Understanding how we ended up on Catalina Island takes a little bit of background.
Our family has vacation reruns in Los Angeles a lot. Vacation reruns are defined as trips/vacations that are taken to a place you have already visited, due to business, social, or family obligations. Hubby went to school in California, so we are often in the state to attend reunions, see friends, etc.
Lots of people get stuck in vacation reruns. I had a serious episode of vacation reruns in Washington DC this summer. But that doesn’t mean the trip has to be boring or bad. Vacation reruns can mean you get to see something you missed the first time. I tend to throw caution to the wind, sleep later, and not pre-plan very much during vacation reruns. Which tends to lead to some interesting travel. Even getting lost can be an adventure.
This past summer was no different. We decided to pick the kids up from summer camp and fly straight to LA instead of going home. We had been to LA 18 months before for a solid week and hit every family activity I could come up with. You can read about our adventures in parts one, two and three. But one of the things I love about Hubby is his ability to make and maintain friendships over the years. So off to LA we went.
After a day at Disneyland with our friends (they rarely go unless we are in town), we had one more day to discover something more about LA and the surrounding area. Since we follow a lot of Hubby’s college friends on social media, we get a glimpse of what they do in California for fun. Time and time again we had seen families posting about Catalina Island. Their kids even have field trips and campouts on Catalina Island. And frankly, the idea of getting away from LA traffic for the day sounded great.
From what I could tell, there are a couple of ferry companies to get from LA to Catalina. We chose Catalina Express out of Long Beach, CA. We called and made reservations for our round trip voyage. They highly recommend reservations, since they can sell out some departures. Because we slept late and weren’t taking the ferry out to Catalina until 1pm, we decided to take the last ferry available back at 10pm.
After that was done, I checked the availability of the zipline, glass bottom boat, and submarine. The only one not booked for the day was the zipline. However, I had 2 kids that didn’t weigh enough to go alone. And if paired with an adult to be able to ride, the combined weight couldn’t be more than 250 lbs. Apparently they weigh everyone right there to be sure. While I appreciated their safety rules, that was a little daunting. Not to mention if you booked it, and then were over the limit, you couldn’t participate, or get a refund. And it cost $125/person. No thanks, we’ll try again when everyone could zipline alone.
The ferry ride was entertaining during departure and arrival, but there is not a lot to look at inbetween. I was glad the boys had their ipods and a deck of cards to keep occupied. Hubby and I each had a small backpack to carry for the day. We took swimsuits and I took an extra pair of shorts. They did have some brochures and maps of Catalina on board, so we used the ferry time to talk about things we might want to do.
Catalina makes one hell of a first impression. The town is built on u shaped hillside that gradually makes it’s way down past the main street, the beach, and the harbor full of boats beyond. The ferry docks at the city of Avalon on Catalina Island. There are cars on the island, but not very many. It’s so charming and fun. The city of Two Harbors is on the other side of Catalina that is more quiet and subdued. Maybe for couples or celebrities? Luckily there are several sweet shops in Avalon, so we stopped there first to satisfy our growing boys’ stomachs.
Cell phone coverage was a little spotty on the island. So the online scavenger hunt we’d found, wouldn’t load or work properly for us. Even though I was not that excited about it, we decided to cruise the island on a golf cart. There are a few rental places in town, which might have been less expensive if I had booked ahead. Most of them offer 4 and 6 passenger carts. Rentals are done by the hour, they give you a map, draw out the route, tell you what signs to follow, and you’re off! I was pleasantly surprised by our journey. The views were amazing! The boys had fun helping us navigate and making fun of our golf cart as it slowed to a crawl on some of the big hills. The big perspective helps give you an idea of other things to do on the island. From up high you can see all the water sports available in the harbor, drive by the gardens, golf courses, tennis courts, and even catch a glimpse of the zipline. Our entire ride took as about and hour and a half.
The boys decided we had to get out on the water. The views from the golf cart tour had helped us see where all of the fish sightseeing boats and submarines went to see marine life. So that’s where they wanted to go. We rented kayaks at Joe’s Rent-A-Boat located on the small main pier. The staff told us that we were talking about lovers cove, and told us how to get there. They even have a bucket for your gear that stays within their business (and dry) while you are out and about. Junior had his own kayak, Hubby and Bo in a double kayak, and Duke and I in a double kayak.
While we didn’t see as much as we would have on the tour boats, we did see colorful fish and seaweed. When you don’t live anywhere near an ocean, that alone is success. There were even a few brave snorkelers in Lovers Cove, and some of them were pretty far from shore.
I had never kayaked through a harbor before. The boats were so interesting. We paddled around them and compared their sizes and names. There are some creative people out there when it comes to naming boats. After an hour and a half on the water, and shooting the pier on the way back in, we were done.
We decided to put our name on the wait list at the Bluewater Avalon restaurant. We wanted to sit outside and look out onto the harbor while we ate. Since we hadn’t shopped at any of the stores yet, we took off and wandered the retail shops in town. The mom and pop toy store was a big hit with the boys. Whoopie cushions are funny no matter what age you are. I even found a gift shop that had Christmas ornaments in the summer. Before you know it, we were seated. Hubby and I had to have wine with dinner, so we could have our own Catalina wine mixer. If you’ve seen the movie Stepbrothers, maybe you’ll think that is as great as Hubby did? Seriously, he kept laughing off and on throughout dinner. It’s the little things, people.
Our waiter was very personable. He told us about growing up on Catalina Island and happily answered any questions we had. He pointed to famous owners’ houses on the hill, and made growing up on the tiny island sound like great fun. The food was varied with a heavy emphasis on seafood, which we love. We always seem to do well when we narrow our order down to 2 or 3 items, and let the waiter surprise us. They turned the patio heaters on when the sun went down and it started to get chilly, and the manager came by our table to make sure we were satisfied.
By the time we finished our fantastic dinner overlooking the harbor, it was time to board the ferry to go back to the mainland. I think we all snoozed on the ferry ride back since it was so late. The culture shock back in LA was complete when they closed down the 405 and it took us 2 1/2 hours to drive back to the hotel. I wish I was joking.
All in all, Catalina Island is a little slice of heaven. It looks like a Mediterranean village, but the friendly people remind me of the midwest. My boys enjoyed it and would love to go back when mom does a little more planning. There are hotels, golf courses, water sports, spas and a theatre. I immediately thought about friends back home that should plan a visit for their wedding anniversary. Or maybe a girls trip? A bunch of couples?
The possibilities are endless.