We knew we wanted to travel for our wedding anniversary but we had such a busy month of September that we never pulled the trigger on a trip. That left us scrambling the week before to find something that “felt special” (my sentiment) but practical (Kevin’s sentiment). That’s how we stumbled across Santa Catalina Island. It’s super easy to access from Southern California but still has an island getaway feeling. My only regret is that we discovered Catalina so late in our SoCal years because I would have loved to have spent more time here!
September 21, 2019 – Beach Day
We woke up super early to drive from San Diego to Orange County in order to catch the 90-minute Catalina Express ferry from Dana Point to Avalon. [Note: Roundtrip tickets are $76.50/person + parking $14/day; I highly recommend booking tickets in advance because certain ferry times do sell out, especially on the weekends and during the summer season.]
After a smooth and comfortable ferry ride over, we were instantly charmed by Catalina Island. There are actually two towns on the Island, Two Harbors to the west and Avalon to the east. Though we did not visit Two Harbors, I understand that it is the smaller, more quiet of the two with only a handful of businesses. While the town of Avalon is also fairly small and mostly pedestrian, it does have a good selection of hotels, shops, restaurants.
After leaving our luggage with the hotel concierge who greeted us at the port, we went off to find some food. There is a popular Catalina Food Tour but we opted to grab a quick latte and breakfast sandwich from Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co. before setting off to explore.
I had my heart set on a relaxing beach day so after breakfast we walked along the waterfront path past the Catalina Island Yacht Club and Catalina Casino to the Descanso Beach Club hoping to snag a pair of chairs and post up with a piña colada for the day. Unfortunately, they were fully booked when we arrived and since we didn’t think to make a reservation ahead of time, we were turned away.
There is a small strip of beach next to Descanso where you can rent chairs and umbrellas but it was also packed so we made our way back towards town and set up at Step Beach, a tiny patch of sand just off the main walkway. It wasn’t necessarily the relaxing day I had envisioned but it was a nice compromise.
After the beach, we stopped for a happy hour drink and appetizer at El Galleon, chosen mostly on account of the space needed to accommodate our stroller. We shared the spinach and artichoke dip and I tried Buffalo Milk, the “official drink of Catalina Island.” It’s very rich and creamy and reminded me a little of Eggnog or a White Russian, not my favorite tbh.
From here we went back to the hotel to feed Palmer and freshen up for dinner. We didn’t have dinner reservations so we just put our name down at Bluewater Grill, a lively spot on the water boasting a wide selection of fresh seafood. I got the Gemelli Pasta with Shrimp & Scallops and Kevin got the Prawn Linguine, both tasty but nothing to write home about.
For dessert, we decided to try Scoops Homemade Ice Cream which we had passed several times throughout the day, always with a line out the door. It was a delicious way to end the night.
September 22, 2019 – Golf Cart Rental
We started our wedding anniversary day with one of Kevin’s favorite weekend rituals – a tasty brunch at Avalon Grille. After finishing we decided to try our luck again at Descanso Beach Club and once again struck out. This time, however, we grabbed a table at their open-air restaurant and enjoyed a couple of beverages before continuing on with our day.
From here we walked over to Island Rentals to continue exploring the island via golf cart. We chose this company because they have infant carseats available and the other company does not [$50/hour + $50 deposit; Cash ONLY]. The scenic golf cart route can be completed in an hour and takes you up into the hills of Catalina Island offering spectacular views of Avalon Bay and the boats below.
We did stop at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden along the route, something I initially wanted to visit on the Island, but it didn’t look very inviting upon arrival so we decided it wasn’t worth the $8 entrance fee.
After returning our golf cart, we stopped at Luau Larry’s where we tried their famous Wiki Wacker, a boozy drink that comes with a free straw hat or sticker, worn as a badge of honor and frequently spotted around the island.
For dinner, we had reservations at Steve’s Steakhouse for a nice celebratory dinner. We both got steak and while it wasn’t the fanciest steakhouse we’ve ever been to, it was the perfect way to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
September 23 – Ferry Home
The following morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Pancake Cottage before catching the 11:50AM ferry back to Dana Point. Overall, I think Santa Catalina Island would be fun for a bachelor/bachelorette party, friends weekend or couples getaway however, I don’t think it’s most “family friendly” destination.
Accommodations & State Specific Details
Stay: Hotel Atwater
We absolutely loved our stay at Hotel Atwater! As I mentioned previously, we booked our travel to Catalina Island a little late and had difficulty finding a reasonably priced hotel with availability for the weekend. I liked Hotel Atwater compared to some of the other options because it was recently renovated, centrally located and affordable. Initially, I booked a room Sunday-Tuesday and then called each morning to check for Saturday cancellations and got lucky with one!
Pros include their beautiful property and rooms due to recent renovation. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. I love that they provide welcome drinks in the room and give you a $40 food & beverage credit per day that can be used at any Catalina Island Company dining venue in Avalon (including Avalon Grille, Lunch at Mt Ada, Bistro at the Atwater, Encanto Cafe, Descanso Fresh, and Descanso Beach Club).
On the flip side, the room is super small (though we paid for the smallest) and I think they were still ironing out some of the kinks from their recent renovation (minor things like wifi strength, mini fridge not being hooked up yet, etc.).
To Catalina Island (from Southern California): Catalina Island can easily be reached by ferry or helicopter. We took the Catalina Express Ferry from Dana Point in Orange County but there are also ferry ports in San Pedro and Long Beach. The ferry from Dana Point takes about 90-minutes each way.
Around Avalon: You can walk everywhere in Avalon. There are golf carts you can rent for an hour or two to explore the hills around Avalon but nothing long term.
Currency: US Dollar (USD)
Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 120 V. The standard frequency is 60 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type A and B. Standard United States adapters.
Passport/Visa Requirements: No U.S. Passport required.
Weather: We visited Catalina Island in mid-September and it was very warm during the day but chilly at night. I actually wished I had a jean jacket to throw over my dresses for dinner. The other weird thing I noticed when we visited were the amount of bees. I have no idea why but there were swarms of bees everywhere on Saturday. I actually got stung on the beach and was paranoid Palmer would get stung (she didn’t). By Sunday they had gone down significantly but I guess something to note if you have an allergy!