West end view of Catalina Island, California (Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Bureau)

Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island, California (Getty/Visions of America/Joe Sohm)

Boys snorkeling off of Catalina Island, California (Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce andVisitor Bureau)

Avalon Bay and Catalina Casino, Catalina Island (LA INC. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau/Robert Landau)

Mountain biking on Catalina Island (Catalina Island Visitors Bureau & Chamber of Commerce)

Diving off Catalina Island, California (Catalina Island Visitors Bureau & Chamber of Commerce)

Snorkeling off Catalina Island, California (Catalina Island Visitors Bureau & Chamber of Commerce)

Kayaking at Catalina Island, California (Catalina Island Visitors Bureau & Chamber of Commerce)

Catalina Casino and boats on Catalina Island (LA INC. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau/Richard Carroll)

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What to do in Catalina Island

If you're of a certain age, you might remember the Four Preps song that begins "26 miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is waiting for me." But while these crooners focused on the island's romantic possibilities, there are plenty of options on Catalina Island (known by most everyone as simply "Catalina") for families, outdoors lovers, sailors, and beachgoers.

Take the hour-long ferry ride from one of several cities on the mainland (including Long Beach, Dana Point, and Newport Beach), or if you're pressed for time, hop a 15-minute helicopter flight. You'll arrive in Avalon, Catalina's only city, which surrounds a crescent-shaped bay. Perhaps the first thing you'll notice is the near-absence of cars: Most of the locals cruise around on golf carts, and there's a multiyear waiting list to be able to bring a car over to the island. This is all to your advantage, as the one-square-mile city is perfect for strolling or biking, whether you're headed to the beach, to a movie, or to embark on one of the active pursuits based out of Descanso Beach.

There's more to explore beyond Avalon's Mediterranean charm. Get a hiking or biking permit and traverse the interior of the 22-mile-long island, home to endemic island foxes and quail, bald eagles, and even bison. There's the epic 37.2-mile Trans-Catalina Trail, opened in 2009. You can also take the Safari Bus to see the island's interior, including Two Harbors, a boating community at the island's isthmus. Another option is to navigate Catalina's blue waters by kayak or boat; this way, you can access remote harbors and even glimpse some of its marine life, from sea lions to Garibaldi fish.

The island's leisurely pace attracts multigenerational families and groups who often return year after year to stay at the same hotel or vacation rental; in summer, plan ahead if your time is limited. People come for the real feeling of summer: white sails over the sea, beaches tiled with towels and umbrellas, beach cruisers bound for ice cream or other summery treats. And when winter comes, the island quiets down, making it the perfect time to visit if you, like the Four Preps, are looking for "romance, romance, romance."

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