Visiting Catalina Island to celebrate Trang’s father’s birthday was a great idea. It was our second time on the island and first overnight trip with our 8-month-old Kairi. We had a splendid time. Catalina is a nice change of pace for a young couple or family looking for something to do together on the weekend.
How to get Catalina Island
The island of Catalina sits about 27 miles off the California coast. Giving both LA and Orange County residents a chance to get away from all the stress and unwind.
Trang and I know of four ports that offer a Catalina Island Ferry. Long Beach, San Pedro, Newport Beach, and Dana Point all run daily ferries to the island. Catalina Flyer operates out of Newport and Catalina Express services the other three ports. You can view their schedule and book tickets directly through their sites at catalinaexpress.com and catalinainfo.comAlso if you plan to visit Catalina on your birthday, Catalina Express offers a free birthday ticket with the purchase of one full-fare Adult. Click here for information on their birthday ride promotion.
It’s just like taking a flight, you check in and get ready to board 30 minutes before departure. Once on your way, you can move freely throughout the cabin. They have a cash only snack bar, and plenty of bathrooms. About 60ish minutes later, you’ll land in Avalon. Very easy.
Trang and I learned a lot about Catalina on this past visit. What’s funny is the info didn’t come from a tour, museum or pamphlet. We learned the history of the island from our hotel TV as Kairi napped.
Catalina’s been a resort island since the 1800’s. Developed into a tourist destination for the upper and middle class. Fire, World Wars, and changes in the islands ownership have all added to Catalina’s rich history. Catalina became a favorite getaway for Hollywood’s silver screen stars of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The island’s biggest landmark, the Casino still stands today as a sharp reminder of its elite past.
Just recently, plans were approved to modernize parts of Avalon city. A spa and a new home for the Catalina Museum are all in the works. With the hope that the newer attractions can continue to get people interested in visiting Catalina Island.
Things to do on Catalina Island
At first glance, you wouldn’t think there’s a lot to do on the Island, but there is. Catalina has something for everyone.
You can book land and boat tours throughout Avalon. The tours are pretty much everything you’d expect from the island community. Favorite activities include snorkeling, parasailing and a handful of other tours. I’ve always been interested in doing the undersea tour in the submarine, but Trang gets seasick easily. For her, the ferry ride to Catalina is all the water adventure she needs.
Alongside the usual tours, you can relax at the Descanso Beach Club. It’s just north of Avalon, a short walk past the Casino. The club’s imported sand beach and high-end amenities can trick you into thinking you’re in Hawaii or even Cancun. At least until you touch the cold ocean. Descanso also offers more adventurous activities like wall climbing and zip lining.
If you’re the outdoor type, Two Harbors maybe the place for you. It’s a great little village with easy access to campsites and hiking trails. The trail difficulty range from easy to challenging and some trails require a permit from the Catalina Island Conservancy, so be sure to check at https://www.catalinaconservancy.org/index.php?s=visit&p=hiking before you go.
More experienced hikers could also opt for The Trans-Catalina Trail. In total it’s around 46 miles if you start in Avalon through the island and back to Two Harbors. Jeff Hester of socalhiker.net wrote up an excellent post of his Trans-Catalina hike along with pictures that you can find here if you’re interested.
Our Catalina Experience
We didn’t make plans to do anything on the island. Both Trang and I have been putting in the hours at work, so our only goal was to be together as a family. So we ended up walking the pedestrian areas and did some people watching. It was a little cold, so we had Kairi in her North Face bunting outfit. It was a big hit with other parents. A half dozen of people asked about the onesie. We’ll link it here. We like how it’s so lightweight and keeps Kairi warm. So we never have to worry about packing warm clothes or blankets. We never leave home without it.
Trang booked two rooms at the Hotel Catalina’s Courtyard Garden Suite. It was nice, and the staff was helpful. We got to the island well before check in, so thankfully, they were okay holding our bags while we went out to soak in the morning air.
Using Yelp, we grabbed breakfast at Original Jack’s Country Kitchen. It was a good breakfast. Tasty diner food, with quality pancakes and hash browns. Shortly after brunch we got the call from the hotel and checked in. The room was nice. High ceilings, a lot of space, and a comfy bed. The hotel even brought us a crib for Kairi. So we let her nap and headed back out to wander after she woke up.
Avalon is not that big, maybe a quarter mile from one end to the other. Taking our time we strolled the century-old green paradise pier. Relaxed at the Avalon City Park and I crashed my brother-in-law’s drone (hopefully I didn’t break it), and eventually headed over to the giant casino building to check it out. From there, we headed towards the Descanso Beach Club. It felt like we walked from a sleepy coastal town to a Hawaiian resort. Descanso had everything we have come to expect from the big island hotels. So kudos to them.
Walking back into Avalon after 4 pm, it was quiet. The day trippers had already headed back, so it felt as if we had the boardwalk to ourselves. It was nice. We split off from Trang’s father and his sweetheart to walk further into Avalon. Considered miniature golf, but settled on holding Kairi up to let her watch other people play.
We ate dinner at the Lobster Trap. It was okay. Big food portions for sure. Our biggest takeaway from dinner was how great Kairi’s stroller is. The lobster trap is pretty packed, and space is very limited. We have the BabyHome Vida and not wanting to leave it outside. We folded it down. I was able to fit our compact stroller under the table with room to spare by my feet. I was impressed. Trang had got this particular stroller for us to use while traveling, and after that dinner, I could see why. Getting out of dinner after seven, we realized almost everything in Avalon had closed. Which was okay since Kairi goes to bed by 7:30 pm.
The next day
The next morning, my father-in-law and I got up to time-lapse the sunrise. A quick stroll down to the waterfront offered up a great view of the coming day. We plopped down and spent the next hour enjoying the rise over Avalon.
All that was left to do was to pack up and grab breakfast before the trip back to San Pedro. We ate at the Pancake Cottage. We ordered the pancakes; it was alright.
Once we were back on the Catalina Island Ferry, we had a quick detour to Two Harbor to pick up more passengers. From the dock, I was surprised to see how completely different Two Harbors is to Avalon. Two Harbors reminded me of a small fishing village. Would love to visit it one day. About an hour after leaving Two Harbors we were back on solid ground. We paid $30 for leaving the car overnight, and that was the end of our mini getaway.
It was a fun trip. My father-in-law and his sweetheart loved it. Kairi even did a great job on her first hotel stay. Hopefully, she’ll be just as good on our next trip to Chicago this July.
Please feel free to comment below if you have any questions. Hopefully, we can answer it for you or at least head you in the right direction. If you enjoyed the post, you could check out more of our California-based posts on our travel page here.
We try to post at least once a week so consider coming back again sometime. Take care and thanks for reading.
Additional Resources for visiting Catalina Island
Here are some useful links that we recommend if you’re considering a visit to the island.