Welcome to Catalina
I had heard the rumors that one could get a free round trip ticket to Catalina, via the ferry Catalina Express, but was skeptical. What would I have to sign up for? What hidden fees were there? Were there blackout dates?
This post is to inform you that it was the GREATEST BIRTHDAY I HAVE EVER HAD. When they say a free round trip ticket on your birthday, they mean a free round trip ticket on your birthday PLUS even more free things! There are no extra charges, dates are not blocked out (except very few holidays), and they also give you the option to come back to the mainland within thirty days (in case you felt like staying for a month).
What you need to know:
Assuming you’re not going alone, tickets will cost $75, unless you have a AAA card, in which you can find a coupon online (or call AAA) and your ticket will drop to $67. You can bring bikes, pets, and luggage with you (maximum 2 bags that you can carry by yourself in one trip). The only rule is you MUST travel to Catalina on your birthday. Better yet, if it’s your birthday, have your driver’s license/passport with you WHEREVER you go in Catalina because you will find so many places that offer birthday discounts (including hotels and restaurants), you can even get free goodies!
Our ferry left from Long Beach and went to Avalon (the main city on Catalina). If you plan on staying a while in Catalina, try to get dropped off at the dock, since parking costs $15/day. Arrive at least an hour before your ferry leaves, if you arrive less than thirty minutes, there is a very good chance you will lose your reservation (or so they say…). The ferry itself is comfortable, spacious, and extremely fast— an hour and fifteen minutes to get there!
We took an early morning ferry (8:30), arrived at 9:45, and dropped our luggage off at the Glenmore Plaza Hotel, which was literally a five minute walk from the docking station. We changed into hiking gear and were off to the Botanical Gardens & Wrigley’s Memorial. Entrance to both is free on your birthday, $3 for students, and $7 for adults. The gardens were mostly succulents and desert plants, but the memorial was outrageous:
Fun Fact: Apparently no Wrigley relatives are actually buried here. Oh well! Once you take in the views, continue onwards for the Garden to Sky Hike:If you want to have a somewhat mild hike, the Garden to Sky trail is 3 miles and you basically go to the top of the mountain, get a view of Avalon, and the untouched wildlife of the other side of the island.
Path to the top of the Hermit Gulch Trail from the Garden to Sky point:
We decided to do the Garden to Sky Loop, a 5 mile trail that connects with Hermit Gulch Trail and spits you back out in front of the gardens. If you were feeling cheap, you can always do Hermit Gulch first, loop to Sky then get the memorial and gardens for free, but beware. Going up the Hermit Gulch trail is basically two miles of the most intense hiking you can imagine, to the point where it may feel like you’re climbing up it, not walking. Luckily, we just had to walk down it. Piece of cake!
You have arrived to the top of Hermit Gulch, feel free to pass out now and/or praise Apollo.
After finishing the hike, we were famished. We walked a block from our hotel to the lunch spot recommended by our receptionist: The Lobster Trap
The food was absolutely delicious and not too pricey (something that is very common in Catalina as long as you avoid the main street, Crescent Avenue). After unavoidable napping, we were off to check out the Avalon Pier — quite possibly the smallest pier I’ve ever seen, so definitely have a walk around.
Next, we were off to Luau Larry’s for the infamous Wiki Wacker.
The Wiki Wacker tastes pretty damn close to a Mai Tai and at only $8, why wouldn’t you get wacked. P.S. – You have the option of getting a free bumper sticker, or tropical straw hat. Choose wisely.
The rest of the night consisted of mediocre food and hilariously awful karaoke (which starts at 9 pm) at El Galleon, a pirate meets Mardi Gras bar and restaurant:
Followed by the only club in all of Catalina, which so happened to be across the street from our hotel, Chi Club:
I will only say that I was most definitely not drunk enough to handle this place. I saw way too many middle aged people grinding on the dance floor, visible thongs, bare bellies, and the like. A laugh riot in itself, but I felt a little too nauseous to partake in the festivities. The DJ wasn’t too bad and the drinks were pretty cheap. I’m sure this place gets better later in the night, but we were not interested in waiting.
Day 2: Scenic Walk & Descanso Beach
We woke up bright and early to start our scenic walk throughout Avalon, begin at the golf course and take Country Club Drive throughout the residential neighborhood. Signs are posted throughout the walk to ensure you stay on the path. It’s a very easy walk and the views are outstanding. After seeing a bell tower on our ferry into Avalon, I made it my mission to get to it. We ended up taking a detour towards the end of the scenic walk and walked up Chimes Tower Road. Just past the bell tower is one of the greatest lookout points. We rested here and enjoyed the view. If you keep your eyes open, you may even spot some dolphins! It reminds me so much of Cinque Terre! The bell tower and amazing tiling found throughout the city.
By this point, breakfast was a must and we were not disappointed:
Macademia nut pancakes or waffles? Coconut syrup? Sold!
I can only assume it’s the best breakfast spot on the island. There is probably always going to be a line, but it is worth the wait.
After Jack’s, and narrowly avoiding a food coma, we made our way down to the water, past the Casino, and to Descanso beach. If you are looking for a few incredible shells to take home as souvenirs, this is where you’ll find them!
Keep your eyes peeled for some hidden discoveries. It is amazing the things you’ll find in the ocean..
Above is the view of the famous Casino, built by Wrigley, from Descanso beach. Keep in mind that this casino does not have any gambling, but instead has movie theaters and a concert venue. The weather wasn’t warm enough to swim, but Descanso Beach Club is a bougie way to enjoy the water…
They also have public showers and restrooms, as well as a bar with reasonably priced food and drinks. Always a major plus!Similar to the Wiki Wacker, another popular drink of the island is Buffalo Milk. I shockingly found out that no, this does not actually contain milk from a buffalo, it is just what they call the drink. Bastards! False advertising, much?
Perhaps I’m biased since I’m lactose-intolerant, but I will never, ever think that alcohol and dairy should be combined.
As our day was winding down, we knew we had to grab some grub, so after catching the Patriots game (and apparently some deflated footballs being thrown around) at JL’s Locker Room, a fun sports bar with delicious bloody mary’s and 12 TV’s, we made our way to The Sandtrap.
$1 tacos. Enough said.
Knowing we had to catch our 7:30 pm ferry back to Long Beach, we headed back to the hotel, which stored our luggage for us, changed into our warm layers, and made our way to the docks.
I had brought with us a bottle of Chianti Classico, which we drank on the docks as we waited for the ferry. The ride back was smooth and speedy! Grazie mille, Chianti Classico!
Overall, a lot of great scenic views, lots of hiking, cute boutiques, and everywhere is walkable (which is a good thing since there are only golf carts, no cars). There is delicious food and drinks, wonderful people, and plenty of options if you want to bike, camp, or maybe have a luxurious spa day. I highly recommend going on your birthday because sometimes you just have to..
And the best part? There’s no limit on how many birthday trips you take in your lifetime!
Thank you to Jeff Miller at Thrillist for his extremely helpful article, check it out!