The seaplane windows sprayed with salt water as the pontoons hit the water. Slowly we slid to the dock and climbed out of the little airplane. This is my oldest memory of Catalina Island and my family has returned several times over the decades. Now, crossing “26 miles across the sea,” as the song goes is a treat with family as well as friends. I love that there’s a little city to explore on foot, bike or golf cart as well as the quieter experience of Two Harbors on the other side of the island.
(This post is updated from 2017.)
How to Get To Catalina Island
Visit Catalina and Stay in Avalon
Where to Eat in Avalon
The village is packed with cafes and hotel restaurants along the bay. We choose two for a weekend winter getaway. The locals enjoy their pizza but for a good time and generous portions choose a drink and dinner at the Lobster Trap. We chose Blue Water Grill for our anniversary dinner. Our seafood entrees competed for top prize with the sunset from our patio table.
The Joys of Two Harbors
This part of the island looms large in my family history. My partner started his seafood business from the beach on the far side of the isthmus. He harvested sea weed for an agar company and strolled into town to the wild bar in the port. Today things are quieter. There are fewer fishermen or tourists, especially in the winter. With trails criss-crossing the hills or low-lying beachfront, there’s something to satisfy anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
The house was built in 1910 for the Banning family and sits perched on a hill between the two harbors. The craftsman style inn has only 12 rooms that are booked most of the year. We were lucky to score a family-style space facing Catalina Harbor. Each morning there was a modest breakfast, a happy hour in the evening, and we walked down to the Harbor Restaurant for dinner. It was a relaxed and simple routine.
There’s not much lodging in Two Harbors. There are now a few Airbnb rentals, a campground is available, and after the summer crowds have left, you might book one of the modest staff cabins. I recommend booking well in advance.
Crossing by car or bus also gives you a chance to see Buffalo and they’re magnificent locals.
Stop by the Airport in the Sky
The small “Airport in the Sky” was full of kitsch and housed in a beautiful Spanish Colonial style hacienda. There’s a nature exhibit and alongside the souvenir shop, a large, casual dining room. Made me wish I had friends with an airplane although I understand there’s a bump on the runway!
I love all things retro from the 20’s and 40’s, I was thrilled to finally tour the old Casino building. It was easy to imagine my mother and her sisters taking the ferry over to dance to the big bands. In those days unescorted women were frowned upon, but if you took the ferry to join the ballroom crowds no one minded. It might have had something to do with Mr. Wrigley banning alcohol on the premises. (He couldn’t keep it off the ferry though!)
When you visit Catalina Island there are so many ways to frame your journey. It’s a bit quieter than pre-pandemic days but the energy is picking up. Check schedules for the return of festivals, dance clubs, restaurants with both casual and fine dining, gardens, camps, and private beaches.
When you visit Catalina
- Schedule your cross-island adventure with Back Country Catalina
- Safari Bus across the Island – Seasonal schedule
- The Banning House Lodge – Book one of 12 rooms
- Catalina Express – Departures from San Pedro and from Long Beach, note there are seasonal schedules and they don’t depart every day.
- If you enjoyed this post here’s another world-class boat ride in Switzerland.
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