Take Catalina Express, instead of Catalina Cruises.
It's a little more expensive but well worth it. Catalina Cruises is slow and can get you much more seasick. At night when you are returning it can be hellish. Definately book reservations on Catalina Express. It leaves hourly from Long Beach and San Pedro. RT is $43 a person. You must book in advance.
If you are in a hurry to get to Catalina, there is a helicopter that leaves from Long Beach (by the Queen Mary) or from San Pedro at the Catalina Terminal. It makes the trip in 14 minutes. It gives you a scenic tour of Catalina's coast.
1175 Queens Highway South
The Catalina Explorer leaves daily from Dana Point to Catalina. It also makes the trip in 90 minutes. It's cruising in style with a wells stocked galley.
34671 Puerto Place
Dana Point, CA
The fastest was to get to Catalina's Avalon Harbor from the mainland (except by helicopter) is the on the Catalina Flyer that leaves from Balboa Pier. It only takes 75 minutes for the trip. It's the largest catamaran on the West Coast and gives you a very smooth ride. There's a nice cocktail lounge with viewing windows and if you're luck y you may see a whale during their migration.
There are few roads in Catalina where you can drive cars. Tourists really do not have access to cars on the island-- but you will not need one. Avalon is a small city and easily navigated by golf cart. There are many golf cart rental shops along the Harbor and this is definitely the best way to explore Catalina. Rent your cart early, because they can sell out by the afternoon. The rental place will give you a map showing where you can and can't drive the cart. You can use the cart just to get around town, but it's also very fun to take it up into the hills and enjoy the amazing views of the coast and ocean.
There are several ways to get to Catalina Island. The most common and least expensive route is via boat. You can sail from San Pedro (just south of Los Angeles), Long Beach or Balboa Island (near Newport Beach) regularly. I've used Catalina Express for the trip and found their boats to be clean, comfortable and never too crowded. You can sit inside or stand on the deck. The website is listed below for hours and prices. The boat ride takes a little less than an hour. As you near Catalina, the view of Avalon Harbor across the water is a gorgeous sight.
You can also take a helicopter to Catalina Island. Island Express Helicopters is one of the major companies that flies to the island. This is a faster, but more expensive way to travel.
There are two ways to Catalina, the cheap way is by boat, which runs about $45, but even more expensive is by helicopter which is in the $100 range. We rented a boat and sailed, that took about four hours to my memory. Then when you get to the island, cars are not very prevalent. They're not very useful either, so most have golf carts or some other sub motorized means of transportation. Pretty interesting. The only place it's OK for a tough guy to ride a Vespa and still look cool.
Rent a golf cart if you're only going to stay the day. There's too much to see and not enough time to see it. I don't remember how much it cost to rent one but it's worth it- I think we rented for two or three hours and we ended taking it back a little early so we could walk around Avalon.
The rental shop is located near the dock. It's called Island Rentals.They'll give you a map of Avalon and highlight the best routes!
Catalina Express departs from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point. It's only about an hour ride from LB and SP.
Round Trip Prices: *
Adult: $42.00 - 44.50
Child: $32.50- 34.00
Seniors: $38.00 - 40.50
*these were prices when I was there- they may be different now.
You can also upgrade to the Captain's Lounge or the Commodore's Lounge and that was $10 - $40 each way.
We got drinks and sat outside- I wouldn't spend $40 to sit inside and watch TV when I could be watching the waves!
There are 8 fully stabilized vessels that travel at speeds up to 37 knots. Seating includes mostly inside airplane style but there is some outside, upper deck seating as well. A full bar and snacks are available.
Advance reservations are recommended as many popular departure times sell out. Summer weekends are also very busy and booking months in advance is advisable.
There is a 2 bag limit per person.
Ferry Service from the mainland
Long Beach Downtown - Daily frequent departutes, takes about an hour. 320 Golden Shore, Long Beach. Parking available in structure across street. $9.00 a day.
Long Beach Queen Mary - Weekend departures only takes about an hour. 1046 Queens Highway, Long Beach.
San Pedro - Daily departures takes about an hour and 30 minutes. Berth 95, San Pedro
Dana Point - daily services takes about an hour, 30 minutes. 34675 Golden Lantern
Round Trip Fares:
Long Beach - Adults $42.00, Children $32.50,
Dana Point - Adults $44.50, Children $34.00,
If departing from Long Beach you will pass right by the Queen Mary.
And due to the longshoreman's strike and slow-down, there are dozens of container ships right off the coast waiting to be unloaded.
There are a limited number of cars allowed on Catalina Island, so the preferred mode of transportation is the golf cart. They are everywhere, and there are even golf cart limos to transport visitors around. Rentals are available.
There are no piers, per say, in Avalon Bay, there are only slips with buoys in the open water. So, you must have a dingy or use the water taxi to get to the small pier.