Hey There!! I’m so delayed on this Catalina Island Post. I went for the week of my birthday back in September for a mini 3-day getaway. I’ve heard a lot about Catalina from friends who’ve gone to visit and dreamed of going to do some environmental research in my undergrad days. Flash forward almost a decade later and wallah, I made it!
Hotel St. Lauren
We stayed at the cutest boutique hotel and it was painted in the prettiest hue of pink, Hotel St. Lauren! I fell in love with the architectural design of the hotel as well as the interior decor and set up. It’s located right in Downtown Catalina. One thing you’ll notice is that most of the hotels and houses in the main area are painted in a pastel color making the whole downtown look like a colorful masterpiece, which went well for my geometric jumpsuit (blog post link HERE). Video below from our rooftop lounge area at the Hotel St. Lauren overlooking Downtown Catalina.
Things to Do
Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens
If you’re in Catalina then you definitely must make time to stop at Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens. Quick Tip: Wear comfy shoes, I made the mistake of not knowing the distance from the parking lot to the top of the memorial. More importantly the path through the botanical garden up to the memorial is not all asphalt, something to keep in mind.
The garden itself is quite beautiful and I had fun reading through the different plant species, some unique to Catalina. The memorial itself can be seen as you walk through the garden, its quite massive! Pictures do not do it justice. Once you get to the top there isn’t that much to see but you do feel pretty good having made that trek. There are several informational signs as you make your way up the memorial highlighting some of Wrigley’s life and family (check out the museum if you are interested in getting more details of the Wrigley family).
Fashion Tip: The botanical garden is just that, a garden. Filled with a variety of lovely flowers, trees, shrubs, etc. It photographed this green multi-color hi-low dress so well in that backdrop. Just a tip for any of my fashionistas looking for outfit ideas.
The moment your boat docks onto Catalina Island, you will see two things. The first is a beautiful hillside lined with colorful houses and dozens of sail boats bobbing in the waves. The second thing you’ll quickly notice is that the transportation mode of choice on the island is golf carts! I mean everywhere you look there are golf carts driving up and down the streets and alleys, as well as taking up majority of the parking. There definitely are cars on the island but golf carts are definitely the preferred, and cooler, method of choice for getting around the island. Most of the locals use the golf carts to get around the island and you’ll see carts with baby seats, rims, rain covers, and even dogs patiently waiting! I mean they really personalize their carts! And after being on the island for three days I definitely saw why it was advantageous to just use the golf cart.
They have a lot of golf cart rental kiosks in the main downtown square. I definitely would recommend renting a golf cart. You can rent it for $60 for 2 hours and the best part is they give you this map of the island with numbered landmarks. If you do the whole course without stopping it takes about 1 hour. The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden is one of the stops along the route so I would recommend doing the two together because it will save you a lot of time! There aren’t any other stops along the route that you can really stop at and look around so don’t feel like you can’t see it all. Most of the stops are viewpoints or a quick landmark to look at.
The main square or downtown area won’t be hard to find, its the first thing you’ll see as you walk along the pier and past the park coming off of the boat. It’s also where you’re most likely staying unless you’re going to the new developments aka Descanso or Two Harbors. If you’re with a group or looking to have a good time, than check out Descanso. It’s like an adult-party atmostphere all day. They have their own private beach and during the summer they keep busy by throwing beach parties and offer outdoor rentals and even zip-lining!
If you’re visiting Catalina in the summer and on a weekend then you’ll probably catch one of their annual street fairs or festivals. We were there around the same time as their Wine and Art Fair but were leaving on Friday so we only got to see the opening of the Fair. Majority of the stores downtown are small restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and a few boutique stores specializing in their own unique trade. There is a Vons and a Vons Express on the island for your grocery needs, but since its the only one on the island its always busy!
We walked around the downtown area several times checking out each of the shops and trying to eat at all the restaurants and cafes that our bellies could handle. If you’re looking for the public beach (not the beach/pool party) then it’s also located right there at the central plaza. It’s great because majority of the rentals and tours are gathered in the central plaza making it a one stop shop when creating your Catalina itinerary.
We did the glass bottom boat tour which went out just a little off shore with a shit ton of fish! We even got lucky and saw a few harbor seals in the area swimming. One even went under our boat we saw him from the glass bottom, I swear he turned around and waved at me (I swear!).
They also have the submarine tour options available and other boat excursions. If you’re staying on the island overnight then I would recommend doing a tour and/or the golf cart. Being on a small island you’re very limited on activities. If you’re into drinking and/or golfing then this may be the perfect Island for you since most visitors will tell you that’s the only thing to do. I would beg to differ, but can say we made sure to keep busy and active to get the most out of our time on the island.
Catalina Island Museum
Located in the small quaint downtown is a cute museum giving you a look at the history of Catalina the surrounding area (the other Channel Islands) as well as famous figures who stayed in Catalina for some part of their life. I was so shocked to see Marilyn Monroe listed among the but it was during her time as Norma Jean before she became the iconic beauty that we all love and know about today.
Some of you may or may not know but Wrigley brought a lot of people, tourism, and resources to the island, therefore many parts of the museum discuss his history, family, and legacy. While were there for our vacation the museum was showcasing beautiful glass art work by CHIHULY
It was an amazing exhibit and even though it didn’t have anything related to Catalina, it was pretty unique to them exhibit this type of artwork. The glass garden in their rooftop deck was absolutely breathtaking and so surreal. The pictures absolutely do not do it any justice. The exhibit will be around until December 12, 2017, so if you have a chance and are around the area check it out.
The Island of Catalina has a Casino, but probably not the kind you’re thinking of. ‘Casino’ is an Italian word for a place of entertainment and in the U.S. it’s often found in the form of gambling, but that was not always the case. The Casino on Catalina does not have any sort of gambling going on and is only open by going on a tour or when they have performances, special events, and movies.
We did walk to the Casino, there is a cute trail that goes along the water and passes the original Tuna Club of Avalon. We did not go inside the Casino since they were only open for tours when we were there and it didn’t seem worth it for us since we were headed elsewhere at the time. Definitely love to hear what the Casino has to offer if any of you ever check it out! Please share.
Depending how long your stay in Catalina is, you may have time to do some outdoor exploring and check out the buffalo on the island or even go to the other side of the island to Two Harbors.You will need a car to get there or take a shuttle/local bus to get to Two Harbors because a golf cart (unless privately owned) won’t have enough electric power to get you to the other side and over the hills. There are some campgrounds in between Avalon and Two Harbors, and we did hear that hiking and camping out to Two Harbors is not uncommon.
All in all, if you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to check out one of the Channel Islands (yea I didn’t know until we got there that it was one of them), Catalina has a variety of options for couples, families, and even groups.