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Catalina Island: A Daytrip Worth Savoring

A short hourlong boat ride away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, is a little gem of an oasis known as Catalina Island. I have fond memories of going there as a kid and was so excited to have the opportunity to bring my little ones there for the first time. It had been over 15 years since my last visit and I was eager to see if it lived up to the memories.

To make the most of our day, we got up even earlier than usual and caught one of the first Catalina Express ferries out to the island. Both my 5-year-old and 2.5-year-old loved the thrill of getting into a boat and watching the waves pass by us and hoping for a dolphin sighting.

When we arrived, it immediately felt like we had gotten on a plane and flown to some place of another time. Sure, we are surrounded by beaches in Southern California, but there's a distinctly different feeling about being on on actual island. Life is slower, more relaxing, and all-around more pleasant.

One of the best features of the island for families with young kids like ours is that it's actually pretty small and walking around it while pushing a stroller is a breeze.

After grabbing a filling breakfast at Original Jack's Country Kitchen, it was time for our Glass-Bottom boat tour, which is a must-do if your kids are too young to do some of the more adventurous activities offered around the island. And let's be honest, while grown-ups are rarely excited by a glass-bottom boat tour, it was actually pretty awesome!

Here are some other highlights from our day trip:

Descanso Beach Club - This is a gorgeous cove and beach area where you pay $2 to access their private beach and chairs. Not only do they have a variety of water activities available, the water was so still that it was super easy for the littles to play in it without much hand-holding or supervision. There are servers walking around that you can order food and drinks from that they'll bring to your spot on the beach, which really added to the we've-gone-somewhere-far-away-on-vacation vibe. They also have an on-site restaurant, smoothie/ice cream/coffee bar, clean bathrooms, outdoor showers and changing stalls. We seriously could've happily stayed here all day.

Casino Tour – It's not an actual casino, Vegas-style, but rather a stunning Art Deco building which houses the Avalon Theater (which is still showing movies!) and an impressive ballroom at the very top. The tour was short and informative, and they graciously let us bring our stroller along. It may be a touch too much to do with young kids who have no interest in architecture or history, but we adults really loved it. And the view from the top is totally worth it.

Ice Cream - I mean, an island trip isn't complete until you've had ice cream, right? Luckily there were plenty of options all around!

Zip Line Eco Tour - Did you know Catalina Island has an eight month hunting season? Neither did I! That's just one of the fun facts my husband learned on the zip line tour that he raved was one of the best he'd ever been on. Older kids (5+) can go tandem with their parents and you should know it's not a short tour in case one parent has to sit it out. It's about two hours from start to finish.

Falconry - We weren't ever quite able to make the timing on these shows, but the kids were begging to see it so it's definitely on our list for the next trip!

At the end of the day, we just sat (or ran if you were the kids) on a grassy hill overlooking the sparkling Pacific Ocean watching the sunset wishing we didn't have to leave so soon.

Until next time.

Know Before You Go:

  • The last ferry back to Los Angeles departs around 9:45 p.m. depending on the season, so just make sure you check the schedule and plan your day accordingly and with ample time to get back to the ferry so you're not stuck overnight.
  • The ferry departs from both San Pedro and Long Beach.
  • For families with very young children, I'd recommend splurging a little and spending the night just so you don't have to feel rushed and have to drive back home from the ferry around what is inevitably way past bedtime.
  • The ferry ride is free on your birthday, so definitely take advantage! They even give you cute "It's My Birthday" ribbons to wear!
  • If you're so inclined, the ferry has a famous Bloody Mary, and I can personally attest that it's delicious.
  • If you plan on going to the Descanso Beach Club, don't forget to pack any pool floats you have you want to use, although they certainly have a ton to buy on-site as well.
  • Catalina Island is currently experiencing extreme drought conditions, so don’t be surprised when restaurants charge you for a bottled water and don’t have tap as an option.
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