Wild Bison, Submarine Adventures & More: A Day on Catalina Island



On Catalina Island, every moment feels like a snapshot from a dreamy postcard. Nestled off the coast of Southern California, this charming destination offers a perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and seaside indulgence—all within a day’s reach. 

From morning to night, here are some ideas for crafting an unforgettable day on Catalina Island.

Getting There

Getting to Catalina Island is a breeze, thanks to daily boat shuttles provided by Catalina Express and the Catalina Flyer. Departing from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Newport Beach, these breezy boat rides will get you to the island quickly. Catalina is home to two major cities – Avalon and Two Harbors (both accessible by foot). If you’d prefer not to walk, rent a golf cart or car, take advantage of the taxi service, or get around on the Garibaldi Bus. 


Start your day with breakfast at the Bistro at the Atwater, a bright and cheery eatery just a block from the waterfront. Choose from an expansive selection of grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches, bagels, baked goods, and coffee drinks. Craving something hearty? Indulge in the Bistro Burrito for a savory blend of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, and cheddar cheese.

Next, embark on an underwater submarine expedition aboard the spacious Sea Wolf Semi-Submersible. As you cruise five feet below the surface, you’ll encounter sea creatures like urchins, rockfish, bat rays, sea lions, and orange Garibaldi. As the submersible navigates through vibrant kelp gardens, you’ll be entertained by schools of tropical fish surrounding your porthole while they’re fed from the surface.

More water adventures await with a kayaking trip to Frog Rock. Rent a kayak and enjoy a scenic paddling trip up the coastline. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, enjoy a refreshing dip in the ocean or climb the iconic Frog Rock for a photo op.

Alternatively, you can kick off your Catalina Island adventure on land with a blood-pumping zipline eco-tour. Experience the thrill of soaring six hundred feet above the ground as you weave across a canyon and over a grove of lush eucalyptus trees, surrounded by sweeping ocean views. The two-hour tour includes access to five ziplines, so you’ll be treated to ample views of the island’s stunning flora and fauna. 


Grab lunch at Antonio’s and chow down on wood-fired flatbreads, burgers, tacos, and sandwiches. Located right on the waterfront, this popular dining spot combines the atmosphere of an oceanfront eatery with that of a 1950s-style pizzeria (checkerboard tablecloths and all). Order a bison burger (a hit with the locals) or enjoy one of the many pizzas on the menu, from the classic meatball to veggie with white sauce.

The bison herd on Catalina Island.

After lunch, venture into the Catalina outback for an exhilarating two-hour bison expedition. Believed to have first been brought to the island by a movie company in the 1920s, what was once a tiny bison herd has grown to over 150. Cruise off-road on a four-wheeler as you travel through Middle Canyon and Cape Canyon. See the sights from the Black Jack Mountain overlook. And keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring overhead.

Next, see Arabian steeds at El Rancho Escondido. Tucked in a small valley outside of Avalon, the world-class horse ranch is one of Catalina’s top attractions, offering visitors a chance to see the sights on horseback. Admire the classic Spanish-style courtyard, then enjoy a horse exhibition featuring Western memorabilia and one-of-a-kind saddles. Don’t leave without venturing over to Bishop’s Chapel to bask in awe-inspiring views of the vineyards. 


No trip to Catalina Island is complete without a shopping spree. Check out the brightly colored shops and boutiques along Avalon’s Crescent Avenue. This scenic waterfront strip has everything — ice cream shops, candy stores, local art galleries and cute souvenir spots. Pick up handcrafted jewelry at Afishinados, or upgrade your wardrobe at Latitude 33 with some island-inspired apparel. For something a bit more eclectic, visit Bay of Seven Moons for globally sourced artifacts and one-of-a-kind wood carvings. 

Catalina Island’s Crescent Avenue. dbvirago – stock.adobe.com

For dinner, head to Avalon Grille for chef-inspired dishes crafted from locally sourced meats, seafood, and produce. Dine al fresco on the covered patio for epic harbor views at sunset. Indulge in the grilled octopus or pan-seared scallops with roasted tomato chimichurri.

Wrap up your day at the Catalina Casino, a historic Art Deco building that once served as the HQ for Avalon’s nightlife. Today, you can book a behind-the-scenes tour of the complex and learn about its storied past, explore the Wrigley Ballroom and, on Fridays and Saturdays, see classic films in the Avalon Theatre.  

Where to Stay

Staying overnight? No problem. Located just steps from the water, the Pavilion Hotel provides an island chic atmosphere with stunning beach views. Relax on your private balcony or cozy up to the firepit in the courtyard. For a seamless arrival and departure, check in at the Hotel Atwater. The hotel provides luggage service to and from the ferry terminal. Recently renovated, this 1920s hotel is just a short walk from the beach and across the street from Tour Plaza.

Enjoying our content?

Subscribe and receive a weekly newsletter packed with awesome stories to inspire you!

Related articles

For All Ages: Family-Friendly Fun on USVI

From calm waters perfect for snorkeling to high-speed zipline...

At Any Price: Sedona

Whether you’re traveling on a budget or looking to...

A Taste of Guam: 8 Must-Eat Spots for Authentic Chamorro Cuisine

If you're craving some traditional Pacific Islander cuisine, these...

Popular experiences

Oregon Road Trip Series: Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood

The second stop on our Oregon Road Trip series...

Oregon Road Trip Series: Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood

The second stop on our Oregon Road Trip series...

10 of Colorado’s Best-Kept Secrets

Think “Colorado” and what likely comes to mind is...

Three Days of Family Fun in Boone, North Carolina

If you're seeking a long weekend getaway with your...

Discover St. John’s Shopping Scene in the U.S. Virgin Islands

If you’re looking for retail therapy in between the...

Why People Get Padre Island and South Padre Island Wrong

You've seen people say it on your social media...