Catamaran to Catalina Island, California

Genie Davis July 29, 2011 No Comments


Just sixty minutes away by boat from Los Angeles proper, you’ll find an island getaway perfect for parents and kids. Even the boat ride, crossing twenty plus miles in a high speed catamaran smooth enough to prevent any seasickness from materializing, is a lot of fun. Our kids in fact might’ve enjoyed the crossing most of all. With a bag of chips and a soda from the concessionaire and the occasional glimpse of fish and fowl over the blue, blue sea, they were more than content for the crossing.

We left from San Pedro, Los Angeles‘ commercial shipping port; however boats also leave from Long Beach and Newport Beach to the south and Marina Del Rey‘s harbor to the north. The other options take a bit longer, and in all cases you’ll want to check with Catalina Express as the transport provider for the times and locations that best suit your needs.

As you’re heading out across the open sea and leaving urban LA behind, here’s a little history to consider. Catalina was once owned by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. Seeking to protect and preserve the nature on the island he loved, he gave most of the property to a nature conservancy after his death in the early nineteen thirties. This means that there is a large, large chunk of the island with zero development. To tour it, you must take a bus, off-road, or walking tour; some tour providers offer kayaking on the far side of the island.  Or you can explore it by boat. We took the Skyline Drive trek offered by Discovery Tours which includes stops at the Airport in the Sky at the high point on the island and potential views of the islands bison, which are descended from bison transported for a movie shoot many years ago, wild native foxes, and other wildlife. We also saw many an excellent sea view from the cliff top road.  Other tours will take you over more rough and ready terrain, the Wet Spot kayak and snorkel rental has an excellent off-road tour that includes lunch and kayaking on the far side of the island.  

Avalon Harbor Catalina Island

A view of Avalon Harbor from above town, the iconic casino is in the distance.

For most tourists, and certainly for most tourists with small children in town, you’ll find that the two and a quarter mile of developed island land that is the town of Avalon is the place to spend your time.  And there’s plenty to keep you occupied in this charming village, with plenty of shops to browse, casual eateries with harbor views, and boat cruises a-plenty.

Disembarking from your boat, you may see some orange garibaldi enjoying a swim just off the dock. If you want a closer look, there are glass bottom boats, submersible boats, and night boat tours all available for a fun exploration of the sea life that surrounds the island.

You might want to make a stop for breakfast though. Stroll the Wrigley-era town streets to the Pancake Cottage for some most excellent chocolate chip pancakes or blueberry waffles. Both reasonably priced entrees were a big hit with the kids and fueled us for a day of exploring.

Once fed, we boarded the town trolley for a ride to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens. A great place to explore, there are succulent plant and cactus gardens, flower beds, and an mausoleum to climb, inlaid with mosaics.

We took the long but downhill walk back into town rather than boarding the trolley and had a late lunch of salad and ahi at the Descanso Beach Club, which is just past the beautiful art deco casino on the far end of town.

The beach club boasts the most comfortable beach to relax on and build a few sand castles, with a view of kayakers and yachting enthusiasts out on the water. A caveat – Avalon’s sea water is not pristine, and does not receive passing grades from Heal the Bay, the California ocean water monitoring guide. We kept our kids out of the water except for wading during our stay.

After the beach we relaxed in our comfortable room at the European themed Metropole Hotel. The hotel also features a cafe with tasty pizzas, where we dined, and a more formal Italian menu at the hotel’s elegant restaurant.

Art Deco Casino Catalina Island

Catalina’s art deco casino – we loved watching a movie there.

After our pizza, we took in a movie at probably the best place to see a movie in all of California, if not possibly the entire U.S. That gorgeous Casino building now houses a movie theater on its lower level. Pristine film projection is dwarfed by the stunning murals and the shiny dome ceiling. The atmosphere is, quite literally, awe inspiring. If you can’t catch a film, at least take the tour the day-time casino offers which takes you back stage, allows you to sit in the comfortable seats, and shows off the upper level party rooms as well. There is a small historical museum inside the Casino building as well.

Film and history not your thing? Then check out the forty-year old miniature golf course known as Golf Gardens. An iconic island experience, the course is a little battered, but a great deal of fun, with plenty of obstacles and a resident cat to liven up the play.

If you’re looking to explore the sea a bit more, we highly recommend the submarine tour, which gets you up close and personal – through glass of course – with the fishy denizens of Avalon’s deeps.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

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