The 411 on Catalina Island with Kids

For the mom whose days feel like an endless shuffle of get-in-the-car-and-out-again to school, soccer, dance lessons, sports camps, play dates and the like, Catalina offers the perfect respite: a family vacation of car-free bliss.

On Catalina Island, cars are not allowed except for those already ‘grandfathered in’ or operating as taxis to whisk you from ferry port to port cochère of your hotel. Once there, walking in Avalon is perfectly lovely and can get you anywhere your happy feet may want to go, from lodgings to restaurants and from bakery to beach.

But there’s no need to wander aimlessly. Consider these 4 fun-packed, family-friendly activities in Avalon, along with my recommendations of 1 great place to eat and 1 great place to stay while visiting Catalina Island with kids.

Activity 1: While Away the Day at Descanso Beach Club

Descano Beach Club as viewed from a kayak.
Descanso Beach Club as viewed from my kayak.

Avalon’s waterfront at Catalina Harbor offers its own beach of sand, restaurants, and activities, but just a short walk past the landmark Catalina Casino you’ll find the postcard-perfect Descanso Beach Club, where a day’s worth of fun–and a delicious beachside lunch–awaits. There is a kid-friendly designated swimming area, and all ages can rent kayaks and paddle boards to launch right from the beach here. Kids can even paddle solo–with parent-signed waiver–in the sheltered area just off the beach.

Beyond the kayaks and paddle boards, you’ll find an imported sand beach that’s ultra-soft to feet, where you can rent a pair of teak chaise lounges or  for $100 to $400 (low seasons/peak holidays) you can rent your own family-size beach cabana for the day complete with two chaise lounges, a love seat, two chairs, end and coffee tables. Wifi, beach towels, and bottled water for the day are included. You’ll even be greeted with complimentary smoothies. Changing rooms, showers, and lockers are available. Click here for more information about Descanso Beach Club.

Activity 2: Take off on a Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour.
My view from a zip line platform during my Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour.

Just behind the Descanso Beach Club, you’ll find a climbing wall and the check-in point for the Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour. More than a zip line course, these eco tours are guided by knowledgeable naturalists and historians who share Catalina Island’s wild secrets and fabled past as you go. Start with a shuttle ride up the hill to 600 feet above sea level, then work your way down through the 5-line course, which includes a scream-worthy 1,100 foot-long span. Participants must be 5 years and older, and children younger than 10 years and weighing less than 80 lbs. must ride tandem with an adult. Don’t forget to bring closed-toe shoes! If your nearest of kin love to climb, ask about packages combining the zip line eco tour and rock climbing wall. Click here for more information about Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tours.

Activity 3: Delve Deep in a Semi-Submersible

Catalina's semi-submersible boat tour.
Catalina’s semi-submersible boat tour.

Set out aboard the Sea Wolf semi-submersible vessel for a 45-minute meet-n-greet with Catalina’s underwater residents. Just 5 feet below the surface, you’ll likely come face to face with spotted calico bass, several types of rock fish, and everybody’s favorite: the cheerful bright orange Garibaldi that thrive in Catalina’s coastal waters. Keep an eye out because you never know if you might spot a bat ray! The Sea Wolf departs right from Avalon’s waterfront with several departures each day. Click here for more information about the Sea Wolf semi-submersible tours.

Activity 4: Tour the Historic Catalina Casino–or Take in a Movie There

Catalina Casino and movie theater at Avalon.
Touring the Catalina Casino and movie theater at Avalon. See more Catalina Casino photos here.

Don’t be fooled by the word “casino.” You won’t find a single slot machine or poker chip inside the Catalina Casino, which is an Art Deco masterpiece you won’t want to miss during your visit. Built in 1929, the movie theater of the lower level was one of the nation’s first built specifically for the new “talkies,” and nightly showings of first-run movies still start with a performance on the giant old Wurlitzer organ. If you want to see more than the movie theater and lower level, take a 40-minute guided tour of the Casino and you’ll also get to visit the circular Casino Ballroom upstairs, which boast a 50-foot ceiling, five Tiffany chandeliers, and the wrap-around outdoor Romance Promenade. Or opt for the 70-minute Behind the Scenes tour to see even more of this legendary landmark, including the editing room where where Cecil B. DeMille viewed “the rushes” of his movie filmed on the island. Click here to see more photos of the Catalina Casino’s interior, and click here for more information about tours of the Catalina Casino.

1 Great Place to Eat on Catalina Island: Bluewater Grill

Avalon's Bluewater Grill
Avalon’s Bluewater Grill

Best fish ‘n chips I’ve had in years. Period. Of course the setting is not to shabby either . Avalon’s Bluewater Grill serves up sustainably caught seafood of all sorts and sits right on the harbor with abundant seating indoors and out. For kids 10 years and younger, they offer a children’s menu with relatively healthy options (eg. all meals include a side of salad, veggies, edamame, rice, scalloped potatoes or fries), but don’t miss the fun desserts like “Shark Attack,” a blueberry soda with sharks circling and waiting to be fed… Bluewater is on Crescent Ave. and you are guaranteed to walk by it at least a few times while in Avalon (watch for Leroy the Cat as you pass by). Reservations are only accepted for parties of 10 or more, so come early to avoid a wait. Click here for more information about Bluewater Grill and its menus.

1 Great Place to Stay on Catalina Island: Bahia Vista Condos

A 2-bedroom condo at Bahia Vista in Avalon.
A 2-bedroom condo vacation rental at Bahia Vista in Avalon.

For the family that likes its space to sprawl and visit during vacations, the Bahia Vista condos are conveniently located just three blocks from the beach. This 2-bedroom/2.5 bathroom condo, dubbed “La Sirena,” can sleep up to 6 guests, and includes use of the shared swimming pool (heated only in summer months) and spa.  Other condos are available to rent in the complex, from 1 bedroom up to 3, some with split levels and some with fantastic views of Catalina’s harbor. Click here to check availability and rates for Bahia Vista and other condo vacation rentals in Avalon.

Thanks so much to the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau for hosting me at Avalon. Click here for more help planning your own trip to Catalina Island and special offers.

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Shelly Rivoli

Founder, Editor, & Chief Adventure Officer at Family Travel 411 and Travels with Baby
Shelly Rivoli is the award-winning author behind the Travels with Baby guidebooks and Travels with Baby website and blog, and is the founding editor of Family Travel 411. When she isn't traveling with her husband and three children, she hangs her hat in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter: @travelswithbaby and Facebook: Shelly Rivoli.
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6 thoughts on “The 411 on Catalina Island with Kids”

  1. Catalina Island looks like a fun place with so many diverse activities. I really would love to rent a cabana, and also do the ziplining. Thanks for sharing.

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