08/10/2011 05:35 pm ET Updated Oct 10, 2011

LA Day Trip: Catalina Island

Catalina Island is home to 3,500 full time residents and is the destination of over a million tourists a year. Clearly, something good is going on 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Here's what.

Boats! A trip to Catalina is unique simply by virtue of the mode of transportation one must take to get there. A car is not going to cut it, so either hustle a ride from a friend with a helicopter, or grab a seat on the Catalina Express. The ferry leaves from locations in San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point, and the hour long island jaunt is free on your birthday.
(800-481-3470 or

Art Deco! Avalon is Catalina's largest city and home of the island's famed Casino Building, which resides on the aptly named Casino Point in Avalon Bay. The grand circular structure is not actually a gambling institution, but rather, houses a ballroom and first run movie theater. Opened in 1929, this gorgeous Art Deco venue feels straight out of Gatsby, and the New Year's Eve parties here are legendary. The Behind the Scenes venue tour explores the Casino's glamorous old Hollywood history. Catalina's famed JazzTrax festival also happens at the Casino Building in October. Avalon is the island's prime location for shopping, dining and drinking.

(Story continues after slideshow)

Catalina Island

Flora, Fauna! Marilyn Monroe! While in Avalon, take the trolley to the Wrigley Memorial Gardens, named for gum titan and one time owner of Catalina, William Wrigley Jr. This 37-acre facility features rare and endangered plants, sweeping views and stunning architecture.

In addition to Wrigley, Catalina was the R&R destination of choice for figures including Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Marilyn Monroe, who lived on Catalina for a year before becoming a screen legend. The Catalina Island Museum's recently opened exhibit, "Before She Was Marilyn" documents Monroe's early life and time on the island.
Catalina Island Museum, 1 Casino Way, Casino Building, Avalon, (310-510-2414 or

Wildlife! Although a limited number of cars are allowed on the island, buses, bikes, golf carts and taxis all get visitors around Catalina. And you can walk! The 37.2 mile Trans-Catalina trail stretches from the Renton Mine trail head near Avalon to Starlight Beach on the western side of the island. The hike is rugged and challenging, especially in the hot summer months. While trekking across the 43,000 acre nature preserve that constitutes Catalina's interior, hikers might see the herd of North American Bison that has roamed Catalina since 1924. Bald eagles, foxes, black buck antelopes, reptiles and birds can also be spotted during this multi-day outdoor adventure.

Village Life! Visitors looking for a low key island experience should head to Catalina's other enclave, Two Harbors. This charming village on the island’s northern shore offers excellent biking, hiking, fishing and beaching. From Two Harbors, there is an excellent 3.9 mile hike to the island’s northwestern tip. Parsons Landing Campground is along this trail, and its eight sites provide easy access to world class snorkeling and scuba diving. The water is clear, clean and offers visibility of up to 100 feet. Lessons, rental and diving trips are available in town.

More LA Day Trips: A Day In Joshua Tree National Park