I've lived in Los Angeles for 6 years and I'm absolutely kicking myself for never going to Catalina. What a little gem tucked away in a place that seems so close yet so distant. Luckily for me I was able to experience it just a few days ago with my beautiful friend, Erin, on an overnight gal pal trip.
Getting to Catalina can be somewhat tricky but also fairly easy. You can and should reserve seats for your boat ride to the island. We had planned to leave much earlier than we did but all of the boats to the island were sold out. We chose to take the "Catalina Express" out of the Long Beach port. Tickets aren't exactly the cheapest which I guess is why people don't go more often. They also aren't exactly expensive. It's about a 1 hour boat ride and for $36.75 each way you can enjoy a relaxing ride to this beautiful little island. But, let me give you a little piece of advice that will make your trip to and from even better. Do yourself a favor and pay the extra $15 each way to upgrade yourself to "The Commodore Lounge". It's air conditioned, has a top floor view, and you get a free beverage and a snack so it basically pays for itself. Not to mention with the $15 extra dollars, you get to skip line when boarding which was worth it all on it's own.
This was from our return trip, the seats in the Commodore Lounge were mostly empty. On our way to the island it was quite full though.
When we first got in to the Avalon port our breath was taken away. Even with the overcast skies this island shines bright. It's very Mediterranean esque. They have very little space to build on so everything is located within a half mile or so. There aren't any cars allowed on the island except by those who live there. You can rent a golf cart from several different spots if you wish. Otherwise you just walk. Our walk from the port to our hotel was just 8 minutes long.
I looked for a week or longer for us to find the best hotel deal in Avalon. The unfortunate thing is that if you go in the summer during prime tourist season, you won't find any really great deals. Still, I felt like I found the best one possible and it was feasible because I was splitting the costs with another person. We stayed at the Hermosa Hotel which was built in 1896. Per the front desk guy it is one of three original hotels that lasted through the fire of 1915. It also survived the fire of 2007 but that fire didn't destroy half of the town like the fire in 1915.
Hermosa Hotel is a no frills kind of hotel. We stayed in a small cottage that had two double beds, a bathroom with a standing shower, and a small kitchenette. It had air conditioning which was a plus and was good enough for us to throw our bags in for the day and sleep in. It was a really cute space. The only weird part was that they supply dishes in case you cook your own food but they require that you as the guest clean them or you get charged $25. That's cool and all, I can wash my own dishes. However, I don't trust how another guest may have washed their dishes and would prefer it be done by a professional and I don't think the professionals wash them a second time. Anyway, we didn't cook and only used two glasses for a nice bottle of Sancere we brought with us so it was a non issue.
The first day we just walked through town checking everything out. We grabbed a shrimp cocktail to split and took in the view at the Descano Beach Club. We checked out a few spas and finally found a massage that was close enough to our budget. We probably still splurged a little too hard on these massages, but "when in Catalina" I suppose is the attitude to have with these type of things.
Massage rooms at the Catalina Sea Spa.
The next day we woke up and had planned to rent kayaks and go out on the water but we were side tracked by sleep followed by a massive set of steps that seemed to promise a great view. We also noticed a building at the top of the hill that was gorgeous so we set to find that. We almost turned around until a local gave us tips and told us it was 5 minutes away. That's one thing I have to say about Catalina, the locals are so nice. I've traveled to so many places where the locals say "I'm a local" with so much entitlement and a certain aggressive inflection that it reminds you that you certainly are not a local. This isn't the case in Catalina. They are welcoming and warm.
Photo by Erin
Photo by Erin
After our hike up the side of the mountain we were definitely ready for a dip in the water. We went back down to the Descano Beach Club and jumped in. It's $2 per person to lay on the small beach there, which we didn't know and ended up laying there and swimming for a bit before leaving. The water temperature was around 70. The water is so soft and clear and perfect. I love being able to see my feet in the water. It was so refreshing and hit the spot. Being there made me wish the sun had been shining on our first day and I also wished that we had more time before we had to head back later that day. Though to be honest, Erin and I discussed that the vibe of the island made us feel like we had already been there for a few days.
Catalina is full of these Art Deco tiles and mosaics.
Catalina is home to a herd of American Bison, which you can take a tour to the interior to see. I wish we could have had time but maybe next trip! These American Bison are not native to island and were supposedly first imported to Catalina in 1924 for the silent film version of Zane Grey's Western Tale.
This one was probably my favorite. It's so gorgeous. It's located at the Catalina Casino, which is actually no casino at all. It was built in 1929 by William Wrigley to celebrate his 10 year anniversary of buying the island. It's the first theatre in America designed and built specifically for "talkies" on the lower level and it has the world's largest circular ballroom on the top level. They offer walking tours but we didn't have enough time. Until next time
Erin at the Descano Beach Club with the Catalina Casino in the background.
To finish our day before we had to head back we stopped at Bluewater Grill, which in our opinion was the best food and setting on the island. The decor is nice and clean and it has an amazing view. Erin had fish and chips which were cooked perfectly and I had steamed mussels and clams with sautéed spinach and fries which was also cooked perfectly. We also had a white sangria drink that had fresh peaches and strawberries in it. It was a perfect way to end the day and definitely left me wanting to come back to Catalina!
Perfect lunch to end the perfect day
Thanks for reading about our tiny adventure! I've listed links below to all of the spots mentioned plus a few more! See ya next time!