Taking the Catalina Island ferry is a transportive experience; one glimpse of the island’s rugged, mountainous coastline and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled to another time and place—in reality, you haven’t even left Los Angeles County. Part of the Channel Islands, Santa Catalina Island (also called Catalina Island) is just 22 miles long by 8 miles wide. You’ll find it about 29 miles from Long Beach, and a large part of the island’s transportive appeal has to do with getting there—via the Catalina Island ferry or helicopter.
Since most people take the ferry to the island, we’re running down all you need to know about the Catalina Island ferry options. But for those who get motion sickness or need to get there in a hurry, we've also outlined available helicopter options below.
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What are my options for getting to Catalina Island by ferry?
Catalina Express offers the most daily departures to Catalina Island, with service to Avalon—the island’s main port—from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point (listed in order of departure frequency). You’ll also find a couple of trips each day to Two Harbors, the island’s more remote port (you'll find more on that below).
The Catalina Express is the quickest and most affordable means for most visitors to Catalina, so much of our intel below assumes you’re booking a trip on the Catalina Express to Avalon. However, there are several alternatives, including the Catalina Flyer and a helicopter service, that offer less frequent and certainly more expensive options. We’ve detailed those toward the bottom of this story.
How long does the trip take?
The voyage to Avalon from Long Beach or San Pedro takes about an hour—about being a key word here since harbor traffic can sometimes tack a couple of minutes onto the ride. Expect an additional half hour if you’re departing from Dana Point.
How much does it cost?
An adult round-trip fare from San Pedro or Long Beach costs $76, or $78 from Dana Point.
Are there any upgraded seating options?
If you can afford it, we suggest paying the extra $40 for a round-trip upgrade to the Commodore Lounge on the San Pedro or Long Beach routes. You’ll be sitting in a comfy, more private cabin with a complimentary cocktail in hand while the rest of the ship is still lining up to board.
If you’re traveling with a large party, consider booking the Captains Lounge to get your own private stateroom. The lounge is available for up to six people on the San Pedro and Long Beach routes ($60 upgrade per party) or up to eight people from Dana Point ($80 upgrade per party).
So the Catalina Express isn’t the only way to get to the island, right?
Technically it’s not.
The Catalina Flyer operates out of Newport Beach but only offers a single round trip ($70) each day. The 1.5-hour trip leaves Newport at 9 a.m. and departs from Avalon at 4:30 p.m.
There’s also the Island Express Helicopter service, which runs a couple of flights each day out of Long Beach, San Pedro and Orange County. The journey only takes about 15 minutes, but you’ll have to fork over between $159 - $230 (depending on your departure city) for a round-trip ticket. Just note that the latest trip back to the mainland is in the midafternoon. The company will also charter a private flight from a location of your choosing, such as Burbank, but expect the price to go way up (about $1,995 for up to six passengers).
What about Two Harbors?
Though most travelers are bound for Avalon, backpackers and adventure seekers frequently set sail for Two Harbors, the island’s far more remote landing. The Catalina Express operates a couple of trips between San Pedro and Two Harbors each day for $76 round-trip, with similar upgrades as mentioned above.