Catalina Island: Fifth Anniversary

Don’t Knock Wood

They say the Fifth Anniversary is wood. Apparently, for our Fifth Anniversary, it’s virus! Our hopes for a Mexican cruise dashed by disease, International travel will have to wait.

Next up on the Bucket List: Santa Catalina Island! A four day romantic getaway is the perfect alternative.

Not-So-Hidden Gem

The Island is close, just 29 miles across the San Pedro Channel. In fact, it’s so close that Catalina acts as a sort of gage of how polluted Los Angeles is on any given day: “Hey, you can see Catalina today!” It’s 22 miles from tip-to-tip, and eight miles wide, but 90% of Catalina is wild and undeveloped.

The Square near where our hotel was. Catalina has a long history of making cool artistic tiles from local clay.

The Wrigley Family (of chewing gum fame) bought this entire island in the early 20th Century. In 1975, the family gave all their remaining land for a Conservancy, which means the island will stay protected.

Catalina has something for everyone, from rugged outdoor adventures to stylish romantic getaways in the tiny European-like town of Avalon. Go ziplining, tour the Island in a jeep seeking buffalo, rent a cabana and luxuriate at Descanso Beach Club… or do the things we did!

The oil slick nearly nixed our trip!

Heavy Traffic Onshore and Off

We book our Catalina Express boat out of Dana Point, the closest port to our house. But the night before our trip, an oil spill closes the harbor. They reroute us to Long Beach, but with bad traffic, we miss the boat. No worries! They cheerfully book us on the next Express at 2 pm for no extra cost.

Bonus: we can take it easy and get to know a little about Long Beach before the boat ride! We thought we’d be lunching on Catalina, so we park near the port and walk to breakfast. The oracle of Google recommends a fun place to grab a bite and hang out for awhile.

Long Beach Freaky

From the Breakfast Bar’s Instagram, wearing shirts proudly proclaiming “Day Drinker!”

The Breakfast Bar has a super friendly vibe! The staff all wear t-shirts proudly proclaiming “Day Drinker!” (OH, the Breakfast BARnow we get it!) But chumming the Channel waters with our breakfast fare doesn’t seem wise, so we stick to non-alcoholic juices. Several other patrons seem to enjoy permission to imbibe in the AM.

We recommend trying the Deviled Egg Fries. The fries are tossed in deviled eggs and topped with crispy bacon. If avocado toast is more your speed, they serve it with pickled red onion for a beautiful and very tasty presentation.

Float On

Not so fast, Queen Mary!

Our Catalina Express is smooth sailing. I think I like boats better than planes! As we leave Long Beach Harbor, we get an up-close view of the historic Queen Mary. Heading out to sea, we see we’re sailing though heavy traffic: scores of cargo ships waiting their turn to unload.

We keep our eyes open for sea life too, and we are treated to a pod of dolphins almost keeping up with our boat.

Once on land in Avalon, it’s a quick walk to our hotel.

Snug as a Bug

Snug Harbor Inn is truly snug, but wonderful!

The Snug Harbor Inn is a six room, family-owned boutique hotel just off the main hubbub of Avalon. On check-in, the friendly staff shows us to our room.

We chose the Santa Cruz room, the smallest of their rooms. We have a partial view of the harbor, a cozy fireplace, king-size bed and groovy music already streaming as we walk in. On the table, a chilled bottle of bubbles and a card wishing us a happy anniversary waits for us, a very nice touch! If you’re celebrating something special, make sure you let them know when booking.

Knock Knock

Once we are settled, we get our “wood” gift for our Fifth Anniversary: a knock at the wooden door for wine and cheese hour! Guests receive charcuterie and wine delivered to their room every afternoon at 4:30. If you’re out at that time, no worries. Wine and cheese will be waiting in your room when you return from your day of adventure.

Snug Harbor has Wine and Chees Hour covered! The bubbles in the back were special for our Anniversary.

Our charcuterie plate includes Caprese skewers, sliced cheese and salami, crackers, grapes, and artichoke dip. This is so refreshing after our nail-biting day of travel! We crack open the bubbly, cuddle-up on our posh king sized bed, and toast our anniversary.

But wait… there is one more knock at the door! Would we care for some chocolate? Um, yes please!

Dinner Bell

Andy’s House Special pizza and my Shrimp Scampi.

After unwinding in our room, we are refreshed and ready to head out on the town. The sun is going down, and we’re just steps away from the waterfront and all the action. We stroll and decide on the lively Antonio’s Pizzeria and Cabaret for a light dinner with wine while we watch the harbor light up from their patio.

Andy goes for a personal pizza with all of the hot things, and I dive into a plate of shrimp scampi. While we wait for our plates to arrive, we soak in the view of yachts and the Avalon Casino.

My dinner is velvety white wine sauce covering big shrimp that pop in your mouth, served with big chunks of steamed veggies, penne pasta, and crunchy garlic bread. I assume Andy’s pizza is delicious, as he eats it like a wood chipper!

Whatta view of the harbor and Avalon Casino!

Day 2 Dawns

Nothing like a knock at your door and being greeted with a basket full of breakfast goodies!

Snug Harbor makes you feel like family with homemade banana bread!

Breakfast is included in our stay and is served to our door at 8:30. We get a big basket brimming with granola, fresh berries, Greek yogurt, our choice of juice, fresh cream, and coffee. Plus my favorite part: a warm loaf of homemade banana bread! Not only are we feeling totally spoiled, but we are fueled for a day of exploring.

Hiking Without Sweating

Rent a cart! They’re so much fun, and it’s a relaxing way to see the sites around Avalon.

We scramble our plan to shop and then rent a golf cart to explore the island when a cruise ship pulls into the harbor. Very soon, the town will be overrun with tourists. So we head straight to Cartopia rental and get dibs on a cart before the crowds hit.

The golf carts are $55 an hour with a two-hour minimum (paid in cash), and they are a hoot! They have four seats (you can rent a six-seater for more) and a wire basket big enough to hold picnic goodies.

We are whizzing all over the island, getting the best views, meeting fun people, getting out to explore and take photos. We even get up close with deer! Cartopia gave us a map that has a suggested route, which covers a lot of ground and takes in the best views. We make it back with only seconds to spare on the time clock!

Obligatory iconic Avalon backdrop pose!

Apparently, Siesta is a Thing

Midweek, some restaurants close up shop in the afternoon until supper.

Now we are hungry and thirsty for some margaritas. We discover that Catalina restaurants close down in the late afternoon, but we slide into Maggie’s Blue Rose just in time for a big ol’ plate of nachos and some colorful margaritas.

Next we walk the harbor to the Casino, which isn’t a Vegas thing. Casino means “large gathering place,” so it’s basically a concert hall. The Casino offers tours, but Sammy Hagar is is performing a two-night concert, so security is tight at the building. Apparently, it’s the Red Rocker’s Birthday! Very cool, and Happy B-day, Sammy!

Dinner with a Crimson Hue

The oysters weren’t as tasty as we hoped. We didn’t ask their provenance.

We have dinner with a view of the harbor again, this time at Bluewater Grill. We love oysters, so we start with a half-dozen. They are large, but also largely flavorless. But the problem could be the exhaust from so many boats arriving from LA for Sammy’s birthday bash. From the restaurant patio, we see the Casino lit in red, and notice the interior lights flashing as they test a light show.

The presentation was great! But Sammy Hagar’s show brought clouds of diesel as yachts pulled into the Harbor.

Andy orders chipotle blackened swordfish, topped with fruit salsa and served over rice. Pacing myself for our trip, I try the ahi tuna poke from their appetizer menu. The presentation was very good, but it’s hard to taste with the yacht exhaust.

Day 3: Now We Sweat

After breakfast, we have to squeeze in a little hiking. To do serious hiking in the interior, you need a permit. But we are just tromping a service road to explore the views without getting lost. So off we go with our fresh, warm banana bread to keep us fueled.

We head uphill along a narrow winding road we drove yesterday on the golf cart past a quirky pet cemetery to an awesome view of the bay.

Then we huff and puff up Renton Mine road into the scrub and cactus, hoping hoping to see buffalo at a safe distance. No Buffalo, and we almost get ourselves in trouble attempting to climb a steep embankment! Then we remember we’re in our 50’s and do not want to fly back to the mainland for our anniversary in a rescue chopper, all thrashed.

This is the point where we turned around.

Sweat Dividends

The short walk beyond the Casino to Descanso Beach Club.

Our morning hike earns us a trip to Descanso Beach Club for a Buffalo Milk Shake. Descanso Beach Club is a private beach open to the public for a $2 fee, or rent a cabana for the day and chill. The Buffalo Milkshake is a must-try and is served all over the island, but the beachside bar at Descanso Beach is the best place to enjoy this treat while we watch fancy yachts sail in.

Our Milkshake is part dessert, part cocktail. Made with vodka, coffee liqueur, banana liqueur, creme de cacao, and vanilla ice cream, garnished with whipped cream, nutmeg, and banana chips. It’s a creamy, fantastic, banana dream! The nutmeg gives it a fall vibe.

We order chips, salsa, and guac, kick back and enjoy the ocean breeze while relaxing for the rest of the afternoon.

Fancy Anniversary Dinner

Our anniversary requires more than just a milkshake toast! So we get all dressed up and head to the Avalon Grill. We are quickly seated and meet our fabulous waiter, Jimmy, who gets us acquainted with the menu. Jimmy suggests a toast with a glass of Rusack Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara. At $17 a glass it is pricey, but it is a special occasion.

The cauliflower tacos al pastor were outstanding!

We start light, sharing a garden salad, then go wild. Andy gets adventurous with cauliflower tacos al pastor, and I choose the cioppino. I love this dish, filled with clams, shrimp, white fish, and chorizo in a red wine and tomato-based broth, served with grilled bruschetta.

Cioppino served just the way I love it!

I win rock-paper-scissors and get to choose desert! We’re having creamy guava cheese cake. We also get two fun cocktails as a nightcap. Spanish coffee for Andy, espresso martini for me. Decaf for both of us, of course.

Yeah, yeah, I know. But look at that thing. You’d eat it too!

We spend the rest of the evening strolling the waterfront arm-in-arm, soaking up views of the harbor lights.

Day 4: Catalinahhh

Our fading hours in Paradise, we shop. Terracotta tiles are a big thing in Avalon history, so we pick some up for ourselves and a few for gifts. Prices are high in Catalina (or any tourist destination), but we’re conscious of shopping local and supporting the shops and boutiques, especially just post-Covid.

Before we sail back to the real world, we stop back at Anthony’s to relax with a glass of wine on the water, and just to soak up a few more moments of old world charm.

Anniversaries Future

Five years is a big deal for us! And we’re looking forward to adventures — anniversary and otherwise — for many years to come. Thanks for coming along with us vicariously!