A Guide to 48 Hours on Catalina Island

A Guide to 48 Hours on Catalina Island

When we moved to LA,

one of the things we were most excited about was the opportunity to more easily explore different places that had previously been so far away for us in NYC. One of those places is, none other than, Catalina Island. I admit most of my previous (very limited) knowledge of the island was derived solely from the Catalina Wine Mixer scene of Step Brothers. I know, I know. Not my proudest admission, especially given that the scene wasn’t even filmed on the island. But, to be fair, from the many conversations I’ve had with others, I’ve derived that I’m not alone in that scenario. Let’s get one thing straight, though. There’s so much more to the island than the Catalina Wine Mixer. But don’t take my word for. The proof is in the pictures and our itinerary {below}. Trust me, you’ll definitely want to visit the island, and you don’t need to wait for a wine mixer to do it.

Catalina final-5.jpg
Catalina final-6.jpg
Catalina final-18.jpg



8am leave Santa Monica

9:15am arrive in Long Beach + board the Catalina Express

9:50am settle into the Commodore Lounge and sip on one of their infamous Bloody Mary’s // a Commodore Lounge ticket gives you priority check-in + boarding, a complimentary drink and snack/cookies on board aka it’s definitely worth the $15 upgrade!

11:00am arrive in Avalon on Catalina Island

11:30am drop off bags and get situated at the Pavilion Hotel // This hotel is centrally located right on the main street, just steps from the beach, and only a few minutes walk from the ferry, so it’s super convenient.

12pm grab a waterside lunch at Bluewater Grill // The lobster roll is one of the best I’ve had since moving to the west coast. Plus, you can’t beat getting to sit right on the water on a beautiful sunny day. Oh, and don’t forget to finish off your meal with one of the islands infamous Buffalo Milk cocktails!

1:30pm walk around Avalon, the main (and really only) town on Catalina Island

2:30pm grab ice-cream at Scoops (we tried a few flavors, most of which we weren’t crazy about, but the cookies and cream was good)

3:00pm tour the Catalina Island Museum // a great place to get to know more about the fascinating history and stories of the island (things like past celebrities and guests that have visited, when the island was home to the Chicago Cubs spring training, the Bird Park history, stories of parties and events, the island during WWII, and so much more); they have tons of amazing exhibits coming in and out, and they also currently have a centennial celebration exhibit especially dedicated to the history of the Wrigley family being on the island for 100 years. Did you know that William Wrigley (as in Wrigley gum + Wrigley Field) bought Catalina Island in 1919? Learning about his vision + plans for the island via this exhibit was really fascinating, plus you can view some Wrigley family items that have previously never been displayed before.

4:30pm grab a pre-dinner glass of wine + some cheese // Cocktail hour is complimentary at the Pavilion Hotel, so be sure to take advantage of it!

6:00pm dinner at Avalon Grill // Located a short walk from the Pavilion Hotel, the restaurant is considered one of the more upscale options on the island. They have something for everyone, from steaks to seafood to vegan options, and they even have flashback favorites, which are dishes that were first served at the island’s historic Hotel St. Catherine.

8:00pm an astronomy tour at Buena Vista Point with Kathleen Hill Carlisle // Sadly, just as our tour was about to start, the clouds rolled in and the rain started. Othwerise, the views of the moon, planets and stars are pretty epic from Catalina. And Kathleen, a local, whose family has been on the island for several generations, is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to astronomy, finding the constellations, etc. Definitely a fun and unique activity to do on the island.

Catalina final-36.jpg


8am grab breakfast // Another perk of the Pavilion Hotel is complimentary breakfast, which includes a make-your-own omelette bar, customized coffee drinks, fresh fruit and baked goods.

9am Tour the island via golf carts from Catalina Golf Cart Rentals // You’ll notice everyone on the island has a golf cart/gets around by golf cart and for good reason. First, it’s because there are only a limited amount of cars allowed on the island (and the current waitlist is 18 years), and secondly, it’s because it is, hands down, the best way to get around and see all of Avalon. The rental company even gives you a map with an easy-to-follow route so you don’t miss anything (but there’s also plenty of signs guiding you along the way). If you want to stop along the drive and take pictures (highly recommend), I’d plan to rent a golf cart for at least 2-3 hours, but if you’re also planning to stop for various tours or meals along the way, I’d rent one for a full day.

11:15am Wrigley Centennial Tour // If sitting in an air conditioned bus with a tour guide (versus a self-guided golf cart tour) is more your speed, this is the tour for you. It’s also special because it’s a brand new tour created as part of this year’s centennial celebration (hence the tour name), and, unlike your self-guided tour, you do get to stop and go inside the Catalina Country Club, which was originally the Wrigley Clubhouse. They also have a longer version of this tour where you can stop and go in the Casino, as well.

1:00pm Kayak out to Frog’s Rock with a picnic lunch //This is a fun way to see the island from the water. You also get to learn more history and facts of Catalina (our tour guide was born and raised on the island), plus see all kinds of wildlife (we saw seals and a bald eagle, plus Garibaldi fish, the state fish of California). As part of the tour you stop at Frog Rock’s landing for a bit and they do provide a cookie (which was really yummy, by the way) and bottle of water, but we also had packed a picnic lunch that we ate at the landing (You can get sandwiches to-go from the Von’s, which are quite delicious!). As an alternative to the guided tour, you can also rent kayak’s to take out on your own.

3:40pm zipline eco-tour // Another cool and unique way to see the island from a different perspective; our guides were both really entertaining and informative, plus, it was really cool to be zipping over the canyon, foliage and eucalyptus tress as the sun was setting. Just as a heads up, though, this experience can take a bit (depending on the amount of people in the group) so I would plan at least 3-3.5 hours (for the full experience, between checking in, getting in gear, etc.), and, if you’re going in the later afternoon, I would definitely make a later dinner reservation. Also, wear comfortable clothes (like leggings and a t-shirt) and don’t forget closed-toe shoes.

6:30pm dinner at Lobster Trap // A local favorite serving up fresh local catch; get the lobster mac n’ cheese. Trust me. It’s so good, so cheesy and it’s topped with so much lobster. It’s off-the-menu, but just ask for it. You won’t regret it. Also, it’s a massive serving, so you can easily share it between 2-3 people.

8:30pm grab some wine at the convenience store next to the restaurant and head back to the hotel to have a few drinks by the fire pit while looking at the stars and listening to the waves

kayaking on catalina island.jpg
Catalina final-35.jpg

Catalina final-22.jpg


7:30am grab complimentary coffee at the hotel (they have to-go cups) and head for a walk along the water; we stopped at the Descanso Beach Club, which you get complimentary access to as part of your stay at the Pavilion Hotel; if we had more time, I definitely would have wanted to post up for a few hours in one of the lounge chairs, with a good book and a cocktail.

9:00am back at the hotel to grab breakfast and enjoy it in the garden

9:30am walk around Avalon, check out the cute homes and pop into some of the shops

11:30am check out of the Pavilion Hotel and head over to catch the Catalina Express back to Long Beach

11:45am wave good-bye to the Catalina coast line from aboard the Catalina Express and immediately begin planning the next trip back!

catalina outfit-22.jpg
Catalina final-39.jpg
catalina outfit-30.jpg
Catalina final-51.jpg
Catalina final-46.jpg



While you can visit year round, the best to come is late spring through summer. As an FYI, July 4th is their busiest day of the year.


The best way to get to the island is to hop on the Catalina Express. It makes getting to Catalina really quick and easy, and it only takes about 1 1/2 hours. But if you’re looking for something extra special, you can take a helicopter over (some of the other people in our ziplining group said that’s how they had arrived and it only took about 15 minutes to get over to the island, but it was, obviously, considerably pricier than taking the Catalina Express, and probably not idea if you have a lot of luggage).


Once you’re on the island, you can very easily get everywhere you need to go on foot, but there are also bikes (the Pavilion Hotel has complimentary ones for guests), golf carts and taxis.


Though Catalina Island has an exclusive feel to it, it’s relatively reasonable to spend a few days here without spending a lot. The biggest costs are getting there and lodging. After that, most of the cost depends on what activities you do or don’t want to do and where you want to eat (there are options in a variety of price ranges as well as a Vons).


make a decorative tile // decorative tiles are everywhere on the island and are a huge part of Catalina’s history, and there’s actually a place you can go to make your own. Not only would it be a fun activity, but it would also make a great souvenir.

casino tours // despite what you might think (and what I thought), this is one casino where no gambling happens. Casino actually means “gathering place” in Italian, and that’s exactly what William Wrigley Jr. envisioned for this building when he commissioned it. it’s still used for gathering, to this day, but you can also take tours and get a peek behind the curtain with a Behind the Scenes Tour, take a Twilight Tour at the Casino, or even go there to catch a movie (it’s the only movie theater in town).

outdoor + animal experiences // check out the Botanical Gardens, a catalina falconry experience, head out on a flying fish voyage, take a undersea expedition, or, if staying on land is more your thing, check out a Bison Expedition

discover two harbors // the more rustic town on the other end of the island; most people come here for camping, but there is one hotel (the Banning House Lodge) and a few restaurants and you can rent a cabana or lounge chair on the beach and order food and drinks from the Harbor Reef restaurant right to your seat; you can get here via the safari bus from Avalon, by private boat, via mainland ferry from San Pedro or on the Cyclone boat from Avalon

harbor lights tour // a cool way to experience Avalon at night and see the town’s lights

hiking // with trails all over the island, there is no shortage of hikes, all with a varying landscapes and views.

camping // Two Harbors is the spot to go if you’re looking to camp on the island. We did talk to one guy on the ferry ride over who was doing a 5 day hike/camp from one end of the island to the other, which also sounds like a super cool way to experience Catalina.

spa treatments // for those who want to chill and relax, you can get everything from facials to massages at the local spa (they also have a gym in here, which you have complimentary access to if you’re staying at the Pavilion Hotel)


Descanso Beach Club, lunch at Mt. Ada, Catalina Coffee + Cookie company, The Sandtrap (one of our tour guides told us this is the spot to come for tacos and happy hour) and Pancake Cottage (we heard this was a good breakfast option)


Mt. Ada is the former Wrigley mansion turned 4-star bed and breakfast, so this would be a great option for someone looking for a more exclusive stay in a place a slightly removed from town (i.e. this would be perfect for a couple). The price also includes breakfast, lunch and use of a golf cart. Both the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel and Hotel Atwater are re-opening this summer and both look like they’ll be beautiful properties to stay in.


Be sure to try the local specialty drink, buffalo milk. It’s basically an alcoholic chocolate banana milkshake aka it’s dangerously delicious!


Be on the lookout for the local buffalo (seen in the interior of the island) and the elusive Catalina fox.


I truly was not sure what to expect from Catalina Island. It always seemed exclusive, but in reality everyone was very friendly and welcoming, and, while there are still exclusive aspects (like the Tuna Club, for example), most things are very accessible. I will say that the overall vibe of Avalon felt a little more touristy than what Dave and I would usually like, but I think this is totally dependent on the activities you do and even the time you visit (for example, there was a cruise shipped docked for one of the days we were there, so the town had lots of extra people in it). I also think part of it is expectation. The town and history have really been preserved to keep much of the original charm, so don’t come expecting shiny, new, Instagram-y restaurants, food, things like that (in my opinion this is a good thing, but, with the some people like to travel these days, this may not be ok for some). I also really loved the way some of the viewpoints and architecture transported me to a Mediterranean coastline, ya know, without the whole long flight thing. Overall, I think it’s a great escape, especially for local SoCal peoples. You definitely feel transported to a place much farther away than you actually are, there is something for everyone to do (from relaxing to being active, for both kids and adults), and there’s enough to do to keep you busy for a couple of days, but it’s close enough to the mainland that you could even just go for a day trip or a one night getaway.

All photos taken by myself or David, except for the one of Dave + I which was taken by our talented and dear friend Kirsten Alana