We just got back from a fun two-day family trip to Catalina Island (after another fun two-day trip to Long Beach, which I’ll share later). I used to love going to Catalina Island with my family when I was a kid, and I knew my daughter, Siena, would love it too! There’s so much for families to do on this tiny island, just 22 miles off the California coast. When you’re there, it’s like you’re worlds away.
The main town on Catalina Island is Avalon (there’s also the unincorporated community village of Two Harbors). Avalon’s main street is Crescent Avenue, where you can walk around, shop, eat, visit the beach, and enjoy stunning views.
During our trip, we did a lot of walking, enjoyed a submarine ride, explored the island via a golf cart, hung out at the beach, visited a museum, ate great food, shopped, and took in the beautiful scenery and fresh sea air.
Here are some fun adventures and recommendations based on our recent visit.
We took the Catalina Express out of Long Beach. It was an enjoyable, comfortable, smooth, hour-long ride. http://www.catalinaexpress.com/
Where to Stay
There are lots of hotels in Avalon, and most are within walking distance of everything. I would recommend staying at an ocean-front hotel (on Crescent Ave.), steps from the beach and everything else. Here are a few:
The Villa Portofino Hotel
Hotel Vista Del Mar
Another option that looked interesting was staying at the Catalina Cottages (via the Hermosa Hotel), which are located right next to the new Catalina Island Museum. These are affordable, studio apartment style rooms, some with kitchens. http://hermosahotel.com/
Fun Things to Do: Exploring the Sea
At first we weren’t sure whether to go on the Glass Bottom Boat (which I remember doing as a child) or the semi-submarine ride, Undersea Expedition. We opted for the latter, and were glad we did! It was a great experience, being under the water’s surface and being able to see a ton of fish. Siena loved it! She swears she saw 2,400 fish! http://catalinatours.com/tour/undersea-expedition/
Other sea exploration options include the Glass Bottom Boat (as mentioned), the Ocean Runner dolphin watching tour, the nighttime Flying Fish Tour, Sundown Isthmus Cruise, and if you really want a true ocean submersion experience, the Sea Trek Walking Tours and “Snuba.”
Fun Things to Do: Exploring on Land
Our preferred mode of seeing the island was a rented golf cart. Renting golf carts with my family was one of my favorite memories of our Catalina trips. It ended up being Siena’s number one, favorite thing to do there! So, we rented one on both of our days there. Siena loved being able to sit in the front seat while my husband drove (and I was in the back seat), something she doesn’t get to do at home. On the first day, we followed the map they gave us highlighting the Scenic Tour. This took us up high up in the hills where we marveled at the gorgeous views.
The second day, we rented a golf cart for three hours, and drove everywhere. In addition to taking the Scenic Tour again, we also explored off the beaten path, through residential streets, and up in other hilly areas where we saw several deer. We stopped and watched a helicopter take off. We stopped to watch some zip-liners. We also stopped for lunch at Descanso Beach Club Restaurant.
Descanso Beach Club
Descanso Beach Club is a beautiful and fun cove beach with stunning views. You can lie out in the sand and play in the water there. They sell all kinds of whimsical rafts and tubes right there at the gift shop. You can also rent a cabana or chaise lounge chairs. We ate at the outdoor restaurant, where the food was delicious, and the setting and views were amazing. Siena had her very first virgin Strawberry, Mango, Coconut Daiquiri, which she loved!. http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/activities-adventures/descanso-beach-club
Other options for exploring by land include walking, hiking, or renting bicycles, as well as taking tours by Jeep, Hummer, or bus.
Fun Things to Do: Going to the Beach
Catalina has a few cute little beaches, including Descanso Beach (mentioned above). The main beach is Crescent Beach, which is right next to the Green Pleasure Pier (as seen in the above/top right photo), from where many of the sea excursions depart. There are no big waves at these beaches, so swimming, playing or floating in the water is ideal. We enjoyed sitting at the beach, looking at the scenery and watching Siena collect shells, rocks, and sea glass.
Educational Fun: Catalina Island Museum
We visited the Catalina Island Museum, which is in a gorgeous brand new building (the New ADA Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building), and provides more than 18,000 square feet of exhibition and support space. The museum features artifacts from and about the island. Siena was immediately drawn in with a fun treasure hunt/fact-finding task that promised a prize at the end. The building is beautiful and modern, and has areas that can be rented out for special events. The museum is located at 217 Metropole Avenues, up the street from Vons and Atwater Arcade. http://www.catalinamuseum.org/
More Fun Things to Do
Other things we did included lots of walking, sight-seeing, exploring Crescent Avenue, and enjoying the quaint island feel, the fresh sea air, the stunning views, and good food. Despite the island’s small size, there were more things to do than we had time for in two days. Some of the other activities the island offers (that we didn’t get to this time) include snorkeling, Scuba diving, kayaking, paddle boarding, rock wall climbing and zip-lining.
Other fun activities that we didn’t get to were miniature golfing at Golf Gardens, and touring the iconic Catalina Casino, which also has a movie theater that shows a first-run movie each night. We will definitely need to take another Catalina trip in the near future!
Catalina has tons of cute little shops, most of which are on Crescent Ave. and adjoining side streets. No trip with my daughter would be complete without a visit to a toy store! After searching around, browsing various souvenir shops, we ventured off Crescent Ave. and found it! Island Toy Store Plus More, located at 233 Sumner Ave. (near the intersection of Sumner and Beacon St.). It was darling little shop that any kid would love. It also has a small section of goodies for pets.
In addition to the toy store, Siena’s favorite Catalina Island spot was Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionery (http://www.lloydsofavalon.com/), which offers ice cream, salt water taffy, and all kinds of candy. It’s a kid’s dream!
Lastly, Catalina Island offers lots of great places to eat! We had lunch one day at Luau Larry’s, which I had been to many years ago and remembered to be a lot of fun. It’s a casual, tropical style bar and restaurant on Crescent Ave. (http://www.luaularrys.com/). It offers burgers, sandwiches, sea food, salads, and all kinds of appetizers and specialty cocktails.
We had drinks and appetizers at Blue Water Grill (pictured above, top three photos), which is right on the water and offers beautiful views and great food. We had the Baked Crab & Artichoke Dip, which was delicious. http://www.bluewatergrill.com/locations/catalina-island.
We had dinner one evening at Antonio’s Pizzeria and Cabaret (as seen in the last 5 photos above), which is also on the waterfront and has excellent Italian food. Also pictured, the BBQ Chicken Pizza I ordered, my husband’s Mama Mia’s Day Old Spaghetti (which was recommended by the waiter), and Siena eating her dessert! http://www.catalinahotspots.com/original_antonios/