You may have heard of Catalina Island and thought, “Maybe, someday.” What you may not realize is that an engaging island adventure is only a few hours away. There are so many things to do and discover on historic Catalina Island, whether you’re traveling by yourself, as a couple or with a family, you will have the trip of a lifetime and want to return.
Any getaway to Catalina Island begins with a trip to Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point to catch a ride on the Catalina Express. Our chosen port was Long Beach and Catalina Express was a dream. In less than a six-hour drive from Gilbert, we parked at the convenient parking structure at Long Beach and boarded a luxurious boat, bound for Catalina Island. Aboard, we chose the upgraded indoor Commodore Lounge with snack and beverage service included, sat back and enjoyed the 55-minute smooth-as-glass jaunt to our destination. The crew was upbeat, friendly and informative. It’s no wonder Catalina Express has continually garnered rave reviews for value, promptness and hospitality since its inception in 1981.
Helicopter rides are also available from the mainland to Catalina Island, but on the Catalina Express, we had a chance to experience the beauty of the ocean and the gorgeous approach into the port of Avalon.
Once you arrive, one huge bonus on Catalina Island is that you won’t need a rental car. Nearly everything you do can be accessed in the port city of Avalon by walking or biking. Feeling like getting out to see more of island? You can always rent a golf cart conveniently available just steps away from the Catalina Express docking area.
Our home base was Hermosa Hotel, a mere eight-minute walk from the Catalina Express station. The conveniently located historic hotel was established in 1896 and one of a few hotels to escape Catalina’s devastating 1915 fire. It offers single and double rooms and cottages and much peace and quiet, while remaining just a minute’s walk away from all the Avalon action. Hermosa Hotel also has complimentary coffee and tea in the lobby and a variety of beach toys and accessories available to guests. Many snorkelers and scuba divers choose this hotel for its laid-back community vibe.
At the centrally located green pier, you will find no shortage of fun things to do, and many events start at or depart from this area. If you haven’t visited the island before, take the Avalon-area bus tour that will provide you with a wealth of information about the history of Avalon, a glimpse of its neighborhoods and the homes of the Wrigley family that still own the Catalina Island Company. If feeling a bit more adventurous, sign up for an island Jeep Eco Tour which will take you far back into the hills to see buffalo, deer, the occasional fox and beautiful landscape that most people don’t get to see because certain areas are not accessible to the general public. Along the way, you will learn about island conservancy efforts and how most of Catalina Island is indeed preserved and cannot be further developed.
Don’t miss the semi-submersible submarine ride which takes guests around a portion of the island to reveal what lies beneath the typically calm waters surrounding Catalina. You’ll see a variety of fish, including the “o-fish-al” state fish, the bright orange Garibaldi, rays and an occasional turtle.
Emerging from the submarine, book a watery adventure that will take you out further into the waters surrounding Catalina. The dolphin or whale watching expeditions are thrilling. The trained crews will take you out about 30-minutes around the island to an area where you and your 15 boatmates will be surrounded by a hundred dolphins that will swim right up and look you right in the eye before zipping off and jumping in the waves around you. Both dolphin and whale watching expeditions are seasonal, so check the island schedule. Also available are scuba trips, fishing charters, kayaking, paddleboarding, food and wine trails, haunted tours and the exciting zipline eco tour.
Call ahead and book a tour of the island’s iconic Casino Building. Although it used to house a theater showing first-run movies, the interior is now only accessible via guided tour and it’s worth it! The iconic art deco building has immense history and is a gorgeous step back in time. Marilyn Monroe and her first husband lived on Catalina Island and spent time in this building as well as other spots on the island, including Lloyd’s of Avalon. The Casino Building exterior also showcases the Catalina Mermaid and related thematic murals at the building’s entrance which are simply breathtaking.
An annual event taking place on the island is the Catalina Island Wine Mixer. Made indelibly iconic in the film, “Stepbrothers,” the event attracts people from around the world to enjoy two full days of entertainment, and wine, whiskey and spirit tastings. Of course, there is always a screen of the film “Stepbrothers,” starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly which included an imaginary event called the Catalina Wine Mixer that was an absolute disaster.
The faux event materialized into a real event, and it is now a fun part of the island’s identity. Ferrell and Reilly have famously been known to attend the mixer on occasion. The Catalina Island Wine Mixer takes place June 3-4, 2022. Tickets can be purchased at www.visitcatalinaisland.com
Bluewater Avalon, The Lobster Trap, Maggie’s Blue Rose, El Galleon and NDM Fish House are just some of the many restaurants in the Avalon area. You are guaranteed to find outstanding seafood at any of them. Create your own adventure on Catalina Island by starting with www.catalinaexpress.com and www.lovecatalina.com.