I had been living in San Diego for the past two and half years and every time we would think about doing a weekend getaway, Catalina Island popped in my head. However, for some reason, we never follow through on it and we just end up hanging out on our couch binge watching Netflix all weekend.
Well, when we decided we were going to move back to CT to be closer to family, I went on panic mode. So many places to see and no time to see them!!! There was Catalina Island, the Grand Canyon, Big Bear, Napa Valley and so many more! Ahhhhhh, when am I going to do all of this?
I was telling my friend Stephanie about it. Since she was also going to be moving out of San Diego soon and had not yet seen Catalina Island, we decided that we were going to pick a weekend and just do it.
Since we both had very busy schedules over the weekends with friends visiting or having to fly somewhere for a wedding or family event, the only weekend that worked was two weekends out.
Catalina Island is an island off the coast of Southern California. It is just 22 miles (35 km) south-southwest of Los Angeles.
There are two different places you can visit on the island, Two Harbors a little resort town with one restaurant and one store or Avalon which is a charming town full of colorful house, shops, fine dining, amazing hotels, and activities to enjoy.
To get there from San Diego, you can take a ferry from San Pedro, Dana Point or Long Beach. Since our plan was so last minute, most departure times that were convenient for us were sold out at Dana point or Long Beach. So we ended up taking a morning ferry from San Pedro which is really only 15 mins from Long Beach.
You can purchase your tickets online here.
The drive from San Diego to San Pedro is about 2 hours. Once you get to the port, there is plenty of parking which costs 18$ for the day. The ferry tickets were $75 round trip. From the parking lot, a shuttle takes you to the port, but it is so close that you can walk it
We got to the port with about 30 minutes to spare. At the port there is a little shop were you can get some quick breakfast and coffee.
The ferry took about 2 hours. It started out slow and then sped up quick once we hit calmer waters. The views were beautiful and I was crossing my fingers to see some dolphins. I fell into a deep sleep 30 minutes in and woke up when the captain suddenly stopped the ferry and pointed to a school of dolphins in the water. I was not fast enough to get any pictures but I was happy I got to see them.
As we got closer to the island, I started recognizing some landmarks I looked up when researching what to do around the island. The one that stood out the most was the casino and the Descano club private beach.
We got off the ferry and I was immediately in love. The beautiful light blue water, with the cute little boats docked, the bright colored buildings and happy tourists. I felt like I was in another country, the vibe was so fun and vibrant. I got my camera out and started clicking away.
Things we did on Catalina Island
Garden to Sky Hike
- It is about a 25 – 30 minute walk from the Harbor to get to the hike start point. You can bike or even drive a golf cart to get there.
- The trail is about 1.2 miles one way and has a pretty steady incline.
- It is all dirt road and not shaded at all. I was so glad that I brought lots of sun block and hat to cover my face because I HATE getting a tan.
- On the way up, there were varieties of cacti, the most I have ever seen together in one location. The view from the very top was gorgeous because you can see water from both sides.
- It costs 7$ to hike the trail.
- Once you get to the top, there are other trails you can take if you want to hike longer
Food, food, food
- We chose to have lunch a Mexican restaurant called Maggie’s Blue rose café. Overlooking Avalon Bay, this restaurant has great food, with large portions and good service. We got some nice cold beers and margaritas, tacos and salad.
- We also got some yummy ice cream at Scoops Homemade Ice Cream Shop before we headed back to San Diego for our ferry.
- There is limited beach/ sand area where you can set up umbrellas and chairs. We found a little corner where we could lay out our towels and everyone except me was sun tanning.
- If you plan early enough, you can go to Descano beach club. It looked like a lot of fun, with a DJ playing music, lots of people, day beds, cabanas etc. It was jam-packed so it is definitely very popular
- Chairs and umbrella rentals cost about 30$ but apparently although the beach remains open, they take all their beach furniture in by 3 pm. We decided it was not worth hanging around there since it was loud and crowded and all we wanted to do is lay.
- If we planned better or if we were staying the night, Descano would be a good option because you can rent chairs or a day bed and just hang for the day. They also have a restaurant with great ocean views that have great reviews.
- Catalina Island has so many little boutique shops around the island. From souvenir shops to boutique clothing stores, you can spend hours shopping around.
- My friend Amanda and I literally went into every little store in the island while my husband just sat outside the stores making conversations with random people- something he has a talent for.
For a day trip, we left like we did a lot and were pretty worn out. It was about 7:30 pm and our ferry didn’t leave till 9:30. We figured we would go to the office and see if we could take an earlier ferry. I am so glad we checked because for 5$ more a person, we were able to get on an 8:30 ferry back!
What a successful trip it was and I was so glad we did it. It was not too expensive, fun and we did something new!
List of things to bring if you are doing a day trip to Catalina Island.
- Sunblock – spf 30 atleast. Being in Southern California, its almost always sunny and the island is not very shaded especially on the hiking trails.
- Sunglasses – Like any vacation, you will always need your sunglasses.
- Towels – Since we were hiking, I wanted to pack light so I brought my lightweight microfiber hiking towel that I used when hiking the inca trail.
- Change of clothes – if you are planning on hiking, bring a change of clothes because you are going to get hot, smelly and sweaty.
- Hat – you will need this while hiking or laying on the beach since there are not tons of places where you can rent umbrellas.
- Change of shoes – again if you are hiking, you are likely going to be wearing gym shoes. So, you will want to bring a pair of flip flops for the beach.
- Flask for water – although you can buy water throughout the island, if you are hiking, you will want to keep your water cold and a flask will do the trick!
- Beach umbrella/ foldable chair – If you do not plan of hiking and just want to lay on the beach you should bring an umbrella and/or foldable chairs if you do not want to rent one.
Other things to do on Catalina Island
There are tons of other activities you can do on the island. It just depends how much you want to pack into one day. These are great options if you are staying overnight at Catalina.
- Kayaking and Paddleboarding – there are many kayak and paddleboard shops that you can rent equipment from.
- Ziplining– I hear that the ZIPLININE ECO TOUR is amazing. The tour starts at the top of a hill and works its way down to Descanso Beach Club.
- Bike riding around town – rent a bike from any of the bike rental shops and explore the island.
- Rent a golf cart to drive around the island – there are no cars on Catalina island. So, if you don’t want to walk, you can rent a golf cart.
- Descano Beach club – rent a cabana and enjoy the DJ while relaxing in your own private area
- Hummer off-roading – there are off-roading tours you can take that ventures through the scenic Middle Ranch Canyon and explores Cape Canyon.
- Boat Tours – There are various boat tours available on Catalina Island including a glass bottom boat, an under the sea submersible boat, a high-speed etc.
- Wrigley’s Botanical Garden – You can see rare and endangered plant species as well as plants that are only found on Catalina Island at the Catalina Island Conservancy and botanical garden
- Casino Movie Theater – This is the oldest casino on the island but actually now a movie theater. There is one show every evening at 7:30. The fun part is that many people dress up with old fashion hats.
If you would like to do any of the above activities, Catalina Island Company has them all. You can even get a day pass for $179.
Fun Facts about Catalina Island
- Ex- President Ronald Regean called Catalina Island home before he moved to Hollywood and eventually become President of USA.
- The Island is used for many filming many Hollywood movies including the Will Ferrell Movie – Step Brothers. Remember when he says “It’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer!!” Yeahhh!! Apparently a herd of Bison were brought on the Island for the movie and were left behind to live there. You can now still see some Bison on hiking trails or while hummer off-roading.
- Marilyn Monroe used to work at a local candy shop on the Island, which is where she was discovered, and went on to become one of Hollywood’s top stars.
There are tons of things you can do on the Island and I would certainly recommend staying the night if you want to do all of them. However, Catalina Island is still a great place for a short day trip too!
I hope you check it out some time!