One of the many things that I love about our new life in California is the neverending, greatly-varying landscapes that the state offers. Seriously, it’s so easy to hop into a car here, drive a few hours, and explore completely different sceneries, over and over again. Last weekend we visited Catalina Island for two nights and we were blown away by this beautiful, little enclave that is only a ninety-minute ferry ride from the mainland. We truly felt a world away and I strongly suggest a visit to all those who find themselves in southern California.
Avalon is the main hub on the island and is where most people tend to visit. However, on the other side of the mountain is Two Harbors, a less populated part of town that I would like to experience on our next visit. Two nights is a perfect amount of time to explore and savor Avalon. We arrived at Catalina at 11:00 am and took the 11:45 am return ferry, giving us a full 48 hours to roam, discover, eat, and relax. For those who prefer to add a Bison Tour (yes, there are wild bison on the island!), ziplining, or hiking to their agendas, a third night would be beneficial. Please enjoy my suggested itinerary below that ensures ample free time to truly get into vacation mode.
Rent a golf cart. There are only two golf rental services ooptions on Avalon and reservations fill up fast during summertime. The longest you can rent a cart is for two hours. We used up every last second of our allotted time navigating up and down the steep mountainsides, soaking in the breathtaking views, and stopping to check out landmarks like Mt. Ada (the Wrigley’s former mansion converted into an adult-only bed and breakfast- the Wrigley family still owns the island!). The vistas from the top of the mountain are beyond picturesque.
Food! We all know that food plays a big role in a vacation. Sadly, Avalon does not offer dining that will satisfy most foodies. Set your expectations low, and you will be quite pleased. I did a lot of research to narrow down the best places to eat during our stay and although nothing knocked our socks off, the service in these restaurants was consistently fantastic and the food was solid.
Blue Water Grill
This restaurant is an Avalon favorite. Like most dining establishments on the island, reservations are not taken. If you don’t want to wait over an hour to be seated, get there before the lunch rush. We had no problem being seated at 11:30 am. The menu is comprised of mostly seafood, and the white wine was perfectly chilled, but the views are what stand out most here.
The Sand Trap
This is a less-known establishment, up the mountain, away from the sea, and mostly visited by locals. It’s an unpretentious and casual Mexican restaurant that makes a mean margarita and excellent nachos. We made a quick stop here while we had our golf cart. Otherwise, you’ll need to take a taxi or make a long trek up the mountain on foot.
This is another visitors’ favorite that fills up fast so it’s best to get there on the early side to avoid the dinner rush. The biggest hit was the complimentary popcorn heavily seasoned with paprika- it’s delicious! The menu offers class American fare with lots of seafood and veggie options to enjoy with a beautiful view of the sea in the backdrop.
The Pancake Cottage
You’ll likely have your best meal here although expect a long line. We were in a forty-five-minute cue for an early breakfast, but it was worth the wait! They serve everything here from Huevos Rancheros to pancakes to avocado toast, and it’s all fantastic.
Sailor’s Delight Ice Cream Shop
For an evening scoop, I can attest that this is the best ice cream on the island, perhaps even in Southern California! Their flavors are outrageously original and they let you order half scoops so you can try multiple flavors. If I had to choose, “Fat Elvis”, was my favorite flavor; “peanut butter ice cream shook up with salted peanut butter ripple and rich chocolate chips”… I mean, can it get any better?
There are many boutique hotels to choose from on Avalon. We chose The Avalon Hotel because of its excellent ratings and recommendations from others to stay there. It wasn’t our cup of tea but I can see why others find it charming. Although we found the hotel to be a bit outdated, they offer some great perks like gorgeous views and decadent bath products. Otherwise, it’s a pretty no-frills, humble lodging option in the heart of Avalon. For a more modern option, check out The Hotel Atwater or if you’re traveling sans kids, splurge on Mt. Ada.
Descanso Beach Club
Spending an entire day at Descanso Beach Club was the highlight of my trip. We planted ourselves on our pre-served lounge chairs for the entire seven hours the club is open. The modern design, isolated location, doting staff, and constant tunes playing, made us all feel like we were off somewhere exotic overseas. When we managed to pull ourselves off the lounge chair we enjoyed kayaking, swimming, having lunch at the restaurant, and playing in the sprawling, grass field. Please note- reserve your lounge chairs ahead of time, seating sells out fast.
Catalina is a special place for immediate recharging. Surrounded by sea, sun, and stunning landscapes, along with charming architecture, you’ll surely love strolling the island in your flip-flops. Everything and everyone is casual here and you’ll also find that everyone walks around with a big smile on their face. It’s practically impossible not to have a great time during this magical escape.