My aunt used to live in San Pedro and I remember her always talking about taking the ferry out to Catalina Island, but until a few weeks ago, I’d never been.
The crazy thing is, I’ve realized that tons of Angelenos haven’t been either – even people who’ve lived in the area their whole lives! We had such a great time, I hope we continue to go back and hopefully for more than just a day.
But if you only have one day, here is what to do on Catalina Island to get a good taste of the the island in the city of Avalon…
Catalina Island Day Trip
Getting to Catalina Island
Catalina Express runs from three ports – San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point. The trip from San Pedro was just over an hour. Even if it’s sunny when you board the boat, I’d recommend grabbing seats inside because the weather once you leave the port changes quickly and the wind is a little much.
We took the 10:45am boat to Avalon. We pulled into the port around noon with enough time to walk up the hill for lunch.
Getting Around Catalina Island
If a decent uphill hike isn’t your thing, rent a golf cart in the downtown area to get up the hill. If you’re up for the walk, however, climbing the hill is a great way to catch some wonderful views and work off lunch!
You walk along the paved road, so no off-roading involved. Bring some water and plan to pull over occasionally in the shade. While the golf cart is obviously easier, we felt the trek on foot was worth it if only to appreciate more of the island and its local nature.
Where to Eat Lunch on Catalina Island
At the top of the hill, you’ll find The Inn on Mt. Ada – a stunning hotel with only six rooms. While an overnight stay is a splurge (though it includes quite a bit), the Inn also offers lunch. Call ahead to make a reservation as there are few tables. Lunch is fixe prix but worth it.
Dishes include salads, sandwiches, buffalo burgers, fish, and “Carmen’s Special” (a daily Mexican dish). Entrees include juice, soft drinks, coffee, tea, and – most importantly – dessert!
And perhaps most importantly – the view. As you enjoy your lunch, take in the views of the port, the boats, the Casino, and all the beautiful splendor that is Avalon! As you reenter the more touristy part of the city, you’ll truly appreciate this bit of a getaway!
Enter just past the Inn along the road – press the call button to be buzzed in through the gates.
After licking the plate clean from dessert at the Inn, we headed back down the hill (a much cooler and faster trip that the one going up). We meandered through the streets and vacation rentals, picking out which ones we’d like to try on our return trip.
What to Do on Catalina Island
As we walked along Crescent Avenue next to the pier and beach, we were surprised how many visitors there were on the island. As we adjusted to the crowds after our peaceful lunch, we meandered through fun shops and scoped out menus for dinner (we travel on our stomachs)!
One thing we did miss out on was a tour of the Catalina Casino, however. There are a total of four per day – two walking tours and two behind the scenes tours. We didn’t realize there were so few tours when we headed over and missed out on them. Next time!
Dinner + Drinks on Catalina Island
Before boarding our ferry back to the mainland, we needed a bite to eat. We wandered into the Avalon Grille. We’d hoped to take advantage of their happy hour fare but soon found out we had to sit at the bar. Not wanting to search for another spot, we ordered a few dishes to share and were not disappointed.
The vegan, vegetable ravioli was an absolute delight, so rich and creamy! We also devoured the roasted beet salad and the Cobb salad – all beautifully presented and prepared. For dessert, we tried the buffalo ice cream, a frozen mix of Crème de Cacao, banana, nutmeg, vodka, and coffee. It was interesting as each flavor came through in each bite.
Most bars and restaurants serve it as a cocktail instead of dessert, so that was a fun treat. I’ll probably opt for a different dessert option next time now that I’ve had the experience, however.
We ended our day on Catalina Island and trekked to the pier to catch our boat. As the sun set, we pulled out our jackets and scarves because the temperature quickly started dropping. We had such a fun day in Avalon and we can’t wait to return for more time, renting a home or staying at one of the hotels.
Avalon definitely has a younger, party scene on the weekends, but you can easily find places to enjoy the views and fun without getting caught up in their party.
If you’re into ferry trip wanderings like we are, you’ll love Peaks Island, Maine; Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C.; Port Townshend off the coast of Seattle; the ferries from the west coast of Scotland; and the tour to Shetland & Orkney Islands!