The Santa Catalina Island Company has a lock on most of the activities, so you'll use the same Web site and phone number for most of them. They call these excursions Discovery Tours (800/626-1496; www.visitcatalinaisland.com), which has a ticket and information office at the Green Pier and the Tour Plaza, an inland square in the center of town. It offers the greatest variety of excursions from Avalon, from two-hour excursions on the mountain roads around Avalon (East End Adventure) to 10-mile explorations of inland coves and ridge views (Skyline Drive Tour). Many last just a couple of hours and don't monopolize your whole day. Tours are available in money-saving combo packs; inquire when you call. Tours on unpaved roads may be cancelled if there have been rains within the past day or so.
Noteworthy excursions (which all share the same phone number, above) include the Cape Canyon Expedition, which takes you into the heart of Catalina's "outback" in an open-air four-wheel-drive Mercedes Benz Unimog Vehicle. The tour's rugged route includes the American bald eagle and Catalina Island fox habitats at Middle Ranch, lunch at Airport-in-the-Sky, and plenty of photo stops ($129 adults, $119 seniors and children).
Leaving from the Green Pleasure Pier over the mid-day hours, a year-round Glass-Bottom boat trawls the immediate area around Avalon on affordable 40-minute tours ($20 adults, $17 seniors and kids). You can also try the Undersea Expedition, a leisurely 45-minute cruise of Lover's Cove Marine Preserve in a semi-submersible vessel that allows you to sit 5 feet under the water in a climate-controlled cabin where you comfortably observe Catalina's kelp forests by day or night ($37 adults, $31 kids and seniors; discount on night rates). The nighttime Flying Fish Voyage (summers only) are a 50-minute Catalina tradition in searchlight-equipped open boats ($35 adults, $39 seniors and kids).
If you're staying in Avalon and want to check out the tinier yacht port of Two Harbors 14 miles away, the Discover Two Harbors day excursion (877/778-8322) will boat you there to hang out for a few hours.
To get inside the iconic Casino, you could see a first-run movie, screened once nightly. Or take the Casino Tour is a fascinating 50-minute look at the style and inventive engineering of this elegant ballroom ($14 adults, $13 seniors and kids). The Casino also offers a Behind the Scenes Tour ($28 adults, $26 kids and seniors) where you visit the "green rooms" used by Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, and all the Big Bands. Walk across the stage where Benny Goodman played; visit the projection room with the original 1929 equipment on display; and gain access to other backstage areas.
Newer tours include the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour and the Sea Trek Undersea Adventure as well as Snuba and the GPS Ranger Walking Tour. Beginning almost 600 feet above Avalon, the Zip Line Eco Tour is a way to see Catalina like never before. The nearly 4,000-foot zip line comprises five separate zips across Descanso Canyon and ends by the seashore at Descanso Beach, with speeds reaching 45 mph and heights of more than 300 feet. Each zip ends at a specially designed platform with spectacular views of the surrounding island interior and ocean, and interpretative signage highlighting the flora and fauna. The Aerial Adventure suspended obstacle courses and Climbing Tower, near the zip line, make Descanso Beach Club (www.visitcatalinaisland.com) the magnet for organized active adventure.
Where the zip-line tour provides a view of Catalina from above, the Sea Trek Undersea Adventure ($103 per person) and Snuba ($69 per person) gives a glimpse from below (no prior diving experience is necessary). Beneath the waves, participants may find themselves surrounded by teeming schools of mackerel or anchovies, observing sea lions or a solitary bat ray gliding through the blue water, or even catching a glimpse of an octopus or California lobster hiding among the rocks.
Catalina Food Tours (424/226-9443; www.catalinafoodtours.com) puts together a few (somewhat overpriced) walking tours, but it's the only food-tour game in town. Those include the most historic bars at happy hour (2 hrs.) and a run through a few restaurants and sweet shops to try their specialties (3 hrs.). You learn a little history, but most of the point is to have fun and horse around.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.