Everything you need to know about kayaking on the Catalina coast

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Santa Catalina is less than 50 miles from Los Angeles and is an island oasis for the adventurous and laid-back beach holidaymaker.

Catalina is part of the California Channel Islands and is famous for diving, hiking, fishing, and a variety of water sports. Just an hour by boat from the mainland, it’s the ultimate local getaway.

The people of Southern California, my best friend and I were looking for a quick spring break to quench our wanderlust, and we ended up on Catalina. After the discovery, campsites were booked for the Trans-Catalina TrailWe decided to leave our walking shoes and explore the coast by kayak instead.

While planning the trip required a little legwork, the combination of sunshine, salty air, and breathtaking scenery made it well worth the effort.

Photo credit: Rebecca Parsons

Catalina Coast: How to get there

The most common route to Catalina is via the Catalina Flyer or the Catalina Express. Ferries depart daily, so be sure to check the schedule and plan accordingly.

Be sure to take the earliest ferry along the way so you have plenty of time to kayak to your first campsite. On the return trip, be sure to book the newest ferry to make sure you have plenty of time to catch it.

Plan your route

There are a few options when it comes to route. Most people choose to start in Two Harbors and end in Avalon – the journey takes approximately 13 miles.

If you’d like to extend the trip, head 7 miles west to Parson’s Landing. Then the next day, take your steps back and continue towards Avalon. If you’d prefer to take a corner, start in Avalon and end in Two Harbors.

Regardless of the route you choose, make sure the ferry schedules are oriented accordingly.

Plan your route - Catalina coastPhoto credit: Rebecca Parsons

Camping on Catalina

Before you go, make sure you have your kayak and Camping reservations. If you want to rent single or double kayaks, as well as camping gear, check this out Descanso Beach Ocean Sports. For an additional truck fee, they met us at Two Harbors, took the equipment we didn’t need, and met us again in Avalon at the end of our trip.

When it comes to camping, your options are many – although we’ve found that some were definitely better than others. There are nine boat campsites between Two Harbors and Avalon that are only accessible by boat or kayak.

Although any will do, ours Favorites were Rippers, Cabrillo, Goat Harbor, and Willow Cove as they provided larger beaches with more opportunities to spread out. We found it easiest to call to make reservations.

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What to bring

Careful packaging is essential for this trip as space is limited and there are no resources along the way. When planning supplies, think in a minimalist way like backpacking trips. Kayaks usually have two hatches for storage so you can fit a fair amount. But the more you pack, the harder it becomes to kayak.

The basics include all of yours basic backpack equipment plus Pack sacks, lots of garbage bags (for garbage and as extra stuff sacks), groceries, water (we packed a gallon per day per person), wag bags, snorkeling / fishing gear, a microfiber cloth, water shoes and a map Other kayak-specific equipment includes something to bilge your boat (bilge pump or a sponge) and a PFD. (Safety first!)

We found the combination of sun and exercise very hungry and were grateful to have brought a variety of snacks as well as high-calorie freeze-dried meals from Good to take away and RightOnTrek.

For more information, see Travel planning by Descanso Beach Ocean Sports Advice or our article on kayaking 101.

Meals - Catalina CoastPhoto credit: Rebecca Parsons

Kayaking on the Catalina coast

Born and raised in Orange County, California, I’m no stranger to the ocean and have been to Catalina many times. While a trip to Avalon is fun, it is preferred to get out of the “city” and explore the remote coast. I have kayaked on the leeward side of the island three times now and I can safely say that my last trip will not be my last.

On a warm day in late March, my friend and I boarded the Catalina Express in San Pedro under a warm and cloudless sky to begin our journey. To make the most of our trip to the island we decided to do the trip in 4 days and 3 nights.

day one

That day brought us to Rippers, one of the northernmost campsites, where we set up camp for the night and quickly put on our wetsuits to snorkel and spear fish. After dinner, we took advantage of the hiking terrain and enjoyed a sunset hike overlooking the windward side of the island.

Snorkeling Catalina coastPhoto credit: Rebecca Parsons

Day two

The next day we got up with the sun and made our way east to our next campsite: Cabrillo. We crossed the campsite a few miles which gave us the opportunity to explore the sea caves along the coast and enjoy a lunch break in the Italian gardens before retracing our steps.

Exploring the Sea Caves - Kayaking on the Catalina CoastPhoto credit: Rebecca Parsons

Day three

On the third day of our trip, we awoke to sore muscles and a strong headwind. Although the day was our shortest route, it turned out to be the most challenging. We were relieved when we made it to Long Point, where we lounged on the beach and had a makeshift “game night”. We fell asleep early and drove to the sounds of the ocean under a starry sky.

Sunset - Catalina CoastPhoto credit: Rebecca Parsons

Fourth day: the last day

This day was our most eventful. We took our time on the return trip to Avalon, exploring other sea caves and occasionally dropping by to do cliff jumps. We were in awe of the native seabirds and watched playful sea lions frolic in the Pacific.

We drove to Avalon around noon, returned our kayaks and enjoyed a day on the town with a hearty lunch, window shopping and snorkeling in front of the casino before boarding the ferry to head home. As you can probably see, Santa Catalina is a versatile coastal destination with plenty to do on and off the coast.

Don’t miss the opportunity to disconnect

While there were too many highlights to list, one of our favorite parts of the trip was going offline for a few days. It’s so nice in a fast-paced society Unplug the power cord for a few days and spend time in nature alone with your thoughts, friends and local wildlife.

I am happy to know that the island will always be there when life gets too hectic. I’m already counting down the days until I can go back.

Catalina coastPhoto credit: Rebecca Parsons

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