Catalina Island - Avalon Guide
“Twenty-six miles across the sea Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me”
These are lyrics from a 1958 song by The Four Preps and I always begin humming it on my way to this beautiful island! I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Catalina annually for the past 13 years and it is such an amazing place! If you live in Los Angeles, then it is the perfect way to escape from the city without having to travel far. I also believe that if you do not live in Southern California, then it is totally worth the trip to visit Catalina. It’s a magical island about an hour away from LA by boat. You can absolutely go for just a day trip, but I highly recommend making a weekend out of it, so you have time to enjoy the island without being nervous about missing the boat back to the mainland. Although, missing the boat means you get to stay a bit longer in paradise.
These are my favorite places to stay, eat, drink, and have fun in Avalon. I will keep this guide updated as I explore more of what Catalina has to offer.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Catalina Express: This is the ferry that will take you on your journey to Catalina! They have ports in both Long Beach and San Pedro. I love the boat ride over to Avalon – which is the main town on Catalina Island – mostly because you can order champagne during the ride. If leaving from Long Beach, you pass the Queen Mary on your way out to the ocean, which makes for great photos! The trip is just a little over an hour and you may even see some dolphins on your way. You can also upgrade to the Commodore Lounge which includes a beverage, and more comfortable seating. *TIP: Bring a jacket on the boat if you want to walk around outside – it gets chilly on the water.
IEX Helicopters: If you are feeling brave (and rich!) you can take a helicopter over to Catalina Island from Long Beach! It only takes about 15 minutes to get there so flying definitely saves some time. I haven’t personally experienced this yet – but it is certainly on my bucket list!
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Atwater: This is a great option! This hotel was recently renovated and has a wide range of amenities. They have a very convenient location in the heart of Avalon and it is a perfect place to use as your home base for a Catalina adventure.
Mt. Ada: I love this hotel! It may be one of my favorite places to stay in any city! It’s the former Wrigley Mansion and is named after William Wrigley Jr’s wife – Ada (of course). This place picks you up from the ferry terminal and even gives you your own golf cart to use for the duration your stay to travel around the island. The hotel is located high up in the hills and provides some of the best views you can imagine! Mt. Ada is an amazing place to stay so make sure you book early; it has limited availability since they only have 6 guestrooms. It is a tad on the pricey side so it may not always be feasible to stay there. However, I would highly recommend staying there at least once – it is quite the experience!
Pavilion Hotel: This place is such a good time! I love the Pavilion for its perfect location – right across from the water – as well as the extra amenities you receive when staying there. They have comfortable rooms with lovely outdoor patios and they give you dining credits to use at restaurants around Avalon. However, my favorite part of my stay at the Pavilion Hotel is the wine & cheese reception they have each evening! You get to sit around with your travel companions (or new friends you make on the island) and enjoy generous pours of wine and a yummy assortment of cheese and crackers – it’s heaven!
Avalon Grille: This is a delightful restaurant with a fun menu and nice wine list. They have good burgers and a nice Ahi Tuna Tartare to start.
Bluewater Grill: I always look forward to dining at Bluewater Grill - probably because it is located right on the water. You can revel in the amazing views while enjoying your meal. They have many good seafood options and an adequate wine list. They have great fish tacos which are perfect to enjoy in this setting.
Mi Casita: Satisfying Mexican spot where you can get margaritas, plenty of food, and have a great
time – I always enjoy this place! They are famous for their Cazuela cocktail which is a 32oz tequila situation that should definitely be shared!
Pancake Cottage: I just love this place! This is always our go-to breakfast spot in Catalina. You can order whatever you like, but I always opt for the Spicy Chorizo with Scrambled Eggs – delicious! Then I make sure someone at the table orders pancakes so I can have a few bites of those – they are so good! They also have a full bar so you can get your day started with a few mimosas (light on the OJ).
Steve’s Steakhouse: I am a fan of Steve’s Steakhouse! Always friendly service and good food. I know it’s a steakhouse, but I typically go for the Shrimp Avalon Style which is basically shrimp scampi served over the most delicious garlic sourdough bread. Steve’s has been in Catalina for almost 50 years – so they know what they are doing!
Luau Larry’s: Just order a Wiki Wacker and ask for the full package (trust me)!
El Galleon: They have nice classic cocktails as well as some strong rum concoctions! However, I go to El Galleon for one important reason… they have karaoke so I can sing my heart out.
THINGS TO DO:
Descanso Beach Club: If you just want to relax on the beach and day drink (yes, please) – then the Descanso Beach Club is where you want to go! It’s a beautiful beach setting where you can rent cabanas or chaise lounges and just enjoy the beautiful weather and chill! They also have a delicious Caliente Cucumber Margarita that I always enjoy! It’s glorious!
Catalina Island Museum: I love museums! I really do – I love wandering through all the galleries and exploring everything they have to offer. I definitely enjoy the Catalina Island Museum and I would suggest starting by checking out the permanent collection, which gives you an in depth look into the history of Catalina. After viewing the permanent collection, you can search through the new exhibitions, which are always a fun time.
Catalina Island Casino: Don’t get too excited – there is no gambling at this casino! Casino is the Italian word for “Gathering Place”. So, this casino opened in 1929 and it’s an absolutely gorgeous building that you can take tours of throughout the day. You can do a behind the scenes tour of the movie theater and the grand ballroom. Also, like most places in Avalon – the Casino is right on the water, so it affords lovely views of the Pacific!
Island Spa Catalina: If you are a spa person, you should definitely book an appointment at Island Spa. I think an island is the perfect spot to pamper yourself and truly relax, so a spa treatment should be high on your list.
Tours: If you are feeling adventurous, there are many different tours you can choose from while spending time on Catalina Island! If you haven’t arranged a tour in advance, then I would recommend heading to the Green Pleasure Pier (you won’t be able to miss it) where you can make reservations for a multitude of tours. Which tour you select will depend on your bravery and ambition. I personally enjoy the Glass Bottom Boat Tour for a nice casual boat ride, but they also have kayaking and parasailing experiences to choose from if you are feeling ambitious. I’m also a fan of the Three-Hour Eco Tour where you get driven around in an open-air vehicle through the rugged terrain of the island. If you are lucky, you will get to see some of the Bison that still wander around Catalina!
Catalina Golf Cart: Renting a golf cart is the perfect way to explore the island on your own. They have different rental options and they give you a map so you can take the scenic route to achieve the best views.
Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens: This is walking distance from town – and a nice quiet place to experience nature on Catalina (without venturing too far into the island). It’s a great spot for photos!
Bonus: Three Palms Avalon Arcade! Yes, I’m still a big kid at heart and I am amazing at air hockey – so, I always enjoy working on my air hockey skills at this arcade. Then I usually find time to stop in a few of the adorable shops along Crescent Ave (the main street of Avalon) to purchase some island-themed souvenirs – perhaps stopping in between shops to enjoy a glass of wine or champagne.