Nestled a mere 20 miles from the Los Angeles coastline, Catalina Island, Califorina offers many different types of vacations. Families can relax on the beach, splash in the water and take a submarine tour to spot local marine life. Couples can enjoy sunsets with a glass of wine before stargazing on the sand. Foodies can meander up and down Crescent Avenue, seeking the Mexican, Italian, seafood and ice cream around.
But groups looking for adventure are sure to have the most fun of all. Catalina Island is filled with water sports and outdoor exploration for active adventurers.
So when it came time to celebrate my best friend’s birthday, we set off to see what kind of excitement we could find on its shores.
Starting Out Strong
Because it’s an island, even the process of getting there is an adventure. The hour-long boat ride on the Catalina Express is great way to kick start the experience. The first time I went, the water was so choppy people were getting sick. This time, smooth as glass. Part of the excitement is not knowing what you’ll face on the journey.
For an added sense of danger, hop aboard a helicopter for a 15-minute whirl over the Pacific. The ride, although quick, will produce a healthy dose of adrenaline to get your tropical vacation started right.
Zipping Through Catalina’s Canyons
Once arriving on the island, our true adventure began. Not entirely sure what to expect, we downed a couple cocktails by the beach before enjoying Catalina’s ZipLine Eco Tour.
After suiting up with the rest of our group, we were whisked uphill along island roads in an open-air jeep. Up, up and away we went until hawks circled overhead. We stepped out, climbed the stairs to the platform and took a look at the first of five ziplines.
After watching a few others, it was my turn. Taking the recommended gentle step off the platform, I was suddenly soaring through the air. Stunning canyon views were a bonus, but there was nothing that could compare to the feeling of pure excitement and, strangely enough, relaxation that I felt on that first run.
We continued to zigzag back and forth across the desert canyon, toward the sea, making friends with the rest of our group of nine. Our instructors, Brandon and Elana, kept us safe and laughing throughout the adventure.
A Bird’s Eye View
If flying over the island isn’t your cup of tea, take to the water instead: the bay outside of Avalon is perfect for parasailing.
Walk to the end of the Green Pleasure Pier and enlist the help of Island Water Charters—like we did. Sitting on the end of the pier in the sunshine, we watched the boat return, smiling faces all around. Then it was our turn to get out on the water, wind whipping our hair as we made our way further from the harbor.
After a few safety rules, a girl went solo as we snapped some photos of her. A group of three kids from the docked cruise ship went up next, then it was our turn. Having ordered the pivotal photo package, we sat down on the back of the boat, posed for some photos then felt our bodies slowly lifting into the air.
As we lifted higher and higher—800 feet, to be exact—we experienced a view of the island that not many get. It was beautiful from above. But the feeling of being weightless, of flying, was even more wonderful than anything else.
Fear gripped us as gusts of wind yanked the sail around but we made the most of it, dipping our toes in the water on the way down before landing back on the boat. Adrenaline rushing through out veins, the ride back to the dock was a bit of a blur. But we ended up with more than 100 photos to mark the occasion, ensuring we won’t forget it any time soon.
The Best Hike on Catalina Island
Sure, hiking doesn’t have quite the adventurous appeal that zipling or parasailing do. But it’s a great way to explore while getting your blood pumping. From downtown, it’s a nearly two-mile trek up a slight hill to reach the ultimate destination. Get a workout along the way, viewing homes, a park and a golf course along the way—a glimpse into year-round life on the island.
On the way, you’ll pass the Catalina Island Conservancy Nature Center. We stopped inside to catch our breath while learning about the local natural environment. The center provides information on local wildlife, natural processes and the plants found on the island. There is also a rock collection, tips on camping and mini exhibitions for little ones to enjoy.
After reading through the interesting plaques, we continued on to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden for the Garden to Sky hike. Wandering along the pathways of the garden, we were able to see the different types of desert plants and cacti that call the island home. A small creek (dried up during our visit) ensured a few cute wooden bridges that make for great photo ops.
Once done exploring the plant life, we made out way to the back of the park to the memorial. Created to honor William Wrigley Jr., the monument features materials found on the island. We climbed all the way to the top, where we enjoyed stunning views of the unique architecture as well as the sloping land leading back to the ocean.
For even more adventure, continue into the wilderness near here. The Hermit Gulch Trail Head is a great place to start for more experienced hikers.
No matter how you choose to explore Catalina Island, you’re sure to find excitement—one way of another.