“An island utopia in a modern, busy, everyday world. A land where there are neither rich nor poor. A heaven on earth.” –
William Wrigley about Catalina Island
I first heard about Catalina in the timeless classic, Step Brothers (f*ckin Catalina Wine Mixer). As an East-Coaster living in San Diego, I did not know much about the island except that it was mostly a weekend getaway for SoCal residents. When I visited, Catalina blew me away with its beauty and tranquility. The people are kind, the pace is slow, and city of Avalon makes you feel as though you are on the Italian coast.
The Catalina Express runs ferries daily from Dana Point, Long Beach and San Pedro to Avalon harbor. The ferry runs five times a day and the ride takes about an hour depending on your port.
They serve wine on the ferry, and any place who serves alcohol is fine by me. FYI for people who get seasick, the Dana Point ferry-boat is smaller than the Long Beach ferry-boat. It might be worth a farther drive so you’re not puking.
Every hotel in Catalina is pricey unless you visit in the winter or book many months in advance. The hotels also fill very quickly because it is a small town there is limited space. Knowing this, I wanted to stay at the Pavilion Hotel for its convenient location in the center of town. The rooms are very nice, there are fire pits to enjoy with the free daily wine and cheese tasting, and the hotel has an included European breakfast in the morning. There is no pool, but the beach is directly in front of the hotel and is ideal for hot summer days.
The Pavilion Hotel courtyard
8:15am: Welcome to Catalina motha fucka! Congrats on surviving that boat ride, hopefully you had a Bloody Mary or mimosa on the way in. The Pavilion Hotel is only about a ten minute walk from the landing point, so don’t be lazy and let the golf carts swindle you into paying for a ride. The Pavilion Hotel is always very accommodating with arrival and check in times, and if your room is not ready they will store your luggage fo’ free.
9am: If you did not eat or are a double meal gal like myself, Original Jack’s is a breakfast spot around the corner. It serves breakfast faves and has unreal omelettes. If you were able to check in, get changed into your sexiest suit and prepare for a full day of beaching.
10am: Walk down the main street of Avalon while exploring all of the little shops and antique stores. There is an amazing homemade soap and lotion place which I love, souvenir shops with beautiful beach-inspired decor and jewelry stores. If you have children, there is also an arcade that can provide entertainment.
Stores and restaurants on a side street in Avalon
10:15am: At the end of the main street is the Island Spa. It is one of the best spas that I have been to and worth the steep prices. They have an extensive treatment menu and the historic building houses a cafe, a boutique, a pool and jacuzzi, and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms.
10:30am: If the spa doesn’t hold much interest, keep walking to the Catalina Island Casino. I became very excited when I first heard that there was a Casino in town, but it turns out that in Catalina “Casino” means “place of entertainment,” and instead only houses a theater (boo). You can take a tour to learn its history or catch a concert depending on the schedule.
View from our seats at Descanso Beach Club
12pm: Past the Casino is our destination for relaxing on the beach, Descanso Beach Club. I would recommend calling ahead to book chairs or a cabana. If you are cheap or want to risk it, you will have to fight for beach space with your towel like a you are a peasant. Booze it up on the beach, rent snorkeling gear, go paddle boarding, or order lunch from the on-site restaurant and enjoy the sun.
4pm: After some R&R and one too many piña coladas, venture back to the hotel to take advantage of the free wine and cheese tasting from the Pavilion Hotel. If no one is looking, snag a bottle and camp out by the fire-pit before getting ready for dinner and a night on the town.
6pm: The dining options in Catalina are not extensive, restaurants serve mostly seafood, and are all pricey. The best of them all is Steve’s Steakhouse, directly next to the Pavilion Hotel. The food is excellent, the service is great, and the view is even better. Do yourself a favor and get the king crab legs and the créme brûlée to watch the sun set.
8:30pm: I wouldn’t exactly call Catalina poppin’ on the nightlife front. It does have a few fun bars on the
main street who play good music and are always packed with locals and vacationers.
The Marlin Club is the oldest bar in Catalina, both with its patronage and for how long it has been open. When I walked in to the Marlin Club, every head turned because I was the youngest person by 40 years. I would steer clear unless you are above retirement age.
El Galleon was a very fun bar near the hotel but unfortunately believes in karaoke, which I do not. We moved on because a bachelorette party was trying to sing “Livin’ on a Prayer” and needed prayers.
Luau Larry’s was my favorite bar on the island with heavy-handed bartenders and great music. If you want to be a total tourist, get a wiki-whacker which comes with a free straw hat. I am a hat person and love alcohol in its many forms, so obviously I had two of them (did I have three?????). There is a great vibe in Luau Larry’s, no karaoke and always has good music playing. Also please remember that you are on vacation, so get drunk and enjoy your Saturday night! Many locals venture here as well so make sure to talk to the patrons, because they love friendly people who are willing to buy shots.
9am: Wakeup time, and hopefully you aren’t too hung over. The Pavilion Hotel offers free breakfast and has great fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, and fresh-baked breads and pastries.
10am: Snap out of it, and get ready for your bike ride with Catalina Electric Bike Tours. $30 will get you four hours and a map for a self-guided tour of the island. Definitely get electric bikes because part of the tour is up a very steep hill which I doubt Lance Armstrong could climb, even with his steroids. The electric bikes make it a fun, semi-difficult exercise that isn’t too bad whilst hung over.
Just a note on why I think bikes over golf carts:
The golf carts are more expensive, and a lot of the roads at the top of the Mt. Ada are steep and difficult to navigate. I am afraid of heights and if I had to steer a golf cart around I would honestly have had a panic attack on the top of a mountain. Take my advice, get a bike. Anyways..
11am: Check out the beautiful scenery, and take in my favorite site in Catalina, The Inn on Mt. Ada. This historical landmark was the former home of William Wrigley, the bubblegum magnate and former owner of the Chicago Cubs. It is now a luxury hotel perched on the cliffs overlooking Avalon. There are only 6 rooms, and visitors are not permitted to wander the grounds without a reservation, so you will have to appreciate it from outside.
12pm: After taking in the majestic views from the bike tour, head downhill to Avalon for lunch. I would highly recommend The Lobster Trap. It is a small and divey restaurant but the seafood is top-notch. When I ate there I had their pokè bowl and oysters, which were phenomenal, and I have heard that lobster stuffed with shrimp is the specialty.
Catalina Harbor from the Casino
1pm: Bike to the far side of the island past the Casino. To return the bike, ride up and down the streets of Avalon toward the center of town. It is really such a quaint city with so many great side streets, and this was my favorite part of the trip.
1:30pm: Make sure to stop at Big Olaf’s for a homemade waffle cone. Park your bike and grab a seat on a nearby bench to eat your ice cream. Most of the crowds die down at this time, and Avalon starts to feel like your own beach town. This time of day on Sunday was my favorite.
2pm: After returning your bike, take the next two hours before your ferry ride to either visit one of the museums on the island, see the Wrigley monument, or get lost in the little alley ways of Avalon. Make sure that before you leave, you grab a beer and maybe a snack at Eric’s on the Pier. The famous green pier of Avalon offers an amazing view of the harbor and is a welcome respite after an active day.
Wandering the pier at the end of my trip
5pm: Hopefully you stored your bags at the Pavilion Hotel while you were exploring the island by bike. Your ferry to Long Beach leaves at 5:30, and I would recommend lining up at 5pm at the latest to get a decent seat. People start lining up even earlier, so a half hour is definitely necessary.
Catalina is such a wonderful weekend getaway, and whether you stay with my itinerary or wander from it, I hope you have the best trip!
Thank you for exploring with me. xo Meghan