Catalina Island Weekend 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 start humming it on my way to this beautiful island! I’ve had the pleasure of going on an annual Catalina trip for the past 10 years and it’s such an amazing place to visit! If you live in Los Angeles, then it’s the perfect way to escape from the city without having to travel far. And if you do not live in Southern California – then it’s totally worth the trip to visit Catalina. It’s a magical island about an hour away from LA by boat. You can totally 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. You literally do not want to miss the boat!
Morning: Get up bright and early and head down to Long Beach (or San Pedro) to get on the Catalina Express! This is the ferry that will take you on your journey to Catalina! I love the boat ride over to Avalon – which is the main town on Catalina Island – mostly because you can order champagne. If leaving from Long Beach, you pass the Queen Mary on your way out to the ocean, which makes for great photos!
As soon as you arrive on Catalina you should throw your luggage in the lockers they have available near the ferry terminal and then run (or quickly walk) to the Pancake Cottage! I just love this place! You can order whatever you want, but I always get 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! And I feel like it’s very necessary to have pancakes at a place called the Pancake Cottage! You should also order a few glasses of champagne to get your trip to Catalina started! Once you get to the Pancake Cottage and look out at the water whilst sipping your champagne, you will feel like you are on vacation – even if you are just visiting for the day. I must point out that there are very few cars on Catalina – most people get around on golf carts – so that alone makes you feel like you are in a different world than Los Angeles!
After your lovely breakfast, you can retrieve your luggage and check into your hotel. There are many different lodging options on Catalina, but I have a few suggestions for great places to stay:
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 his wife – Ada (of course). This place picks you up from the ferry terminal and even gives you your own golf cart to use during 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! So, while Mt. Ada is an amazing place to stay, it has limited availability since they only have 6 guestrooms. Also, it’s a bit on the pricey side so it’s not always feasible to stay there. But 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 a complimentary breakfast buffet each morning of your stay. It’s a nice breakfast buffet too – not just continental. However, my favorite part of my stay at the Pavilion Hotel is the wine & cheese social 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!
Hotel Atwater: Another great option for a place to stay is Hotel Atwater! This hotel was just renovated in 2019 and has wine receptions as well - which always makes me so happy! They have a very convenient location in the heart of Avalon and it’s a perfect place to use as your home base for a Catalina adventure.
After you get settled into your hotel, you will have time to explore the island! There are many activities to choose from, but here are a few I always enjoy:
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! 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 to start 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 fun.
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 the weekend 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 courageous. 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!
Evening: Ok, time for dinner! While I am usually all for planning ahead, Catalina is a place that I don’t worry too much about planning because I try to embrace being on “Island Time”. Depending on our mood and sobriety levels, we typically enjoy dinner at one of the following places:
Avalon Grille: This is a delightful restaurant with a fun menu and nice wine list. You should share a few of their starters since they are all so good and then I like to order the Quinoa and Kale Salad as my main course.
Bluewater Grille: I always look forward to dining at Bluewater Grille mostly because it is located right on the water. You can revel in the amazing views while enjoying your meal. They have a lot of good seafood options and an adequate wine list.
Mi Casita: Super serviceable Mexican food where you can drink many margaritas and have a great time – I always enjoy this place!
Good morning!!! You should sleep in a little, get some breakfast, and get ready for your day in Catalina. I typically like to book the Catalina Express back to the mainland for around 4 or 5 p.m. so we have a good portion of the day to enjoy the island.
If you aren’t staying at Mt. Ada, then I would recommend renting a golf cart on Sunday so you can get a map and explore Avalon at your own pace. Catalina Golf Cart provides a few different rental options. One of the places I would recommend stopping at would be the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens. It’s a great spot for photos!
Another stop I always make on Sunday is to the Twin Palms Catalina 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. I like to think of Catalina as a "Spring Break" location for adults.
Then at some point you will need to head back to the ferry terminal to get back on the Catalina Express and head back home. While you will be tempted to sit outside on the ferry on your way home, it will get cold out there so try to secure a nice warm seat inside. You will be so sad to leave Catalina, but remember it’s only a quick boat ride away!