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What to Do When You're on Santa Catalina Island

What to Do When You're on Santa Catalina Island

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Getaway Staff
Updated: Sep 9, 2022

Santa Catalina is a sunny island paradise off the coast of Southern California, just a bit offshore from Santa Monica and movie star-heavy Malibu Colony. Hundreds of thousands of visitors take the boat out to Santa Catalina Island each year, and there's a well-developed tourism industry there to welcome them. Santa Catalina should be near the top of your list if you're planning your next vacation and are looking for great year-round weather.

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01Cruise the streets in a golf cart

Santa Catalina is one of the few places where golf carts are as welcome on the roads as other cars. If you don't have a cart of your own to bring to the island, never fear. Several cart rental businesses operate fleets of 2-6 seat carts with a top speed appropriate for leisurely, fun trips to local fun spots.

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02Hit the casino for awhile

Casino in Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island MichaelRLopez / Getty Images

The Catalina Island Casino was one of the earliest attractions built on the island, and to this day, it's one of the principal draws for visitors from the mainland. Boasting a grand ballroom and lavish theater, the casino has more than table games and banks of machines to keep you occupied and to keep you coming back for years to come.

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03Lounge around on top of Mt. Ada

As much fun as it is to explore the island on your own, sometimes you need to spend a morning between the silk sheets of a genuinely lavish hotel on an actual mountaintop. When you book a room at the six-bedroom bed and breakfast on Mt. Ada, you've got some of the most indulgent accommodations you can find anywhere.

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04Do they have parasailing? They have parasailing.

A visit to Santa Catalina isn't over until you've blazed past the beach at the end of a tow line, as fast as the boat can pull you on an awesome parasailing adventure. Several tour companies operate on the island to take singles, couples, and even small family groups on the thrill ride of a lifetime through the air over the beach.

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05Put on your best Hawaiian shirt at Luau Larry's

Luau Larry's genuine tiki bar is a little slice of the Hawaiian islands that's close enough to Los Angeles for a weekend trip. Drop by for island-themed dinner and entertainment, grab a plate of oysters, and don't forget to order a round of Wiki Wackers, an absolutely unique specialty drink you can't find anyplace else.

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06Meet the meat on a Bison Expedition

You don't usually think of roving bison herds on the sunny island pastures of Santa Catalina, but they're there, and they're friendly enough for a visit. While visiting with one of the few semi-wild bison herds left in the United States is awesome enough on its own, the hike back down to sea level treats you to one of the most amazing views of the sea anywhere on the island.

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07Visit the greenery at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden

The Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden was designed to be the most restful place you've ever been, and for most people, it delivers on the promise in spades. Sprawling across nearly 40 acres, the lush greenery surrounds a handsome memorial to William Wrigley himself, the man who made Santa Catalina the place that it is today.

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08Take a helicopter tour of the whole area

Santa Catalina Island isn't huge, but it is a bit bigger than you can cover on foot in a single trip. If you want to see all the sights on a single afternoon tour, nothing beats the helicopter tours that can generally be booked on short notice. Hum the M.A.S.H. theme song to yourself as the chopper drifts past the scenic scrub hills, and feel free to take as many pictures as you like to blow your friends' minds on social media when you post them.

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09Dine at the Bluewater Grill (or the Lobster Trap)

The coast of California is one of the hottest spots in America for seafood, especially Pacific lobster and other treats. A bunch of surf-and-turf restaurants on the island compete for your attention, and on a long enough trip, you can probably hit them all eventually. Start at the Bluewater Grill for great oysters and stout lager, and then the next night, you can swing by the Lobster Trap for the eponymous lobster dish with drawn butter and all the fixin's.

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1023-skidoo all night long at the Avalon Ball

Named for the fabled western island from ancient mythology, where the virtuous were carried by barge into paradise, the Avalon is an authentic 20s-era ballroom full of great music and real big band entertainment. Put on your dinner jacket and brush up on your Charleston, foxtrot, or Lindy hop before ringing in the New Year with somebody special.

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