Oh the adventure that awaits you on this quaint little Southern California island!
Looking for something unique and entertaining to do with your family? Do you seek out adrenaline pumping activities like zip lining, parasailing and jet skiing? Do you love exploring historical sites and lounging on beautiful beaches? Have I got the island for you: Santa Catalina Island.
Catalina literally has something for everyone. When our family heads over to the island, my 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son just can’t wait to get there. Our family has a home in Avalon and we get to stay for a few days at a time, which allows us to squeeze in as many activities as we can. But the beauty of Catalina is that you can stay for a week or just come over and enjoy Avalon for the day.
Getting there is part of the fun. The Catalina Express will get you safely to the island from San Pedro, Long Beach or Dana Point. It will only take a little over an hour to reach Avalon. Check the Catalina Express website for booking and viewing departure times.
Time for Loungin’
If hanging out at the beach is what you crave, take a nice walk over to Descanso Beach Club. It is roughly a 20-minute walk from the docks to this newly refurbished beach club. My family could stay here all day long, and we have. In Descanso you will find: Kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, inner tubing, even the latest and greatest attraction – the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour. This is the hottest ticket on Catalina right now. Five independent zip lines take you from the canyon top all the way down to the white sand beaches of Descanso. Zipping up to 45 mph, this is sure to be a memorable part of your Catalina adventure.
Local Tip: Get your reservations before you arrive on the island. The Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour has been selling out so reserve your spot by calling 800-626-1496 or purchase online.
The Descanso Beach Club also has first class beach amenities. You can rent a beachfront cabana or a set of cushioned beach lounge chairs on the private section of the beach. Click here to reserve today. It is a little on the pricey side, but well worth being comfortable on the beach if you are making a full day of it. If you want to just sit on the sand, they also have a section for that at $2 per person. The restaurant and bar at Descanso Beach are fantastic! The menu has yummy burgers and salads, a great kids’ menu and signature sandwiches. My favorite is the Seared Rare Ahi Sandwich. OMG this is my drug on Catalina. A whole-wheat bun with a large ahi steak topped with wasabi mayo and Asian coleslaw, served with golden French fries. Descanso Beach club also has nice restrooms and changing rooms located off of their large grass area. So if sitting in the sand isn’t your thing, you can hang out on the lawn and enjoy watching the volleyball games or the zip liners flying by overhead, or enjoy one of the many bands that play on the bandstand. If after a fun day on the beach you need to hustle back to your departing ferry, don’t worry; you can just grab a cab to take your tired self back to the docks.
Exercise Your Mind
The historical side of Catalina is fascinating. From connections to Hollywood to the Chicago Cubs to the native Indians and the ownership of the island throughout its history, there’s so much to learn. You can take 20 different types of tours around Avalon. Jump on a Segway Tour for a fun guided spin around this amazing city. Try stopping by the Casino of Avalon and take a tour of the building or walk through a self-guided tour of the Catalina Island Museum. The Casino was built as a meeting place, a dance hall and a social venue. It has never been a typical gambling casino. You can take a ghost tour of Avalon, which I imagine would be quite a hoot! One of the best ways to see all of Avalon is to rent a golf cart. There is only one golf cart rental company, so just follow the crowd down the shopping promenade and sign yourselves up for a two hour adventure. They will supply you with a great map pointing out all the cool places to visit and see. You must be 25 years or older to drive a golf cart. Sorry, kids.
Follow the Fragrance of Flowers
A must see is the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. It is a nice hike up the canyon from the main streets of Avalon. Not a hard walk; just uphill all the way. On your walk up, you will pass the spring training field of the Chicago Cubs (1921 – 51), the now-closed Bird Park and the really cool Catalina Nature Center. Stop into the Nature Center for a free educational background on Catalina Island. A must see for the kids, and I am sure the grownups will learn something, too. The Memorial and Botanical Garden has a small admission fee but is so totally worth it. You can even let the big kids run around here on their own. Tell the kids to meet you at the top of the memorial. Don’t forget your camera, as this is an awesome place for pictures. Another fantastic tour is in on an open-air bus. This tour will take you around Avalon and all the way up to the Airport in the Sky. This tour is not for the faint of heart. The road up to the airport is narrow and on the side of a cliff. As a tourist, this is the best way to go into the interior of the island and see all the beauty that lies in there. You might see some buffalo or foxes anlong with unforgetable, untouched landscapes. Once you reach the airport, you can grab a little nibble at the café and shop in the darling little gift shop. Local Tip: Grab one of the Cafe's homemade cookies. They are famous!
Shop Till You Drop
Let’s not forget shopping. Oh, Avalon is just full of great shopping. The main shopping promenade is a blast. You will find great art galleries, amazing boutiques and even general souvenir shops. Pick up a little something to commemorate your Catalina Island adventure.
Now for my most favorite pastime—eating. Being the true foodie that I am, I can honestly say that I have eaten at every restaurant in Avalon. I have my favorites, of course. Antonio’s features great waterfront dining for the family, and the best pizza on the entire island. There is Jack’s, Sally’s, El Galleon, Sandtrap, and The Lobster Trap, just to name a few of my favorites. These are all family-friendly places and offer a wide variety of delicious dishes. Now, if you want a little fancier dining option, you have M Restaurant, Avalon’s newest restaurant. This is more than just great food; the atmosphere at M is charming and relaxed, with an excellent wine list as well. Try Steve’s Steakhouse or Ristorante Villa Portofino for out-of-this-world food and fantastic service. The most hidden restaurant is called the Buffalo Nickel Restaurant. You will need to catch the free shuttle to get to this yummy, casual dining spot located by the helipad past Pebbly Beach. One of the best tourist spots to eat is on Paradise Pier itself. Get your fried clams or smoked albacore with a cool beer or soda and sit on the rail. When we are in Avalon, we just eat our way through town.
Geez, what have I missed? Did I mention there is a mini-golf course in town? The coolest movie theater you will ever see is located on the 1st floor of the Casino. There is the Main Beach to swim and tan on. You can join in on awesome local events. Check out the calendar here. They have concerts on the beach and even Bingo on the beach (twice a week during the summer). You can scuba dive off of the Casino (bring your own gear or rent when you get there). Grab a shuttle to Little Harbor and spend the day on a remote beach all the way on the other side of the island. You can camp on Catalina Island. There are 5 different campsites; one is located right in Avalon. You can hike… you can mountain bike… you can sail… you can take a water taxi to Two Harbors for lunch… whew!
Like I said—Catalina is a wonderland of fun and adventure. You can make your Catalina trip whatever you want it to be. Families with young kids to thrill- seeking teens to those looking for a romantic adult getaway, Santa Catalina Island will deliver.
Catalina Express features ports in Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point. For more information, log on to catalinaexpress.com or call 800-481-3470.