green Pleasure Pier
Avalon
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/things-to-do/ocean-tours/glass-bottom-boat

Sealife Safari: Feel the wind in your hair and sun on your face as you skim across the water on a 500 hp inflatable Ribcraft boat. You’ll get a unique perspective of Catalina’s diverse marine environment on this exhilarating high-speed adventure on the Catalina Channel and you’ll have the opportunity to see bow-riding dolphins and sea lions frolic in their natural environment.

Good to Know: For kids 5 & up only. Operates year-round, weather permitting. There is no guarantee that you will see dolphins. 

Cost: Adults $54.95; Kids (5-11) $51.95

Green Pleasure Pier
Avalon
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/things-to-do/ocean-tours/sealife-safari

best things to do with kids in Catalina, CA
Marcie M. via Yelp

Catalina Zipline Eco Tour: Not your ordinary over-in-a-blink zipline bonanza, prepare to spend two hours taking your tike tandem (there’s an 80lb minimum to go solo) down five separate zip lines with one beast of a stretch at 1,100ft on its own), 300 ft above the canyon floor, at roughly 40mph.

With five stops between flights, your host will verse you and the wee ones on the wildlife and ecology you’ll be passing through. A little education with a hefty helping of exhilaration is the best kind of fun. It is breathtaking in every sense of the word, you’ll probably scream as loud as they do.

Good to Know: Children under 5 are not allowed on this tour. 

Hours: 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Cost: Starting at $129 per person

1 St. Catherine Way
Avalon
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/activities-adventures/land/zip-line-eco-tour

Three Palms Arcade: Located in the Metropole Marketplace, this island arcade is a perfect way to close out the day. All ages can enjoy mini-bowling, arcade games, skee ball, air hockey and more. They also have a bar that offers beer, wine, cocktails, and food. 

Hours: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m
Online: threepalmsavalonarcade.com

 

Where to Eat in Catalina with Kids

The M Restaurant: Adjacent to Hotel Metropole, this cozy spot serves Italian fare and is perfect for a group dinner. Seating is available indoors or outdoor with gorgeous views of the harbor. Everything from the flatbreads to the shrimp scampi is delicious, and the service is top-notch. 

205 Crescent Ave
Avalon
Online: mrestaurantandevents.com

Lobster Trap:
Seafood rules at the Lobster Trap—the restaurant’s owner has his own boat and fishes for the catch of the day and, in season, spiny lobster. Ceviche is a great starter, always fresh and brightly flavored. Locals (you’ll see many at the small counter) come for the relaxed atmosphere, large portions, and draft beer. High chairs and kids portions are available upon request. 

128 Catalina Ave
Avalon
Online: catalinalobstertrap.com/

Avalon Grille:
This California coastal casual eatery features fresh seasonal fare along with a diverse craft beer and wine menu that will make the grown-ups happy, but lest you think they are too fancy, they are just as fluent in kid cuisine as the burgers come just as kids like them. The mac and cheese is a huge hit with little pasta lovers.

423 Crescent Ave.
Avalon
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/dining-nightlife/avalon/avalon-grille

Bluewater Grill Avalon:
Parents will give this on-the-marina restaurant a gold star for the ahi, but the kids’ menu is the real kicker. Delivered in bento boxes with grilled dipping sticks (fish, shrimp, chicken, steak, or salmon) and sides to the tune of edamame, scalloped potatoes, fresh veggies, or a garden salad, and presentation is everything. Fries and grilled cheese are there if they want it, but after such an adventurous day, they just might be inspired to venture beyond their comfort zone, especially when the ultimate motivator is awaiting them at the end of the meal: Cup of Dirt with Worms. That’s vanilla ice cream, Oreo cookie crumbles, and gummy worms.

306 Crescent Ave.
Avalon
Online: bluewatergrill.com/locations/catalina-island

Buffalo Nickel: Looking for something off the beaten path and loved by locals? Check out Buffalo Nickel and grab a slice of pizza or fish tacos. You’ll need to take a shuttle (check their website for stops) but the unassuming charm and rustic feel of this eatery are worth the trip. 

57 Pebbly Beach Road
Avalon
Online: buffalonickelrestaurants.com/

Pancake Cottage: If you have a pancake connoisseur in your group, impress them by stopping at this friendly neighborhood spot. Order a fluffy stack or a bacon waffle to get your day off to the right start. The selection here is large and the portions are huge! Kid menus offering mini pancakes are available. And don’t pass up on the house-made whipped cream or the fresh fruit toppings. 

615 Crescent Ave.
Avalon
Online: thepancakecottage.com

Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co. 
Every parent knows finding the perfect coffee shop is key to a successful vacation. Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co is your spot. Open at 6:30 am for early risers and serving hot breakfast all day, this small shop is a must-visit. You can even order online to skip the line. Cookies baked fresh daily and made from scratch are available as well as sweet treats like the “best brownie ever” or churro donuts.  

205 Crescent Avenue
Avalon
Online: catcookieco.com/menu

Scoops Catalina: In the seaside town of Avalon, ice cream rules but for made-from-scratch desserts that reflect the seasons, head to Scoops, where they use local fruits, berries and ingredients to create these creamy concoctions.

501 Crescent Ave.
Avalon
Online: scoopscatalina.com

Loyd’s Candy Shop: Just try and walk by this shop without stopping. Home of the World Famous Lloyd’s salt water taffy made in the window is sure to catch your kiddos’ eye. The island shop is known for its caramel apples and 160 different types of bulk candy. If it’s sweet, you’ll find it at Loyd’s. 

315 Crescent Ave. 
Avalon
Online: facebook.com/Lloyds-of-Avalon-Confectionery

Sailor’s Delight Ice Cream Shop: Just opened last summer, the smell from the homemade waffle and Belgian cones makes it easy to indulge in a sweet treat. In addition to non-dairy and sugar free options, Sailor’s Delight offers a caffeinated espresso ice cream with fudge swirls. Yes, please!

220 Cresent Ave. 
Avalon
Online: sailorsdelightcatalina.com/

Where to Stay in Catalina with Kids

Hotel Metropole: Recently renovated and located in the heart of Avalon, Hotel Metropole is a boutique property with an intimate feel. Be sure to check out the rooftop sundeck, for terrific Avalon Bay views. One of the advantages to staying here is that the hotel wraps around Metropole Market Place, so you’re just steps away from shops, restaurants, the arcade and even outdoor live music. Be sure to take advantage of the free continental breakfast and the wine and cheese reception in the afternoons. 

Tip: Take advantage of the Best of Winter package and enjoy discounts at Hotel Metropole through March 25th. 

205 Crescent Ave
Avalon
Online: hotel-metropole.com/

Bellanca Hotel: Steps from the water’s edge and the middle of town, this newly renovated hotel has vacation vibes all over it with ocean-view suites and a rooftop deck for lounging and relaxing. An on-site restaurant called The Naughty Fox focuses on fresh Californian cuisine like Ahi Poke Nachos and Lobster BLTs. Don’t forget to order the Root Beer float for dessert. 

111 Crescent Ave.
Avalon
Online: bellancahotel.com

Tip: Take advantage of the Best of Winter package and enjoy discounts at Bellanca Hotel through March 25th. 

Pavillion Hotel: With its lush landscaping, inviting fire pit, and comfortable chaise lounges, the Pavilion Hotel is a relaxing, family-friendly spot, located in the middle of town. If you book a stay here, don’t miss their cheese and wine reception (once it’s safe to resume).

513 Crescent Ave
Avalon
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/lodging/avalon/pavilion-hotel

Hotel Atwater: Originally opened in 1920, and just half a block off Cresent Avenue, Hotel Atwater was the first hotel built under the direction of William Wrigley Jr. (the chewing gum industrialist and Chicago Cub’s baseball field namesake) after he purchased the Catalina Island Company more than a century ago. Completely renovated in 2019, this historic hotel with modern amenities stays true to the Wrigley family legacy with nostalgic elements like two splits of sparkling wine on arrival day—a tribute to the bubbly his daughter-in-law enjoyed every evening before bed. And, if your kids need a little extra entertainment there’s a cabinet filled with board games in the hotel lobby. 

Tip: Take advantage of the Best of Winter package and enjoy discounts at Bellanca Hotel through March 25th. 

125 Sumner Ave.
Avalon
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/lodging/avalon/hotel-atwater

Catalina Canyon Resort and Spa: This hotel is more inland, bigger and not as picturesque, but is still one of our favorite spots to stay when we bring the kids, because, well, pool. As in, they have one. And while it’s a bit more removed, they do have a shuttle to and from town. Plus it’s a little easier on the wallet, allows pets and you can walk to a little park nearby. All key points for happy, overnight stays.

888 Country Club Dr.
Avalon
Online: catalinacanyonresort.com/

Insider Tip: Looking for a romantic Catalina overnight stay without the kids? Book one of these more intimate B&Bs: Mt Ada or the Snug Harbor Inn

Camping: Trade cabin fever for camping and get back to nature at one of the five campgrounds open on Catalina Island. Some of the campsites require a bit of moderate hiking to reach them, so best to avoid those if you have little ones. Instead, check out more accessible spots like Hermit Gulch (located just a short distance from Avalon) or Two Harbors Campground, just a 1/4 mile from Two Harbors. 

For more details, plus availability and booking info, go to: visitcatalinaisland.com/lodging/camping/

featured image: Aimee Della Bitta

—Aimee Della Bitta, Jolie Loeb & Andie Huber

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