Author: Jill Weinlein
Date of Trip: March 2016
10 Fun Activities To Do on Catalina Island
In the 1920’s Al Jolson sang a song “I found my love in Avalon, beside the bay.” Later in the lyrics of the song “26 Miles (Santa Catalina),” the island of Catalina is described as “Water all around it everywhere, Tropical trees and the salty air….the island of romance. In the 1950s four Hollywood High School students won a high school talent show and were discovered by nearby Capitol Records talent scouts. They became The Four Preps, a popular music male quartet in the 1950s through the 1970s earning eight gold singles and three gold albums. 26 Miles was one of their most popular songs.
Having just returned from Catalina Island a lot has stayed the same since The Four Preps and Jolson song and some things have changed. Here are 10 Things I enjoyed while vacationing on Santa Catalina Island.
1. Take the Catalina Express over for a one hour ride to the island, an only 22 miles across the channel from Long Beach to Avalon harbor. Guests can upgrade to the Commodore Lounge to board early, sit up near the captain and receive a free beverage and snack of spicy trail mix or soft oatmeal cookie. Many guests enjoy the Catalina Express’ Bloody Mary, which was created by retired Capt. Johnny Vaughan.
2.Travel to Avalon before April 30, 2016, to take advantage of the Santa Catalina Island complimentary Passport with discounts on many of the top attractions and dining venues on the island. After April 30, the deals expire. Get $10 off any 50-minute or longer spa treatment at Island Spa Catalina. Inside the Passport is a “Stay one night, receive one night complimentary” at the Pavilion Hotel, Hotel Atwater or Two Harbors Banning House Lodge. You can pick this up on the green pier, or mini golf course.
3. Play a round of Miniature Golf. In the center of town is the native garden Catalina Island’s Golf Gardens. This one-of-a-kind miniature 18-hole golf course has been on the island for over 40 years. It’s challenging course has a par 6 hole. At the end, tally up your score to see if your should stick to tennis or are an expert on the greens. Inside the Passport is a page with $5 Mini Golf from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
4. Book a Zip Line Eco Tour. It takes two hours to propel down five zip line platforms with heights of more than 300 feet above natural canyon floors. The second zip experience is 1,100 thrilling feet long. Some guests travel up to 40 mph with pauses at each station and information signs enlightening guests about the history of the island. Get a $25 discount with your Passport page.
5, Discover the iconic Casino. When the Catalina Express pulls close to the island, one can’t help but notice the visually spectacular round Casino building at the edge of the harbor. Built in 1929, this extraordinary Art Deco design is not a gambling casino, but a dance pavilion that was popular from the 1930s to today for Big Band music, parties and holiday gatherings. Inside is a unique movie theater with beautiful murals on the walls. Twinkle lights are on the ceiling as the lights dim for the movie. Go early to hear the classic 1929 pipe organ play. There is a 2 for 1 Discover the Casino Tour page in the Passport.
6. Dine at some great Catalina Restaurant on your visit. Ben’s Bakery inside the newly renovated casino has good coffee and pastries in the morning. They open at 6 a.m. For lunch or dinner go to Avalon Grille for chef-driven elevated cuisine. Sit outside at look out at the harbor or inside at a table or the large lively bar area. Bring your Passport for $2 off a handcrafted cocktail.
7. For those who enjoy Mexican dishes, nearby at Maggie’s Blue Rose Mexican Fare has the best Mexican food on the island. Try the Mole duck taquitos, crab and corn empanadas, Maggie’s Caesar salad, street corn and a variety of street tacos. They make over 12 different types of margaritas, and serve beer and wine. Maggie is the owner and is usually up in the front greeting guests. There is also a tortilla lady making fresh tortillas for the table. Be sure to walk to the back of the restaurant to see vintage photos of Catalina Island.
8. Spend the day at the Descanso Beach Club. It’s right behind the Casino and next to the Eco Zip Line Tour. The day we visited the area, there was a California Sea lion on the rocks next to the beach. Management called in the local Marine Biologist expert Jon Council and his brother Brian to access the mammal. All was good, the sea lion just wanted to bask in the sun. Also, Rocky held a falcon in his hand and had him fly around the area to keep the seagulls aways from eating French fries. Rocky would chat with guests about falcons as he patrolled the area. Go for lunch and ask for Megan or Tricia. Both are terrific ladies. Be sure to order the Mochiko battered popcorn shrimp with a roasted garlic aioli. It’s served in a silver bucket and so good. I also enjoyed the Buffalo chicken sandwich wrap made with a tomato flour tortilla, carrot and celery slaw and a flavorful blue cheese sauce. There is a kids menu that comes with a cookie and French fries or fruit skewer. The grilled cheese was too greasy, maybe the burger is a better option.
9. See the island by kayak or stand up paddle board. At the Descanso Beach Club there is the Descanso Beach Ocean Sports. They are open daily depending on the weather. The day I wanted to kayak, there was a red flag warning and kayaks stayed at the beach. I was hoping to take a two hour journey to Frog Rock. I was told it was a chance to explore the island, as natives did 5,000 years ago. Guests many times see dolphins, eagles, octopus and sea turtles. They offer a “Not-So-Early-Bird special where guests can discover a secluded cove and have a picnic. You even get a wetsuit for snorkeling. Guests must rent by 10 a.m. and bring back before 2 p.m. for a discounted rate.
10. Dine at the Bluewater Grill for your last night dinner. Sit outside overlooking the harbor at sunset. There are multiple Bluewater Grill restaurants in California and one in Arizona, offering a seafood intensive menu, with fresh fish just caught from their own Pilikia boat. It leaves early in the morning and brings back it’s catch in the early afternoon for Chef Savoie and his team to cut and get ready to serve to guests. The seafood Louie salad with rock crab and by shrimp is terrific. The chef whips up a few Tastes of Louisiana specials such as shrimp and chicken gumbo with Andouille sausage and okra. Not a fish lover, the menu does offer Chicken Under a Brick and an Angus N.Y. Steak. Cocktails are served in glass jars and there is an interesting wine list with Rusack from Santa Ynez wines. Others are from Santa Barbara County, Napa, Sonoma, Oregon, Italy, and France. Bring the kids, because the children’s menu offers healthy kid fare such as grilled fish, shrimp, chicken, steak or salmon. It’s served in a Bento box with a garden salad, grapes and strawberries, french fries with ketchup or edamame. It’s fun to eat.
If your little one insists on a fried item, they use panko breadcrumbs that absorb very little oil and are healthier. Desserts for little ones is a cup of dirt with worms or ice cream sundae. For adults the caramel turtle cheesecake is delicious.