Catalina Island an accessible review

Location: Catalina Island, Ca.

Accessibility: 4/5


Catalina Island is a rocky island off the coast of Southern California in the Gulf of Santa Catalina. Catalina’s history as a resort destination began in the late 19th century, when the Banning Brothers established the Santa Catalina Island Company and began developing the island into a tourist attraction, building hotels, attractions, and roads. We visited the island on a recent Royal Caribbean cruise which started in Long Beach, Ca., and stopped in Ensenada and Catalina. Was the island accessible? Let’s talk about it.  

A side street on Catalina Island. Palk trees can be seen along the side of the street and lot of stores

Island History

The island has been inhabited for nearly 7,000 years by the Native Americans who called it Pimugna or Pimu and referred to themselves as Pimugnans or Pimuvit. They were known for their mining, working and trade of soapstone, which was found in abundance on the island. The first European to set foot on the island was the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who claimed it for the Spanish Empire in 1542 and named it San Salvador. In 1602, another Spanish explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, rediscovered the island and renamed it Santa Catalina in honor of Saint Catherine’s day. Over the years, the island changed hands several times, from Spain to Mexico and then to the United States. It also served as a stop for smugglers, gold diggers, pirates, hunters, the Union army and missionaries.

In 1919, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. bought a controlling interest in the island and invested millions in his vision to create a “playground for all” on Catalina Island. He built infrastructure, a reservoir, Hotel Atwater, Bird Park, and other attractions. He also made the island the spring training home of his Chicago Cubs baseball team. In 1929, he built the iconic Catalina Casino, which boasts the world’s largest circular ballroom and the first theater designed and built to show talking motion pictures. His son Philip Knight Wrigley continued his father’s vision after his passing in 1932.

During World War II, the island served as a military training facility and was closed to tourists. The island was a popular spot with Hollywood’s elite during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. It also became a popular location for production companies to shoot movies. More than 500 films, documentaries, commercials, and TV shows have been shot in and around Catalina over the years.

Since the 1970s, most of the island has been administered by the Catalina Island Conservancy, which protects the island’s natural and cultural resources and offers educational and recreational opportunities to the public.

Getting to the island

We arrived on our ship and were given a departure time to catch the tender ashore. Anyone who has traveled on cruise ships will tell you, the Tenders can be small and kind of sketchy, but the tenders used at Catalina Island are large and comfortable. Navigating the ramps to get to shore was easy and all had easily found railings. As someone who cannot see, I’m always extremely careful when walking around the water, because there aren’t always rails and other safety features.

Getting to Catalina isn’t just for those on cruise ships, travelers can journey to the island via helicopter, plane, or ferry. Check the website above for lots of details about getting to this fun historic island.

In good shape

The upkeep of the infrastructure of the walkways and sidewalks is surprisingly good around the island. There are plenty of shore excursions that will take you around the island telling you about the celebrity houses and history of the island in film and commercials. We had a full day exploring the island, and spent time hanging out on the beach, and wandering around the shopping area.

From the area where the tenders drop you off, it is a very short walk to the shops and restaurants. I found the sidewalks mostly even and easy to traverse. If you use a mobility aid like a wheelchair, it would be equally easy to get around most of the areas on the island, including the ramps to get off the tender. A side note: many of the shops are older and tightly packed so wheelchair users will have difficulty in some of them.

An arch with Happy Holidays marks the entrance to the boardwalk where a few restaurants and shops can be seen. The sky is blue and clear.

Things to do

There are a variety of activities available to take part in on the island. As mentioned earlier, guided tours are available to learn more about the island, there are also a bunch of water activities available such as scuba diving, snorkeling, and glass bottom boat tours. We did not take a glass bottom boat tour this time, but on previous trips to the island we have found them hit or miss when it comes to the ability of the tour guide to explain things in a verbose manner. Often, the guides use the  typical look over there and you can see this thing method of explaining their surroundings, which does little to help those who cannot see what they are pointing at or toward. This is more of a lack of understanding about guests who cannot see and lack of education on the matter than it is a specific situation. I usually drag my wife or other person with me to tell me what I am missing.

A side note about glass bottom boats in the pacific: weather often determines what you will see. If the water is stirred up from a recent storm it can be just a boat ride with little more than a portal to the murky waters below. If you are looking for a great glass bottom boat experience the Monterey Bay on the central coast of California is the best place to go. Before losing my sight, I spent many years diving in the cold Monterey water, but the sea life is nothing short of amazing.  

Be sure to check out the Catalina Casino, a great historic building which housed the first talking films. Be aware that it costs about 25 dollars USD to tour the building. It has a lot of cool history and interesting bits of information to learn.

If you fancy some exercise, a tandem bike is always a great way to tour the locations you visit. We found Browns Bikes offered tandem bikes for rent and had lot of information about places to go and things to see on the island. 

Browns Bikes Website:

A short trip

We found ourselves ready to head back to the boat after a few hours ashore. We grabbed a quick bite, picked up some souvenirs and hung out on the beach for a bit before heading back to our boat. Getting around the island was easy. I had my cane and found the streets easy to navigate. There are a lot of garbage cans – like lots more than you would expect to navigate along the sides of the walkways and sidewalks.

If you are looking for a fun weekend vacation, Catalina Island would be a good fit. Grab a ferry from the coast and plan to spend the night. If you are visiting the island as a stop on a cruise, it is worth getting off the boat to see the island, just for the cool history.  

“Ted’s journey into the landscape of the human body is a marvelous celebration of all that is physical, sensual and diverse

About the author

Ted Tahquechi is a blind photographer, travel influencer, disability advocate and photo educator based in Denver, Colorado. You can see more of Ted’s work at

Ted operates Blind Travels, a travel blog designed specifically to empower blind and visually impaired travelers.

Ted’s body-positive Landscapes of the Body project has been shown all over the world, learn more about this intriguing collection of photographic work at:

 Questions or comments? Feel free to email Ted at: 

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