SPONSORED BY VISIT CATALINA
I’ve lived in Southern California for most of my life, but somehow I had never been to Catalina Island until recently. After 25 years too long, I finally packed my cute new weekender bag full of bikinis. But what’s a beach weekend away without your bestie? To make my first visit to Catalina Island well worth the wait, I brought my roommate along for the ultimate girls trip. After spending just a few short days in the Island’s primary tourist-centric town, Avalon, I now know just how much I was missing out.
Avalon, Catalina Island is like a mini Amalfi Coast – there are beautifully colored houses and hotels along the mountainside, adorable cafes and seaside restaurants, and miles of protected mountain terrain. The best part about Catalina is that you don’t have to go far to feel like you are worlds away on a well-deserved vacay. It’s right off the coast of Los Angeles County, and it only takes about an hour to get there by boat.
To get there, we first drove to Long Beach to catch the Catalina Express. It’s the ferry that shuttles island-goers to and from Avalon. There are also Catalina Express ports in San Pedro and Dana Point, making it more convenient depending on where you’re coming from. You can chill inside the ferry while you make the trek or take in the ocean breeze and views from the top of the boat. If you’re lucky, you might even see a school of dolphins on your way over!
The Catalina Express made the process of getting to Avalon seamless. Once we finally stepped off the boat, the fun really began. Girls weekend commenced. For a recap of our weekend and a guide to the best things to do, see, and eat in Catalina, keep reading below!
The Cutest Lunch Spot, a DIY Bar Crawl, and Souvenir Shopping
Upon arrival in Avalon, we instantly took a breath of fresh air and couldn’t wipe the smiles off of our faces. You just truly can’t be in a bad mood on Catalina Island! There is so much color, lively beachgoers, and a bustling scene in the center of town. Before checking into our room at Hotel Atwater, we grabbed a bite to eat to kick off our trip. There are so many dining options right in the heart of Avalon. Our first meal of the trip was at Cafe Metropole, an adorable café and juice bar. It was the perfect light, fresh, and casual meal for lunch. Plus, it was in a European-esque courtyard with boutique shops and live music.
We still had some time to kill before checking in, so we decided to go on our own mini bar crawl through town. It’s not a girls weekend without a few margaritas, after all! We first went to El Galleon, a restaurant and bar overlooking the beach that offers all the good drinks and even better vibes (they even host karaoke nights!). Next, we ventured across the street to what turned out to be one of our favorite spots on the island, Bluewater Grill. It’s directly on the water and its ambiance is exactly what you’d want from a seaside restaurant. It has outdoor or indoor dining, bar seating, and a view of the gorgeous bay full of catamarans. It’s an ideal place to stop for an afternoon cocktail or sunset meal.
Our last activity before checking into Hotel Atwater was perusing all of the souvenir shops, boutiques, and unique artisan stores. There are tons of shops that offer diverse clothing styles, Catalina-themed trinkets, and everything in between. (Tip: Don’t follow our lead and wait to sip your margs until after you check out the stores. Shopping while tipsy was a dangerous situation.)
A Swanky Hotel Room, Mouthwatering Seafood Dinner, & Living Like Locals
Following our afternoon getting acclimated to the town, we were finally able to check-in to our beautiful accommodations for the weekend, Hotel Atwater. The property, which originally opened in 1920, was just recently renovated in 2019 – everything still looked shiny and new. Its aesthetic was chic and polished but still inviting and laidback (this seems to be the theme of the entire island, TBH). Our room was immaculate and we even had a view of the mountains and the backroads of Avalon. It was stunning! The best part, though, was how comfortable the beds are. Maybe a little too comfortable, considering that we immediately passed out for a two-hour nap the second we made it to the room. (It’s safe to say the bar-hopping got to us.)
Once we got some much-needed rest and relaxation, we put on our cutest dresses and got ready for dinner at Avalon Grille. It’s one of the nicer sit-down restaurants on the island, so it’s a bit pricier but totally worth every bite. I ordered the scallops and my roomie ordered the steak. If you asked us, we’d both say that it was f*cking delicious. The restaurant also has a unique selection of signature cocktails. I paired my scallops with the dragon berry mojito – 10/10 recommend. My favorite part of every meal is the dessert. We ordered the guava cheesecake, which sounds kind of weird, but the mixture of flavors with the light and fluffy texture was that of my sweet tooth dreams. View the Avalon Grille menus here.
After dinner, we had planned to head back early for a good night’s sleep. However, we noticed live music and dancing at the bar across the street from Hotel Atwater and couldn’t resist. There were both locals and tourists enjoying the tunes and sipping on beers. This ended up closing around 10 p.m., but we met a couple of regular visitors that showed us another cool nightlife spot called the Marlin Club. It’s actually the oldest bar in Avalon and was built to resemble a boat by the Merchant Marines during World War II. They’ve got everything you need for a night of fun including multiple large screen TVs, a pool table, foosball, pinball, video games, darts, live music, and a jukebox. It’s like an adult playground!
Avocado Toast, Rainfall, and an Adrenaline Rush
Day one set the stage for an amazing girls weekend, but day two is where the fun really began. We woke up to gloomy skies and light rain, but we obviously weren’t going to let that put a damper on our time in Catalina Island. Instead, we got ready for a morning full of adventure. We geared up for our plans to go zip-lining – my first time ever doing this! Of course, we needed our energy to sustain ourselves for all of the excitement, so we grabbed an oat milk latte and avocado toast at the Atwater Hotel’s breakfast bistro.
Then we made our way to Descanso Canyon and put on our harnesses to embark on the Catalina Island Zip-Line Eco Tour. After our safety talk from the friendly instructors, we took a shuttle up to a ridge top that’s 600 feet above the canyon. I’ll be honest, hopping off that first platform was nothing short of terrifying, but it was so worth it! After the first leap of faith, the jump into each line (with a total of five) got easier, delivering a lot more fun than fear by the end of it. To say my adrenaline was pumping is an understatement, but it was exactly the adventure we needed to start our day on a high note (literally).
If the thrill of flying over the canyon, catching the ocean views, and zooming through eucalyptus trees at 35 miles per hour wasn’t enough, it was our instructors and group of fellow zip-liners that made it all the more fun. We made some fast and encouraging friends, considering we were all sharing in the collective fear of plummeting to our death.
Beach Club Chillin’ and Piña Colada Sippin’
We could only handle so much adventure for one day, so we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Descanso Beach Club where you can order a private cabana or lounge chair. We sun finally starting to peek through the clouds, so immediately threw on our bikinis and sprawled out on our chairs. There really is nothing but good vibes here – how can anyone be in a bad mood on the beach in Catalina Island? We couldn’t help but notice how welcoming and talkative everyone was, both staff and visitors, while we were in town.
Descanso Beach Club is home to the only beachside restaurant and bar in Avalon, which means you never even have to leave your daybed to order food and drinks. It’s not a true beach day without a frozen cocktail, so we ordered the Cabana Colada and Deco Daiquiri. Yum! As for food, you simply can’t go wrong with the chips and guac when your toes are in the sand. The menu also offers a selection of seafood, burgers, and specialty items.
We followed our chill afternoon at the beach with a much-needed nap, then went out for another meal at Bluewater Grill. As much as we wanted to, we did not have it in us to make it back out to the local bars. We crashed early, which was a good idea considering what we had on our agenda for the next day…
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Indiana Jones IRL, Sushi, and One Last Beach Day
We started our last day on the island with an excursion that was basically Avalon’s version of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. We met at the center of town and loaded into a topless Hummer truck for a Bison Expedition. Random, I know, but it was freakin’ incredible. If you’re a nature lover like me, then this is a must on your next visit to Avalon. We saw two bison, an island fox (the third smallest fox on the planet!), a family of deer, and stunning 360-degree views of the island. We learned about the wildlife and vegetation, as well as the history of how the island came to be what it is today. Fun fact: Bison were brought to the island to shoot an old western film, but were then left on the island. Now, they’re a beloved part of the local Catalina Island community!
We followed our morning adventure with some sushi and cold ones for lunch at NDMK Fish House. The laidback spot made for an easy, casual mid-afternoon meal. The fish is prepared fresh, making for a light and tasty lunch. The sun was finally shining bright on the last day of our trip, so we spent our last few hours on the island soaking up the UV rays back at Descanso Beach Club. We sipped one more (okay, two more) piña coladas, jumped in the cool water, and enjoyed the carefree energy that pumps through all of Avalon.
Overall, Catalina Island is the ultimate weekend getaway, especially for a few days spent with your best girlfriends. I can’t believe I waited so long to visit, but it certainly won’t be another 25 years before I go back!