So, can you get on in one place, and take it back to another? In other words, buy 2 one-way tickets?
When I last checked, the operators departing from all locations other than Long Beach, the Queen Mary, or San Pedro required round-trip tickets. However, that may have changed over time. There are ferries to Catalina from Marina del Rey, San Pedro, the Queen Mary, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point. Barring more insight from others, I recommend a quick Google search of the operators to find out policies for sure.
(Note: Although Dana Point is closest to San Diego, you need to factor in car availability if you plan on renting. It may be easier to rent a car in Long Beach.)
Sounds like a tight schedule for a side trip to Catalina. It also sounds as if you are renting a car for the drive from LAX to San Diego. If both my assumptions are correct, then you might consider getting to Catalina (Avalon) by helicopter. My daughter and her friend took the helicopter and thoroughly enjoyed it. Besides being a great, quick ride they spotted some whales en route. Might be worth a consideration.
Sorry, I forgot the web site for your reference. Here it is:
If you book through Catalina Express, you can go from Long Beach to Avalon and then Avaon to Dana Point. But I would recommend a round trip Long Beach to Avalon. Especially if you are renting a car. You can park it at the Long Beach terminal and it will be waiting for you when you get back. Long Beach is the closest point to Avalon and much quicker trip to Avalon.
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