Winter or summer, Catalina Island is jam-packed with fun activities to keep kids excited and busy -- for a day, a weekend or a week. If it happens to be the off-season, so much the better: hotel prices are down, the crowds have thinned out and your odds of seeing whales on the trip from the mainland to the island have increased.
I hung out with kids and moms recently while they rated their favorite island activities. Because the weather was cool, beach pastimes didn't make the list. But no one missed them.
Here's a look at winners that rate high with kids and parents year-round.
1. Ahoy, matey. The adventure began when we arrived at the Catalina Express Terminal. "I haven't been anywhere yet and I already love it," bubbled Christina as we boarded the Jet Cat in Long Beach. Soon we were cruising through the harbor, the Queen Mary and Carnival Inspiration cruise ships on one side of us and a striking skyline view on the other. The kids watched the water closely as we crossed the channel, spotting seabirds and a nosey seal that popped out of the water to check out the ferry. (catalinaexpress.com, 800.613.1212)
2. Ding, ding, ding. One of the island's charming quirks is its lack of passenger vehicles. (It takes residents as long as 18 years to get a permit for one.). But kids think the alternate ways to get around are great. Golf carts are a hit; they let you circle the city on your own schedule. And the Avalon Trolley is a winner with younger kids, who love the outdoor seating and noisy clanging and dinging as the trolley makes its way around town on an hour-long tour. Call to check the schedule; $2 per trip, $7 day pass. (catalinatransportationservices.com, 310.510.0342)
3. Something fishy. Okay, so maybe they're not real submarines; but the island's semi-submersible boats sure seem like they're on the ocean floor when you look through your porthole window, especially when thousands of fish swarm the boat. The kids I was with gave a big thumbs up to the Catalina Ocean Expeditions boat as it explored Lover's Cove. There were shrieks of delight as bright orange garibaldi, spotted calico bass, rockfish and bat rays darted in and out of the rocks and kelp gardens. Definitely a winner. (visitcatalinaisland.com, 800.626.1496)
4. Fore. Grab a golf club and join the fun at Catalina Golf Gardens, one of the nation's top mini golf courses. The picturesque course, established 40 years ago, winds around a pretty park, with holes that are challenging for adults and fun for kids. My gang liked it so well they wanted to play a second game. (visitcatalinaisland.com, 800.626.1496)
5. Where the buffalo roam. You don't have to visit Yellowstone National Park to catch sight of one of these amazing hairy critters. Catalina's herd of about 150 animals roam the interior of the island and have been a Catalina icon for nearly 100 years. (Most Americans call them buffalo, but they're actually bison; buffalo are only found in Africa and Asia). No one can guarantee a sighting, but several tour companies that schedule trips to the island's backcountry will get you to areas where they're usually sighted.
By Rosemary McClure