At first glance, Avalon, California appears to be one of the most charming cities on planet earth. This island city is located on the easterly portion of Catalina Island. The island is 22 miles offshore from the mainland and is included in Los Angeles County.
Avalon is a popular destination for California boat owners. This is, in large part, because it’s just the right distance from the mainland to be a fun weekend destination. When weather conditions are favorable, it’s a long enough distance from the mainland to Catalina Island to make for a fun sailing adventure –without getting too overwhelming for any children who might be making the trip with you.
Catalina Island spans an area of about 76 square miles. The city of Avalon is a little over 2.8 square miles in size. Its permanent resident population is about 4,000 people. More than a million visitors come to the island every year. The island has a tourism-based economy; most of the island’s permanent residents work in the hospitality and retail industries.
Things I Love Most About Avalon, California
I love it that global, multi-national corporations have mostly NOT found their way to Avalon. You won’t find a McDonalds or a Walmart or a Home Depot anywhere on the island. There is a Vons grocery store, but as far as I know, the other businesses are generally not the big corporate chains you find everywhere else in soCal. So if you want a unique travel experience, Avalon is a truly special place to consider visiting.
I LOVE the artsy vibe in the city — from the multiple art galleries to the art tiles that decorate the fountains and walkways and structures in the city.
I LOVE the summertime ambiance in Avalon. Someone is usually playing music. You hear kids laughing, waves splashing and seagulls screeching. It’s just a fun place to spend time.
I LOVE how environmentally conscious Avalon and her citizens are. When Mike and I return to the mainland after having spent time on Catalina Island, we can immediately tell the difference between the air quality on the island and the mainland. It is a dramatic difference.
I LOVE the public library in Avalon. I spent a lot of time there (because it’s one of the few places I could find on that side of the island to plug my computer in, work, and charge my batteries for free).
Things to Do in Avalon, California
There are dozens, or maybe hundreds, of choices for things to do when you visit Catalina Island. There are so many possibilities that I should probably write a separate article on this topic. But in the meanwhile, I’ll give you an overview of just a few of the things you might want to try when you visit Avalon.
Catalina Zip Line Eco Tours
The Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour is one of the top-rated activities in Avalon, California. Mike and I took this tour, and we LOVED IT! Want to know more about this tour? IF so, I invite you to check out my review of the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour.
Go Pier Fishing From the Green Pleasure Pier
The Green Pleasure Pier offers Avalon’s many visitors a variety of fun experiences. One of the main attractions is the ability to fish from the pier. There are also a variety of shops and restaurants available on the pier.
More Things to Do in Avalon:
- Play Golf
- Go miniature golfing
- Rent a golf cart
- Scuba dive
- Go Shopping
- Dine Out
- Get toasted at a local bar
- Casino Tours
- People Watching
- Helicopter tours
- See Art Gallery Exhibits
- Try Plein Air Painting
- Visit Wrigley Botanical Garden
- Take a Walking Tour
- Check out the Catalina Island Museum
- Hike the Trans Catalina Trail, the Hermit Gulch Trail Loop or any of the area’s other spectacular trails
- Get a Massage
- Go Whale Watching
- Jet Skiing
- Paddle boarding
- Look for flying fish
- Take a jeep tour or Hummer tour
- Go for a bike ride
- Go kayaking
- Rent a boat
- Get a manicure
- See live music
How to Get to Avalon, California
When my husband Mike and I sail to Avalon, we’re typically coming from Oxnard or perhaps further up the coast. We like to sail down the coat as far as Paradise Cove. We’ll often drop anchor in Paradise Cove, spend the night there and then sail to Catalina Island from there at dawn’s first light.
For those of you who lack boat transportation of your own, Avalon, California is easily accessible by ferry from multiple locations: San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point. There are also cruise ships that bring visitors to Avalon for shopping, dining and sightseeing.
People also have the opportunity to fly into Catalina Island. The Island has its own airport (FAA Identifier: AVX). It’s about a 15-minute helicopter ride from the mainland to AVX. You can typically find helicopter service to the island from Long Beach, San Pedro, Burbank Airport and John Wayne Airport (SNA). I’m not aware of any commercial airline that stops in Catalina Island, but private planes sometimes do. Mike has actually flown into the airport with friends who have their pilots’ license. While spending time on the island, we’ve also met several private airplane owners who enjoy flying into the island’s airport.
Driving and Parking in Avalon, California
Most people in Avalon drive golf carts — and, if you’re coming from Los Angeles or another sizable city, you might get the urge to giggle when you see how small the parking spaces are in the local parking lots. Many of the parking areas in Avalon are designed to accommodate bikes and golf carts.
If you don’t bring a bike or a golf cart to the island, don’t worry; Avalon is a “walkable” city. Taxi service and shuttle buses are available in Avalon, California, so you won’t have to miss out on seeing the destinations you can’t easily reach on foot. It’s also possible to rent golf carts and bikes on the island.
When we were cruising the California coastline full time, we used to carry folding bikes aboard our boat — but we never actually used them just to get around Avalon. We like to walk, so we found it much easier to just walk wherever we wanted to go.
Mike actually got a TON of use out of his folding bike, because when we’d stay in Two Harbors, he often used it to ride from Two Harbors to Avalon. But, right about now, I should clarify that Mike is an expert cyclist, and we both had folding bikes with full-sized tires.
There is no way on earth you’d want to attempt to ride an ordinary folding bike from Two Harbors to Avalon and back again. That trip is best suited for experienced cyclists who have heavy-duty mountain bikes and appropriate tires.
Mike is a hardcore mountain biker. It’s what he does for fun. Round trip cycling plus grocery shopping would take him ALL DAY, from sunrise until past sunset, during the long days of summer. It isn’t a bike ride you’d want to make unless you’re in peak physical condition — even on a dedicated mountain bike.
Another important caveat: If you ride your bike in Catalina Island’s interior, you need to get a permit.
Accommodations and Lodging in Avalon, California
You have countless choices for accommodations in Avalon, California. The only options I’m intimately acquainted with are the “mooring can” and “string line” options for boaters. I’d highly recommend either option, but only when weather conditions are favorable.
During the summer months, when the weather is lovely, it’s soooo much fun to bring your boat to Avalon, rent a mooring and go ashore to explore. In the past, on holidays, there has occasionally also been a string line (AKA “sand line”) option available for smaller vessels (I think it’s for boats under 27′, but don’t quote me on that — I can’t remember exactly). Typhoon, the vintage wooden boat we used to cruise in, was only 24′, so we were able to take advantage of the string line a couple of times when mooring cans were unavailable.
I am not sure if they still have a string line option available; I couldn’t find any info about it being an option these days. So, you can’t necessarily count on it being available. Mooring cans are likely to be your best option if you want to sleep aboard your boat during your stay in Avalon.
Avalon Bay isn’t all that protected. Even during the summer months, when the weather is good, it can get bumpy at times.
During the late fall and winter months, Avalon Harbor gets rocked by some gnarly waves that can make for an uncomfortable stay on a mooring can. When the dinghy docks close, that’s a signal that boats on the mooring cans are likely to be rocking and rolling. To compensate, they also lower the rates dramatically — but they also lower the mooring can rates in Two Harbors as well .
Personally, I FAR prefer to stay in Two Harbors during the winter months rather than Avalon. Catalina Harbor is much more sheltered than Avalon Harbor — and Two Harbors is STUNNING during the winter months. I find winters in Two Harbors to be magical, and winters in Avalon to be slightly depressing — but that’s just my highly subjective opinion. And maybe it’s not even a fair opinion, considering I never spent an entire winter in Avalon. Your experiences could differ.
Catalina Island’s Sketchy Side
I opened this article by saying “At first glance, Avalon, California appears to be one of the most charming cities on planet earth.” Did you suspect there’s a “BUT!” coming?
Avalon, California, truly IS charming in many ways…BUT…
Like everywhere else on earth, this city does have its problems…and there’s one downside to Avalon that I’m aware of. It’s the drug problem. The article I linked to mentions heroin abuse as being a problem, which I was unaware of at the time I visited. At the time I was actively spending a lot of time on Catalina Island, there was definitely a meth problem.
In general, the USA has a drug problem — and I’m guessing the problems on Catalina Island probably aren’t any worse than the drug problems that exist on the mainland. But, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it on this beautiful island — so it’s just something to be alert to when you visit, particularly if you bring kids, tweens or teens with you to the island.
The only other thing I really don’t like about Avalon: It’s challenging to find a reasonable variety of organic food to eat. There are a few organic grocery options available for purchasing at the Vons store. And if I’m remembering correctly, we once found an organic option for coffee at a coffee house (but that doesn’t help me; I don’t drink coffee).
There was a time when organics were readily available in Avalon, but the store that specialized in selling them closed long ago. Bummer!
So if eating organic is important to you, I’d recommend bringing some snacks, drinks and other options with you in your suitcase when you visit.
So there you have it: That’s my travel guide to Avalon, California. Now you’re updated on bunches of things to see, do and experience in Avalon — and bunches of reasons you might want to visit this lovely waterfront city. If you decide to visit Avalon, I hope you’ll enjoy the time you spend there. It’s truly a fascinating place.
- Catalina Island Travel Guide
- Two Harbors, California Travel Guide
- Santa Barbara, California Travel Guide
- Fun Things to Do in Santa Barbara
- Oxnard, California Travel Guide
- Long Beach, California Travel Guide
This page was last updated on 4-27-2019.