Have you ever wanted to see the Amalfi Coast? Or maybe you’ve already been and long to return but let’s just say life has your money and time tied up elsewhere for now.
Catalina Island is only a short boat ride (about 1-hour) from California’s Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point but this overnight trip will make you feel like you are miles away on a European coast. Also known as Santa Catalina Island, Catalina was once claimed by the Spanish Empire. It is now part of Los Angeles County. You’ll see cliff-side houses, a quaint harbor with boats bobbing in the blue water, boutique shops, and locally-owned restaurants – making it a perfect Eurocana getaway.
Here’s how to getaway to Catalina.
- Catalina Island can be a day trip but if you’re staying a night or more, a package boat and hotel deal is a great way to save money. Visitcatalinaisland.com is a good place to start. Also, keep an eye out for discount boat rides and activity tickets on sites such as Groupon and Travelzoo. Transport companies, such as the Catalina Express, usually charge about $100 per person roundtrip. Tip: if you go on your birthday then it’s free! (Unfortunately, only until the end of year – which is soon!) Book a ride to arrive early (or at least by noon) and take the last boat out (which is usually in the evening). If you are staying on the island a little longer, choose a hotel that is close to the water and near the town center’s shops and boutiques so you can make the most of your trip. Also, look for a hotel that includes an in-room mini-fridge, breakfast, and happy hour with your rate. This will also save you some money and will enhance your experience.
- Once on the boat, sit on the starboard side and next to a window. Upon approach to Catalina, take time to enjoy the view of the coastline of the island and the harbor. You will feel like you are far, far, away. Catalina’s town center is only a 5-minute walk from the pier so if you’ve booked a hotel in the town center then you won’t need any transportation there. Simply walk. You can even call the hotel in advance to see if they have a concierge that will meet you at the pier and take your luggage back to the hotel for you so you can start exploring the island immediately. There should be no charge for this – especially if you’ve booked a boat and hotel package.
- If possible, ditch the golf carts and walk. Catalina is only 22 miles long and 8 miles wide so many people, even locals, use golf carts as a means of transportation. Most places of interest and activities, however, are within walking distance. Besides, the golf carts can be pricey to rent and oftentimes during the high season there is a wait to use one. Save time and money and get your exercise by walking to places such as Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens (yes named after the same guy who owned the Wrigley Gum empire) and the Zane Grey Pueblo turned hotel (yes, the same Zane Grey who was a popular writer of Westerns). Climb to the top of the memorial at the gardens for a spectacular view (Wrigley and his wife aren’t buried there anymore). The hike to the Zane Grey pueblo will give you an amazing view of the harbor.
Look for the tiles that garnish Catalina’s walkways and buildings. The tiles were once produced on a factory on the island and are now collector’s items.
Check out the ornate maritime murals just outside the main entrance of Catalina’s Casino Ballroom (that now houses a movie theater and, contrary to the name, does not have gambling).
Hint, find the front doors and look up and around (free). It’s about $12 to see the Casino’s actual ballroom but it might be worth the price to see the building’s “romance promenade” (included in the tour) that offers an awesome view of the harbor and an experience similar to standing on a terrace in Italy.
The Metropole Market Place is a mini Eurocana experience within your Eurocana getaway on Catalina. The petite cobblestone village has art galleries, specialty coffees, pastries, and boutiques.
- Don’t eat at some of the overpriced taco stands on the pier. Do eat at a place called The Sandtrap across from the golf course where there are $1 dollar tacos and $5 margaritas from 2 p.m. – 7 p.m. everyday. Stop there on your way to or from the Wrigley Memorial Gardens. Also eat at the Descanso Beach Club Hotel. Grab an outdoor table for lunch by the beach and enjoy the view. For dessert, stop into the Descanso Beach Club Ice Cream Shop for unique licks such as Bailey’s doughnut espresso and Buffalo milk. If you’ve booked a great hotel with a mini-fridge, breakfast, and happy hour, there’s really no need to spend money on snacks or meals. Pack a cooler of non-perishables and enjoy a picnic on the beach or at the hotel. The Pavilion Hotel, for example, has a great view of the water from its communal fire pit and gathering room. The room is also where the hotel serves its complimentary breakfast and happy hour.
If you want to splurge on a dinner try the Avalon Grille for waterfront views, open-air dining, and American fare. If you dine between 5 to 6 p.m., ask your server about the dinner and a movie deal. The Grille offers one free movie pass per an entrée purchased during that hour. The passes are good for the Avalon Casino Theatre. If you’re looking for more of a European ambiance, eat at the Ristorante Villa Portofino for fine Italian dining.
- There are plenty of activities to do on the island from golfing to scuba diving to ziplining. Visitcatalina.com has a list of activities and also offers day packages. The “ship and zip” includes same-day roundtrip transportation to and from the island and one ticket for the Catalina Zipline Eco Tour (about $109 a person). The tour has 5 different zip lines.
- At night, watch a movie at the Avalon Casino Theatre and enjoy the art-deco decor (read above about how you can get free movie tickets), find a karaoke bar, live music, or take a romantic stroll along the water.