My birthday fell on a Sunday this year, hooray! To celebrate I wished for a weekend away with my boyfriend, somewhere that felt exotic without requiring a flight. Cue Catalina Island: a tiny snippet of sand just off the coast of Long Beach, CA.
Just under 2 hours from Los Angeles, Catalina Island may as well be on the Amalfi coast. If it weren't for a boisterous karaoke bar and the occasional sunburnt bachelorette or spring-breaker stumbling out of Luau Larry's tiki bar, you'd swear you were somewhere on the Mediterranean. Catalina's main harbor town, Avalon, consists of a stretch of shops and restaurants, a beach club, a stunning old casino-turned-theater and general cute-ness out the wazoo. If you're looking for a somewhere to celebrate a birthday, (America's birthday on July 4th perhaps?) consider a long weekend in Avalon. Here's why!
Most people take the Catalina Express, which at $75 round trip is the most affordable option. The boat takes about an hour and departs regularly from Dana Point, San Pedro or Long Beach, each just a short drive from Los Angeles. This is what we did, and loved it!
If you're in a rush to catch Friday happy hour, take a helicopter. For $250 round trip you'll be there in 15 minutes. Some people opt to do the chopper on the way out and ferry back when you're in less of a rush. If you're feeling extra baller or pooling with friends, you may want to look into a seaplane or charter your own yacht across the water.
WHERE TO STAY
One of the things that makes Catalina feel so quaint is the fact that there are no major chains or big hotels. So don't expect to find a Viceroy on these shores. Instead we stayed at the Hotel Metropole, a sweet little spot where the panoramic ocean views (see above) are worthy of 5 stars. Definitely splurge for a waterfront suite and sip your morning coffee from a balcony practically ON the harbor.
Most hotels on the island don't have pools but The Metropole has a rooftop hot tub that's worth making time for a soak because again...views. In our room, we also made use of the jacuzzi tub (with a picture window into the room so you can still catch those views) and fireplace.
WHERE TO EAT
For lunch or dinner with an ocean view, Bluewater Grill has the best location in town. Sit out on the deck and watch the sun set over the harbor while sipping a tasty muddled cocktail and fresh seafood. The simple crab & avocado salad, and flavorful meaty crab cakes over micro-greens were especially bomb.
For a more upscale meal, Avalon Grille is just across the street from the water and has a patio with heat lamps if it gets chilly. This is probably the "fanciest" option on the island although it's still low key. Although my beau's halibut was a tad salty, everything else we had was delish including the white asparagus, a seasonal specialty.
For a healthy bite or green juice, you've gotta hit up the Metropole Cafe. In fact, their panini pressed, gluten-free hummus and veggie wrap was so tasty that I went back the next day and got the Mediterranean chicken also hot pressed in a GF wrap, along with sweet potato fries and the world's most potent organic ginger shot to wash it all down. It's the reason we didn't make it to Original Jack's Country Kitchen, a classic greasy-spoon diner that appears trapped in time and serves up huge plates of scrambled eggs and Cobb salads.
Everyone on the island raves about CC Gallagher, a charming gift shop / coffee bar / wine & beer bar / sushi restaurant concept. Yes, you read that right and no, I don't quite understand either. However, while the boutique merchandise was well curated and the space is cute, the coffee was bitter and they use sugary, powdered chai (my pet peeve). Lovely for an afternoon drink on the patio but for coffee I confess that we resorted to the Starbucks inside of Scoops ice cream parlor. I know, I never thought I'd admit to visiting a Starbucks but it was operated by a locally owned shop so I felt a little less guilty :-)
Scoops is also the only place on the island that serves real, scratch made ice cream from simple ingredients. Everywhere else (even Lloyd's confectionary) uses Dreyer's! Big Olaf's still seemed to be super popular despite serving Dreyer's, likely due to the homemade waffle cones you can smell from the street. Gluten-free they are NOT so I stayed far away. Not. Easy.
WHAT TO DO
Get a frozen mojito on the beach at Descanso Beach club, but if you're only going for a couple of hours, save yourself the $45 beach chair rental and snag a spot on the sandy beach where you'll still get towel-side service and be right on the water. Just make sure to get there early because around 2pm the classy, mellow vibe kicks into a Nikki Beach style day club except with the loudest and (when we were there) worst music imaginable.
If you have bad weather or have had enough dining and boozing, catch a film at the Catalina Casino aka theater. They show one movie nightly at 7:30pm, but tours are also available if you just want to check out the iconic space.
Catalina probably isn't where you'd expect to find Buffalo a roaming, but find them you will. Take a wildlife tour to find out what brought these gentle beasts to the tiny island, or take to the ocean for a speedy Dolphin Quest adventure. If that's not thrilling enough, take a ride on a zip-line Eco Tour that'll have you speeding up to 30 mph.
WHAT TO KNOW
The forecast is shifty
It's a tiny island, so meteorologists can do their best to predict the weather but they might be way off. Although the forecast predicted clouds and highs around 60, our weekend turned out to be much hotter and sunnier than expected. I imagine the opposite could also be true, so come prepared for anything.
Getting around is easy
The entire town of Avalon is only about 1 mile squared, so their are no visiting cars on the island and you wouldn't know what to do with one if you had it. You can walk everywhere, and golf carts are available to rent if you fancy an adventure to Two Harbors or other parts of the island. We spent $20 on a taxi to the hotel from the ferry, only to realize afterward that it was an easy 10 minute walk. Oops.
WHAT TO PACK
Toxin free, powerful and pocket sized.
Cute enough to wear when waking up next to your man.
The perfect beach sandal, handmade in Morocco!
Perfect when the sun goes down...and if the ferry boat gets a little windy
A perfect pouch in bright white for day or night
A one piece never looked so sexy...
100% of proceeds benefit ocean conservation in honor of World Ocean's Day.