New and different ways to see Catalina

New and different ways to see Catalina
On Santa Catalina island, a heli-bike tour is one way to get well beyond Avalon. Such trips take riders into the interior where they can ride and get great views of the coastline. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

Tired of L.A.'s crammed beaches and gridlocked highways?

A one-hour ferry ride to the island of Santa Catalina gives visitors lots of opportunities to see animals in the wild, to discover windswept, deserted beaches and to see panoramic views of land and sea.


You can see more about the island beyond Avalon in this story. Here are some ways to do that:

Explore by helicopter

Sightseeing flights are offered by Island Express Helicopter Service, (800) 228-2566; $115 per person for a 15-minute flight. Or try heli-hiking or biking, the newest adventure trip to hit the island. Island Express will deliver you to an out-of-the-way location for a day of discovery. A package tour sponsored by Santa Catalina Island Co. is also available that combines heli-biking or hiking in the backcountry with an overnight stay at the waterfront Pavilion Hotel in Avalon. Participants travel into the interior by helicopter, have lunch at Two Harbors' Harbor Reef Restaurant, and have the opportunity to explore the island on foot or on mountain bike.

Info: Santa Catalina Island Co.,  (800) 626-1496;  starting at $734 a person.

Explore by Jeep

Jeep Eco-Tours, organized by Catalina Island Conservancy, will get you into the back country, where you'll have an opportunity to see vast portions of the 88% of the island that most people miss.

Info: Catalina Island Conservancy, (310) 510-2595; starting at $70 a person.

Explore by Hummer

The East End Extreme Hummer Tour, which features an open-air, bio-fuel H1 Hummer, starts at sea level and heads up at a steep angle on a dirt road, traveling to 1,500 feet above sea level before topping out on a summit; adults, $76. The tour, offered by Santa Catalina Island Co., is a hang-on-tight, white-knuckle adventure. Other Hummer tours visit Cape Canyon.

Info: Santa Catalina Island Co., (800) 626-7270

Explore by bus or bike

Not so scary, but still a real eye-opener, is the Catalina Adventure Tours bus trip, a  two-hour tour that winds up the mountains to the Airport in the Sky; adults $39.

Info: Catalina Adventure Tours bus trip, (877) 510-2888

Several vendors offer the bus trips, which are generally a less expensive way to see the back country of Catalina.


Hikers might like Wildlands Express, which will take you to Airport in the Sky, in the island's interior. Ride or walk back to town, or just hike for a few hours and catch the next Express shuttle back to Avalon; $16 one way or $32 round-trip.

Info: Wildlands Express, (310) 510-0143

Another way to see the sights is on a Bike Catalina Tour, which delivers participants to Airport in the Sky, or other locations, with a bike. You ride back to town.

Info: Bike Catalina Tour, (310) 913-1028, starting at $69.

Explore on Foot

Hiking and camping have always been favorite pastimes on Catalina; Avalon actually started out as a summer tent village. The 37.2-mile Trans-Catalina Trail, which opened in 2009, established a route that not only gives hikers spectacular views and encounters with nature but also connects the island's campgrounds.

Permits, which are free, are required for hiking and camping; users are asked to help prevent the spread of non-native plants by making sure seeds don't piggyback onto the island on boots, clothing or gear.

Info: Catalina Island Conservancy (310) 510-2595

Camping with a view

Catalina has five campgrounds, four in the interior (outside of Avalon) and one in Avalon, and a scattering of sites reachable only by boat. Equipment is available for rent. Fees for camping are assessed per person rather than per site.

All sites require permits and have restrictions. Camping permits are issued upon check-in at Two Harbors Visitor Services or in Avalon, at Hermit Gulch Campground or the Island Tour Plaza.

Reservations: Visit Catalina Island, (310) 510-8368. Book online, or pay a $25 fee for booking by phone.


Reservations can be made online or by calling (310) 510-8368. Book online, or pay a $25 fee for booking by phone.