Peace and relaxation abound in Catalina Island’s charming Two Harbors

My wife and I have become huge fans of Catalina Island after visiting there twice in recent years. Having stayed previously in Avalon, this time we decided to explore Two Harbors, a tiny community eighteen miles northwest of Avalon. We had heard about it frequently, mainly as a place for boaters, so we weren’t sure what it offered us landlubbers. Here’s what we found out: It’s “the other Catalina”, a unique place that is uncrowded, amazingly quiet, and surrounded by towering hills, two blazing blue harbors less than a ten-minute walk apart and a tiny town that is relaxing, safe and devoid of most high-tech, noisy stuff.

Unlike Avalon, where most visitors go, Two Harbors has very few vehicles of any sort, and no paved roads, no stop signs or stop lights. With only 80 to 100 permanent residents, one hotel, one store, a public bathhouse and two small restaurants, the place epitomizes the concept of a “small, quaint, cozy community.”

Based on the people we met, Two Harbors attracts two types of visitors: those who want to decompress in the placid ambiance, or those who want to combine some relaxation with adrenaline-stimulating activities such as hiking, mountain biking (you better be in great shape), diving, snorkeling, kayaking or paddleboarding.

How to get there: The Catalina Express brought us directly from San Pedro to Two Harbors in a large, fast and comfortable ferry boat in about an hour and a quarter. I took a non-drowsy Dramamine to prevent seasickness, but so far the crossings have been no problem. Love a good deal? Travel for free round trip for your birthday! Some visitors arrive on the island via a helicopter service, or their own plane or sailboat.

Where to stay: There’s only one hotel: the Banning House Lodge. Situated on a hill overlooking the town, this charming bed and breakfast was originally built in 1910 as a summer home for the island’s first owners, the Banning brothers. We were lucky to get the Carriage Room overlooking Catalina Harbor, because with only 12 rooms, the hotel gets booked quickly, especially in the peak summer season. Our morning ritual consisted of sitting on the patio and eating our breakfast, and sipping on a cappuccino, while gazing at the nearby hills, the sparkling blue ocean water and the scattered cottages of the town below. Only an occasional bird chirp and the rustling of a passing breeze disturbed the silence. Without any TV or WiFi, we were forced to kick our high-tech habits and just slow down amid the pervasive peace and tranquility. A tip: bring your favorite beverages and keep them in the guest refrigerator in the kitchen.

Next time we might try staying at the campground a short walk from town; the sites have great ocean views, and a shower/restroom facility is available in town.

What to do: We enjoyed our casual strolls around town and to the promontory at the end of Catalina Harbor, as well as a heart-pounding hike up the mountain west of town that provided expansive views of the island and surrounding ocean. The water was too cold for us to snorkel or swim in May, but later in the year when the water is warmer, we wouldn’t miss the various water activities, especially the snorkeling which is said to be great by the USC research facility and swimming at the nice, sandy beach in town. We had a blast learning to maneuver our rented motorboat (skiff) as we cruised along the rocky shore, sometimes spotting bright orange fish in the crystal clear water.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for what Catalina Island offers those who seek places “off the beaten track.” Avalon or Two Harbors are both thoroughly enjoyable, but contrasting, getaways that are easy and fast to reach. Set aside at least three days in either place and you can have a vacation you’ll remember. My goal in traveling is to find peace, joy and aliveness in new and special places—Catalina’s Two Harbors provided just that. 

Doug Hansen is a travel writer and photographer in Carlsbad, CA. You can find more photos and articles at




TRANSPORTATION: Catalina Express;


LODGING: Banning House Lodge, 1 Banning House Rd, Avalon, CA 90704;; (310) 510-4228.

CAMPING: For details, visit or call 310-510-4205.

EATING: Harbor Reef Restaurant (dinner only) or West End Galley (breakfast & lunch).

AQUATIC RENTALS: Dive & Recreation Shop; 310-510-4272; snorkel gear, kayaks, paddleboards, umbrellas, mountain bikes, wetsuits, SCUBA gear for rent.

BOATERS/MOORING: or call 310-510-4237.

READING: “Between Two Harbors” by Doug Oudin, a charming book about the author’s 32 years in this small community.