What to Do in Two Harbors, Catalina Island

The quiet village on the island’s isthmus offers plenty of ways to explore nature

Overheard in Two Harbors, Santa Catalina Island: “Why do you like Two Harbors?” 

“There’s nothing to do!”

Laughter followed, but that statement is partly true. Two Harbors can’t match the options available in its sister city, Avalon. That’s where you should go if you’re looking for a busy beach scene, lots of action, and many choices in shops, restaurants, and hotels. 

In fact, Two Harbors offers plenty to do. For example, hiking, yoga, biking, paddle-boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, camping, glamping, scuba diving—even 18 holes of disc golf (played with Frisbee-like discs).

Do

All visitor services—equipment rentals, lodging, and restaurants—in Two Harbors are owned and operated by the 124-year-old Catalina Island Company, founded by island pioneers William, Joseph, and Hancock Banning. The Two Harbors Dive and Recreation Center is the place to sign up for most activities and gear rentals. You’ll find the building just to the right as you exit the pier, across from the Two Harbors Visitors Services building. 310-510-4272 or 310-510-4205. bit.ly/2MCcgar

Yoga: Wednesdays through Sundays at 9 a.m. during the summer, start your day with a 45-minute yoga session on the beach to the soothing sounds of waves traveling the beach. Sign up at Dive and Recreation. $15. 

Hike: Two Harbors has trails to fit any fitness level, and all quickly offer rewarding views. Sign up for a 90-minute guided hike ($20 a person). Or head to Visitors Services, where you’ll get excellent advice and maps on trails, distances, and effort levels. For a gentle walk, take the road to Lower Ballast Point (3 miles round trip), which follows the east side of Catalina Harbor (called Cat Harbor by residents). At the end, sit on benches and soak in the scenery. For a more challenging hike, and a higher vantage point, head up a steep trail to Upper Ballast Point (5 miles round trip). The payoff is a bird’s-eye view of the isthmus, mountains, and both harbors. The ambitious can backpack or hike sections of the 37-mile trans-Catalina Trail, which crosses the island’s interior from Starlight Beach on the west to Avalon on the east. 

Bike: Take your own or rent mountain bikes from the Dive and Recreation Center, then ride to Lower Ballast Point or take the West Road that curves past Fourth of July and Cherry coves. Rates start at $24 an hour or $99 for a full day. 

Kayak: If you are new to kayaking or the isthmus area, sign up for a guided, 2 1/2-hour afternoon kayaking tour to Blue Cavern Point. It’s an excellent upper-body workout that leads to a passage through a narrow, once-volcanic cave carved by the sea. $40 per person. Or rent kayaks for $24 an hour or $99 for a full day.   

Laze beachside: The Italian expression “dolce far niente” applies to the six thatched-roof palapas and lounge chairs, which are an ideal place to savor the “sweetness of doing nothing.” New in 2018 and named after movies filmed on the island (like 1962’s “Mutiny on the Bounty”), the palapas sit on Harbor Sands, a beach made of 1,900 tons of imported white sand, and evoke the feeling of being on a tropical island. During peak season, palapas are $250 for a full day Monday—Thursday, $300 Friday—Sunday; lounge chairs, $30 for a full day Monday—Thursday, $35 Friday—Sunday. Order beverages and food beachside from the Harbor Reef Restaurant kitchen.

Eat

Two Harbors’ choice of dining options is limited: It has three areas with table service, which are serviced by one kitchen, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  • Harbor Reef Restaurant dishes up big plates of seafood—try the swordfish, if available—steaks, burgers, and other American standards for dinner nightly in a nautical setting with paintings and photographs of the island on the walls. Entrees $21—$35. 
  • Harbor Reef Saloon has beer, wine, and cocktails—including a Two Harbors original, Buffalo Milk, a concoction of crème de cocoa, Kahlua, crème de Banana, vodka, and half and half ($10). 
  • Reef Point Dining Deck, set under canopies on Harbor Sands just above the isthmus’ natural beach, serves burgers, salads, tacos, and sandwiches. Try the Harbor Reef Special, a tender, tasty burger of buffalo and Kobe beef for $15.95.

The West End Galley has coffee, latte, and breakfast and lunch to pick up and go.

Two Harbors General Store, the village’s only shop, truly is eclectic, stocking groceries, beverages, and produce to make your own meals, as well as myriad other items, such as souvenirs, clothing, beach accessories, and fishing gear. 

Stay

Two Harbors has just one hotel, also operated by the Catalina Island Company: The Banning House Lodge and Villas, a 12-room bed and breakfast that looks  over both harbors from its hillside perch. The 1910 wood Craftsman-style building began its life as a summer home and hunting headquarters (heads of bison, deer, and mountain goat are still displayed) for the Banning brothers. Rooms are comfortable and simply furnished, with king, queen, and twin beds, and most rooms have views. Guests get a European-style breakfast with cereal, hard-boiled eggs, cold cuts, pastries, and fruit. Wine and a variety of cheeses are served at 5 p.m. on a patio that looks on Isthmus Cove. Rates for lodge rooms start at $152 a night. (877) 778-8322.

Other sleeping options include the three-bedroom Villa Santa Cruz and the four-bedroom Villa Santa Rosa, which start at $950 a night; the Two Harbors Campground (starting at $27 per person per night); and two-person tent cabins, with cots and a small refrigerator, which are available to the public only from November to March (rates start at $55 a night). 

Catalina Backcountry offers “comfort camping,” and the company takes care of some of the work, for example, by setting up camp (with tents, chairs, beds, and tables) and preparing meals. It can even add luxury touches, such as musicians etc. Rates vary depending on services. (310) 913-9036. catalinabackcountry.com

Top photo: Isthmus Cove, Two Harbors, Catalina Island | Vani Rangachar / ACE Publications

Getting to Two Harbors

Catalina Express offers daily round-trip service between San Pedro and Two Harbors. Adult fares are $36.75 one way. AAA members get a discount ($7.50 for adults round trip; $2.50 for children). You must print and present a valid coupon and membership card at the Catalina Express ticket counter. There is more frequent boat service to Avalon from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Orange County. Daily Cyclone shuttles travel between Avalon and Two Harbors. Fares are $15 one way. (877) 778-8322; bit.ly/2I32Qjz.

(Photo: Catalina Express)

Catalina Express

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