I have a confession to make. I have lived in Southern California for over 10 years and I had never been to Catalina until last week. And now it’s your turn to admit that you haven’t been in a while either! If ever! Oh, the shame. BUT I would like to state for the record that contrary to popular belief, it is way easier to plan and get to Catalina than previously assumed – technically you don’t even leave Los Angeles! That’s the thing with Catalina – it’s just easy. Take the boat, get off, walk around, eat and drink some things, go adventuring, catch some rays, stay the night, and then go back to the main island in a day or two a happier and more relaxed person. SO, on that note, pack your overnighter because we’re headed for straight for the island of happiness – your ideal mini getaway awaits!
Catalina, if you haven’t already deduced, is an island off the coast of Los Angeles – 22 miles to be exact – and can be easily accessed by boat or helicopter (and plane if you happen to have a friend with one of those). The best and most affordable way to get there though is via ferry boat service, The Catalina Express. The Catalina Express runs out of Dana Point, Long Beach, and San Pedro and the ride into Avalon is about an hour give or take. The good news is the ferry has a bar – hurray! – and they happen to be known for crafting some pretty mean Bloody Marys. The bad news is – at least for my fellow prone to seasickness people – that it can get a little, “wavy”, let’s just say. Bring your Dramamine or pack your Seabands (which as we all I know I SWEAR by).
Also worth noting that as of 2018 the Catalina Express no longer offers free rides on your birthday. But who needs a free birthday ride when you can convince your friends to buy you birthday Bloody Marys?
There’s something about Catalina that makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time, and I can’t decide if it’s back to either 1990 or 1940. It’s a bit of both I suppose. But either way, nonetheless, there’s definitely a sense of feeling transported to a time and place where things are just easier, and simpler – so go ahead, leave the rose-colored glasses at home, where you’re going you won’t even need ’em.
Avalon is exactly what you’d imagine a small local beach town would be like; the people are laid back, it’s easy to get around (golf carts anyone?), the restaurants and bars are charming in that “you’ve been here a while haven’t you” kind of way, and the livin’ just seems easy! Nothing on the actual island is outrageously priced either. From accommodations to dining, to entertainment, you’d be surprised how affordable you can make a Catalina getaway.
WHERE TO STAY
Well if this isn’t the cutest darn hotel on the whole island. Located right in the heart of town Pavillion Hotel offers great rooms at great prices – but the best part is, staying at this hotel allows you complimentary access to:
- Hot breakfast buffet with omelette bar
- Evening wine & cheese receptions
- Lunch and dinner delivery options
- Use of Island Spa Catalina’s Wellness Studio
- Beach towels and access to Descanso Beach Club
- Avalon Scenic Drive and Glass Bottom Boat
- Use of a bicycle to explore Avalon during your stay
- Personalized concierge and luggage service from the ferry
That wine and cheese reception is not to be missed people!
I already can’t wait to come back and stay here, it was perfect in every single way possible.
Besides Hotel Pavillion… there are tons of other places to stay on the island. Some local favorites include:
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Of all the places we went in two days, The Lobster Trap ended up being my favorite meal for one reason: their insane lobster roll. I’ve never seen so much lobster in a lobster roll in my life! It nearly brought me to tears. The restaurant is a little on the “divey” old-school side, but between the vibrant “under the sea” inspired mural on the outside and the “fishermen’s den” inspired decor on the inside, it is certainly not lacking in charm. I would have eaten here all weekend if I could, but fortunately, there is so much more to see and eat.
I have always loved Bluewater restaurants – fun fact I actually had my college graduation lunch at the Bluewater Grill in Newport. Needless to say when I saw that familiar Bluewater sign along the main drag in Avalon I was thrilled – and not to mention it’s one of the only restaurants actually on the water. Bluewater is seafood-focused, it’s a bit more upscale, but the ambiance, the patio, the wine, and the food make the price tag totally worth it.
THE place you want to be at during the day is Descanso Beach Club. Located a short walks distance from the Casino (that big iconic building, you know the one), Descanso Beach is officially one of the coolest places to hang out on the island. Besides offering lounge chairs and cabanas to enjoy, they also have a gorgeous waterfront restaurant and bar that will immediately put you straight into vacation mode. Two pieces of advice: order the Buffalo Milk (the islands signature drink) and the nachos.
Arguably the nicest restaurant establishment on the island, Avalon Grille is a great spot for date night – or just a more upscale place to dine in general. It offers your typical grille/steakhouse items and has a fully stocked bar with the best wine list on the island. I ordered the Andouille & Lobster Ballerina pasta – again the amount of lobster in this dish!! – and it is hands down worth coming back to Catalina alone for.
The Sandtrap’s Happy Hour seems to be a thing of legend, so if it’s that time of day and you’re not at Hotel Pavillion for wine and cheese hour… get your butt over to The Sandtrap for $1 tacos, $5 margaritas, and cheap beer! A lot of people seem to say that The Sandtrap is actually their favorite place on Catalina, I cannot personally attest but when I return, rest assured I will be investigating.
Lloyd’s of Avalon is everything you’d hope and imagine an island confectionary would be. It’s old school, it’s all homemade, and they’ve got everything! If you’re in need of that cold afternoon ice cream treat or you’re just dying for some local salt water taffy, you know where to go.
If I didn’t have you at “pizza“… god help you.
If you’re in search of the best breakfast on Catalina, look no further than Original Jack’s Country Kitchen. This place has been an island staple for years and is still as popular as ever. It’s classic, old school, clearly beloved, and offers a damn solid breakfast. Be sure to stop into their bakery for some treats for the road as well! I swear you can smell those cakes/pies from a mile away, it’ll be hard to leave without one.
Goofy, divey, kitschy, mandatory. That’s Luau Larry’s for ya, and even if none of that *and a big straw hat* sounds like your thing, trust me on Catalina it will be. Let your inner college kid have a moment – order that Wiki Wacker, wear that stupid straw hat, and tun up the Bob Marley. You’re on Catalina at Luau Larry’s and life is good. Weird, but good.
Another evening activity of legend is karaoke at El Galleon. I can’t tell you how many people I know recommended this to me! Like, surprising, seemingly non-karaoke type people! I wasn’t quiiiite in Karaoke mood myself this past trip, but I have faith that one day I will muster up the courage to bless that beautiful hot mess.
WHAT TO DO
The golf cart rental was the single most recommended thing to me by so many of you! It’s everyone’s favorite for a reason: everyone. loves. golf carts. But really, what a fun and unique way to get around and check out the scenery and learn the history of the island! Did you know that the island was once entirely owned by the Wrigley family (and partly still is!) and this year is the Centennial celebration of that purchase? So cool right?
Ten years ago the zip line was installed on Catalina and was the single driving force in saving the island’s economy at the time. When it first opened they were apparently booked out for the next year and a half! The Zip Line tour really does seem to be the activity to partake in for the more adventurous folk, the consensus seems to agree that it’s worth the nerves!
Water lovers, there is more for you to do here than even imaginable. Scuba, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, floating, boating – you name it you can do it. Descanso Beach Ocean Sports has all of the tools you need to get out there an explore the ocean!
The Catalina Casino is the island’s fixture. It’s the most iconic part of the town with such rich history and beautiful scenery. At this time there are three different tours of the Casino you can take: a Twilight Tour, a Behind the Scenes Tour, a Movie Theater Tour, and a general Casino Tour. Head HERE for more info on all of those available options.
If you make it all the way out to Catalina, you might as well see more of the island beyond Avalon. A fun way to do that is by way of Jeep Tour with benefits being a small group with better chances to see more (buffalo hello!), you’ll have the chance to learn more about the island’s history, landscape, and inhabitants – and have a blast driving around in a Jeep while you’re at it.
Of course Catalina has a big beautiful spa! Complete with nine treatment rooms, luxurious lounges, private suites, Jacuzzi, soaking pool, dry sauna, eucalyptus steam room and expansive relaxation deck with beautiful ocean views. Visit Island Catalina Spa for booking and more info.
Yes! This outrageously beautiful movie theater that was built in 1929 as part of the Casino STILL plays movies. For more info and movie screenings head HERE!
Golf = vacation. So naturally, Catalina has a regular golf course (9 holes) AND a mini-golf course. Head HERE for more info.
MORE MORE MORE
There seems to be a never-ending amount of activities to do on Catalina. For a full list of these activities plus more, visit The Catalina Island Company for more!
*If YOU have your own favorite places/people/activities in Catalina please share with us in the comments! The more we share the more we know, so keep it coming!