A Famous Pacific Playground
By Merilee Kern
Just 22 miles west of Dana Point, off the Southern California coast, Catalina Island has long been regarded as a Pacific paradise where families, romantics, adventurers and business folk come to stay and play. The island’s idyllic small beach town charm is just a quick boat ride away from fast-paced city life. Whether venturing over for a day, a weekend, or longer, Catalina Island is teeming with leisure and adrenaline-pumping activities suitable for adults and children, alike.
I recently jaunted over to Catalina Island for a three-day family sabbatical where we enjoyed the perfect mix of lodging, lounging, learning, dining and entertainment. Below is our itinerary that I wanted to share with Power Boating Canada readers.
9:50am: Depart to Catalina Island from Dana Point
Catalina Express whisks you off to Catalina Island in just a 60-minute journey from Dana Point among other ports of call that include San Pedro and Long Beach. The company’s fleet of eight modern, high-speed luxury catamarans and mono hull vessels offer a comfortable ride with airline-style seating both inside and out, large view windows where you can catch a glimpse of dolphins in their natural habitat, and light refreshments available for purchase.
11:30am: Check-in at hotel
Located just a five-minute walk or quick taxi ride from the dock where the Catalina Express disembarks, you will arrive at the newly renovated Pavilion Hotel. The new design is now centered around the lush garden courtyard area. The boutique property, perfectly situated on the main drag directly across from the beach and pier, has 71 rooms. The show stopper for the suite style rooms is the incredibly large, French door-accessible balconies overlooking the garden and, beyond, a spectacular ocean view. What I particularly loved about this property is that every booking comes with complimentary daily Continental breakfasts as well as a late afternoon wine and cheese event that is quite the draw.
1:30pm: Play mini golf
Located just off of the Tour Plaza and a mere block off the waterfront, Golf Gardens is a great way to spend the afternoon. This appropriately challenging 18-hole mini golf course attracts players of all ages – it takes about an hour to play all of the holes. Immersed in plant life and with bubbling streams throughout, the course is very beautiful and serene. It is open every day, year round.
4:30pm-5:30pm: Wine and cheese happy hour
The happy hour event takes place each evening at the open-air lounge and features an assortment of wine and cheese that can be enjoyed as dusk sets in. It’s a wonderful way to get the evening started and also enjoy the spirited and communal atmosphere among the guests this event fosters. Of course, there are also non-alcoholic beverage selections for the kids!
6:00pm: Enjoy casual dinner at The Lobster Trap
Located one block away from the Green Pier, The Lobster Trap is a casual eatery that features fresh seafood fare as well as appetizers, poultry and beef entrees, sandwiches and pasta. There is even a menu for the kiddos with all their favorites! During the summer, Friday and Saturday nights feature live music to accompany your meal.
8:00am: Continental breakfast
This Continental breakfast is decidedly well done with a surprisingly broad selection of fresh fare. Offerings include fresh pastries, muffins, and breads; hard boiled eggs; peanut butter; and exceedingly fresh fruit (the juiciest mangoes I’ve ever had) as well as fresh juices, Starbucks coffee, and milk. This is a great way to fill up and fuel up for a busy day around the Island!
11:00am: Do a Sub Tour
The Undersea Expedition Semi-Sub Tour leaves from the Green Pier and takes about 45 minutes. Kids and adults will love traveling five feet under water in this semi-submersible boat’s climate-controlled cabin with windows around the perimeter allowing passengers to revel in the beauty of Catalina’s marine life. This undersea adventure reveals all kinds of ocean dwellers, including sharks and sea lions, and even comes with a colorful Fish Finder Guide to help accurately identify the various types of fish encountered. An informative guide also conveys interesting facts about Catalina and its ocean environment throughout the tour.
12:30pm: Grab an ice cream and saltwater taffy
When it’s time for a little energy boost or just simple indulgence, head over to Lloyd’s of Avalon – a fixture on the island for decades. A big picture window provides a hypnotizing view of the taffy-making process in action, while the rest of shop is loaded wall-to-wall with all types of goodies, including a multitude of self-serve candy bins, an ice cream counter as well as caramel apples, chocolates, cinnamon rolls and much more.
2:00pm: East End Adventure
This two-hour tour provides an unprecedented view of the entire island, the ocean, and the surrounding facets of nature. You’ll climb into an open air H1 Hummer and wind your way up to 1,500 feet above sea level to enjoy spectacular views all the way back to the mainland. The tour also includes rugged interior terrain and the opportunity to catch sight of local wildlife (like the majestic buffalo and mule eared deer seen during our tour) and stunning and fragrant trees, plants, and flowers of various types. You’ll even stop by the Island’s exciting Zip Line Eco Tour where brave souls propel down 5 separate zip lines dropping from 500 feet to 60 feet above sea level. Throughout the East End Adventure tour, a knowledgeable and engaging guide drops fascinating factoids about nearly everything in sight – from local businesses to bugs to the Island’s rich history with the Wrigley family – all along the way.
4:30-5:30: Wine and cheese
It’s time to get refreshed and shift gears for the evening’s activities, and starting with a lovely wine and cheese plate or two is a fabulous way to start… or to wind down after a busy day traversing the Island.
6:00pm: Enjoy a casual dinner at Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret
As a fixture on the Island for nearly two decades, this family-style restaurant offers all the Italian pizza and pasta favorites plus steak, seafood and chicken entrees, burgers, soups and salads not to mention a menu just for the kids. Then there is the assortment of tempting desserts. The waterfront restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating that’s a great place to eat, people watch, gaze at the boats and watch the sea lions swim about.
8:00am: Continental breakfast
Get ready for the day with another delicious breakfast al fresco at the hotel as the Island starts to stir.
2:00pm: Go fishing off the Green Pleasure Pier
Located at the foot of Catalina Avenue is a 300-foot-long pier built all the way back in 1920.This is the perfect spot to enjoy fishing as gear is available for rent. Among other things, you can also rent paddle boats, outboard motor boats, and diving equipment as well as arrange other excursions like the Glass Bottom Boat Voyage from the pier.
6pm: Enjoy an upscale dinner at Avalon Grille
Conveniently located on Crescent Avenue at the foot of the Green Pier, this popular Avalon eatery features American regional dishes with a seasonal menu where everyone in the family is sure to find something they love. Pick your spot on the outdoor patio to enjoy the scenery, or sit indoors in the elegant yet cozy dining room as you recount the wonders your Catalina adventure.
On the evening of my family’s visit, our spectacular starters were the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with cranberries, almonds, pancetta and honey mustard; as well as the Black Mussels served with roasted garlic in a savory broth and served with grilled ciabatta bread. Our entrée selections consisted of the cooked-to-perfection Grilled Pacific Salmon plated with roasted fingerling potato and a fennel purée topped with an orange vinaigrette; amply portioned Shrimp and Mussels Scampi atop pasta tossed in a garlic-laden tomato sauce; and a to-die-for Scallop with Wild Mushroom Risotto. For dessert, the decadence continued as we sampled the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with Cabernet berries; Vanilla Bean Cheesecake served with a citrus syrup and raspberry coulis; Port Wine Poached Pear with Sable cookie and ricotta mousse; and the fabulous Caketini comprised of orange spongecake, poached black berries, and crème anglaise drizzled with chocolate sauce. It was sweet ending to the perfect weekend getaway!
9:45am: Depart from Avalon to Dana Point
Settle in to a comfortable seat while the boat whisks you back to reality.
Even though our vacation was brief, this itinerary provided the perfect balance of relaxation and revelry. And, while much ground was covered relative to the Island’s family-friendly activity options, the destination offers so much more. There are a wide range of day and night tours and activities to suit every-one’s interests, including golf, the casino, copious expeditions, rock climbing and a wide selection of divine dining. No matter how you choose to spend your time on Catalina Island, it’s sure to be a retreat to remember.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO CATALINA ISLAND
Glass Bottom Boat Tour
Lobster Trap restaurant