2 night Catalina Island with kids trip report (photos added)


DIS Veteran
Mar 10, 2015
This was part of a longer trip that included Legoland and visiting relatives in LA. It was me, DH, DS6, and DD3. DS’s school ends early in late May, so I decided to plan a trip for soon after to hopefully avoid the summer crowds. It happened to be DH’s birthday towards the end of the trip, so we decided to take advantage of the free Catalina Express ferry ride on his birthday (advance registration online required). We were able to find the Catalina Express gift cards ($100 worth for $80) at the Signal Hill Costco, which is the closest one to Long Beach. Apparently, the gift cards are not available at all greater LA area Costcos. The first one we tried at Chino Hills (just happened to be around there) didn’t have it. We bought 2 gift cards for the 1 adult and 2 kids tickets we needed and had $7.50 left over, which we were able to use up at the Long Beach terminal deli. They are also valid for the San Pedro terminal deli as well as Commodore Lounge upgrades, but not valid for onboard refreshments. We picked the Long Beach terminal since it has the most departures and a slightly shorter boat ride (DS tends to get a little seasick). I had to call to make the reservation since we were using gift cards.



We were told to arrive at the ferry terminal an hour before. We arrived a little under that, but it was fine since there was no line at the ticket counter. There is a parking structure at the terminal, which is $15 per 24 hours period. Our return tickets were issued at the same time, so it would have cost $5/ticket if we wanted to change our return time. Changes can be made for free before tickets are issued.

Since I knew that DS gets a little sea sick, I got sea bands for him and made sure he ate before and during the ferry ride. DD however, I didn’t really know since the only boat she’s been on was a duck boat when she was one. I did try to get her to eat more, but weren’t successful. I think all she had that morning was yogurt. She played with the iPad for a while, and then wanted to sit in DH’s lap.

Hmm…is she feeling okay? We should get out the plastic bag…. Then without much warning - throw up, all over DH. Umm…Happy Birthday? Well, at least our luggage was easily accessible and DH was able to change. It didn’t really get anywhere else either – just all over DH.

On the ferry, arriving in Avalon:



Originally, I was thinking just a day trip, but DH is not a morning person and it’s his birthday, so we decided to stay on the island. His birthday was on a Saturday though, and most places require a 2 night minimum on weekends. I must have looked at all the hotels on the island, plus all the vacation rentals. The hotels on the island are on the expensive side and some looked pretty small. Originally I had decided on a vacation rental in Hamilton Cove called “Big Blue”, the view and furnishings looked great and it wasn’t as expensive as some of the other rentals in that community. Their VRBO calendar wasn’t updated though and it turned out they were already rented for our dates.

Then I thought for a first visit, maybe it’s better if we stay in town, plus the number of stairs at Hamilton Cove sounded a little daunting with a 3 year old. I then decided on Shelton’s on the Island (found on VRBO, but they also have their own website). I was very happy with my choice. The place was cozy, charming, comfortable, and convenient. The pictures are pretty accurate, though I thought it looked even better in person. It's a triplex building, the first floor is a garage/storage, second floor are the 2 rentals – Captain’s Room (where we stayed) and Mermaid’s Room, each with their own private entrances. The third floor is where the owners live. Each of the rentals has a well-equipped full kitchen. I most appreciated the complimentary bottled water in the fridge, probably a full case’s worth, more than we could possible need. There were even a few bottles of beer, coffee, a package of cookies, microwave popcorn, instant oatmeal, and a few canned goods. There’s a small living area with a pull-out sofa and small folding dining table, plus a small bedroom with a queen size bed (no room for side tables) and an open closet area with a drawer. I know I keep saying small, but it was enough space for our family and had all the comforts of home, much better than a hotel room.

The owner, Jeanie, picked us up from the ferry in her golf cart (she also dropped us off when we left). She is so accommodating and sweet. We mentioned that DD had thrown up on DH on the ferry. She offered to wash his clothes, but we didn’t take her up on it since it seemed like too much of an imposition. DH left the clothes in the kitchen sink to soak. When we came back to the unit that night, we found the table set with paper plates and balloons, chocolate cake in the fridge (plus candle and lighter), and DH’s clothes washed and hung in the closet area.


Our first afternoon in Avalon, we had a snack of fish and chips from Avalon Seafood and Fish Market, the green restaurant at the end of the pier. It was pretty good, the fish was moist and flaky. We then went to get DH’s birthday free scoop of ice cream from Lloyd’s (on the main strip, can’t miss it), then free cup of coffee from Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co (it’s tucked away in the Metropole Market Place).

I should mention that since there’s a severe draught on the island, they only serve bottled water in the restaurants for $0.50. There must be some agreement or rule about this, since every restaurant charged the same amount of $0.50. I read some Yelp reviews complaining about this, but I think it’s quite reasonable considering bottled water usually costs more than that.

That night, we had dinner at Bluewater Grill. I liked the atmosphere of sitting in the patio, water on one side and people watching on the main street on the other. Service was friendly, though food took a while to come out. Their fresh, crusty bread was good, so the wait wasn’t too bad, but DD filled up on that and didn’t want to eat anything else. We ordered the raw oysters, clam chowder (lots of clams, chunks of potato), and the cioppino. Everything was good, perhaps not particularly memorable, but good. DS had the kids’ meal spaghetti and it came in a bento box with a huge strawberry, carrot sticks, and edamame (he LOVES edamame, but there were other choices like salad, rice, or fries). He didn’t like the spaghetti for some reason, so we put it in the cioppino sauce and it was great! :) It really soaked up the flavor of the sauce whereas the seafood didn’t seem to as much.


On our second day (Sunday), we had lunch at Steve’s Steakhouse. We had the steak and the avocado burger (thick patty with avocado on a ciabatta type bun), both were good, I preferred the burger slightly more. The kids shared a kids’ meal of chicken fingers and fries. DH ordered 2 apple juices for the kids before he looked at the price – they were $3.75 each. Service was friendly, but a little distracted. It seemed they were moving tables around for a large group later.


For dinner that night, we went to The Lobster Trap. Their portions are huge! We ordered 4 individual tacos (lobster, fried fish, mahi mahi, and sea bass). The fish/lobster was fine, but I didn’t care for the tortilla or salsa on top. We also had the clam chowder (more cream, less clams than the one at Bluewater Grill), coconut shrimp (not bad, but I’ve had better), and the seared ahi salad (ahi was quite salty, but tasted good with salad and ranch dressing in the same bite). The kids had a mac and cheese that was listed on the coloring placemat, so I assumed it was the kids’ menu, but it was a big adult portion (only $7 though). We ended up with half the mac and cheese and more than half the ahi salad as leftovers, which we ate for breakfast (kinda odd?) the next day before the ferry.



Our first afternoon, we did the mini golf at Golf Gardens. DH’s game was free for his birthday. I had read good reviews for the course, but from the pictures was a little puzzled - no castles, no windmills, just landscaping. Well, turns out, the course is fun because it uses the grading in the terrain so that you hit a ball into one hole and it comes out another hole somewhere down slope. Our first hole, we were confused for a minute, didn’t see the ball come out and thought it got stuck in the hole. DS is into mini golf, so he had a great time. His favorite hole was one where you hit the ball up a steep slope and there are 3 ledges in the slope. Each ledge has a track so that the ball goes rolling across the track and then down close to the hole (how close you are depends on which ledge you got). DD tried hitting the ball a couple of times, and then took to putting the ball in the hole and running to get it coming out. She had a lot of fun running around.


Our second day, we rented a golf cart and drove around the island in the morning. We rented from Catalina Island Golf Cart, at the location next to the Del Sol store, closer to the ferry. All the golf carts were blue and seemed to be pretty new. We also saw a golf cart rental close to the Metropole, I think they might be the same company, but their golf carts are white and look older. There is also a rental place closest to the ferry, but we didn’t get a close look. I think that one is Island Rentals. Rentals are $40/hour for the 4 passenger cart, with $40 cash deposit. Car seats are required for under age 6, one is provided free.

We had tried to rent a golf cart on DH’s birthday for the half hour free (with 1 hour purchase), but they said they were already closed when we got there (I think it was around 5:30). It was the same guy, so when we reminded him of that, he let us have the half hour free. He gave us a map and drew on it to show us the scenic route we should take. He said it would take an hour, but we made one wrong turn and stopped for photos, 1 ½ hours was perfect. There is also an online deal for buy 2 hours, get 1 free. I think that one would have been good if we wanted to tour Wrigley Memorial. There’s a birthday free entrance for that, which I thought about doing, but we didn't have enough time the first day.

On the golf cart tour:


Continued in next post.
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DIS Veteran
Mar 10, 2015
Hmm...I can only upload 10 photos, guess I need to split it up.

Originally, the plan was to do the semi-submersible tour and then the island interior tour in the afternoon. I had planned on the Nautilus with Catalina Adventure Tours since they have the fish food torpedoes (additional fee), I thought DS would get a kick out of. But then it turned out that it was under maintenance. So we went with the Sea Wolf semi-submersible (Santa Catalina Island Company). Which was fine, I think they’re pretty similar, just no torpedo. Their next 2 tours were sold out though (maybe due to the Nautilus being down) and we decided on the 5 pm tour (last one), so we could go back to the unit and DD could nap. So – no interior tour, oh well, next time. The semi-submersible tour was fun. It’s 45 minutes, $32 for adults, $25 kids. We were told to come 15 minutes before, we got there 20 minutes before and there was 1 group already in line. The best seats are in the front since you have more windows, so they got that. Not a big loss though since the windows are big and we could see with no problems. Coming down the stairs and facing the front, we were on the left side. Turns out, the right side sees the kelp forest first, but it does go around and eventually we got to see it. They feed the fish, so there are A LOT of them. We saw some Garibaldi (orange, California state fish) too.


The Sea Wolf next to a Carnival cruise ship, taken from the Avalon ferry terminal:


That night, we did some mini bowling at the Three Palms Avalon Arcade (in the Metropole Market Place). No bowling shoes are needed and the balls are smaller with no holes. It's $5 per person per game. It was a lot of fun. DS bowled his first strike! DD wanted to get in on the action too, but she had so little force that it was like watching bowling in slow motion. LOL.

I had also looked into the flying fish tour at night (8:45 pm when we were there), but decided against it since I was worried DS would get sea sick. He saw a poster on the island and was very curious about it. I warned him that the night sea is rougher and he went back and forth if he wanted to go. By the time he decided he did, it was too late for that night (Saturday) and they didn’t have it Sunday night. I saw video of it posted on Disboards though, looks very cool, I kind of regret not going. Oh well, next time!



We took the 11:45 ferry back to Long Beach. This time we sat outside at the top level of the ferry, in the first row. It was an overcast/foggy day. The first row had a nice breeze without the wind being too strong since there's glass in front. I made sure DD ate some snacks and all was well. When we got close to Long Beach, the clouds disappeared and it got really hot.

View of Queen Mary and Carnival ship arriving in Long Beach:


For lunch, we went to Pier 76 Fish Grill, it's only about a 5 minute drive from the ferry terminal. There is validated parking (for 2 hours) in the attached parking garage. The food was delicious and a great value. I wish we had one near home. It was a nice change coming from Catalina where every meal we had was $70-80. The fish tacos were $7.95 for 2 huge tacos, so overstuffed that I can't even pick it up until I've eaten half the fish with a fork. The langostino and lobster sandwich for $12.50, was similarly overstuffed and so yummy. The side salads are really good too. We had the kale and tomato salad and the broccolli coleslaw. The sides are $3, or make it a combo with side and fountain drink for $2.50 - um, no-brainer? We also got a free strawberry lemonade for checking in on Yelp.

After lunch, we headed to the Battleship Iowa in nearby San Pedro. We had meant to take DS to Battleship Missouri on Oahu when we went to Aulani, but didn't get around to it. This was a good alternative. We got 2 adult tickets through Costco online for $27.99 (no expiration). Afterwards, I realized that Travelzoo is cheaper at $25 (with a September expiration). DS is 6, so I think he's supposed to have a ticket, but the woman at the ticket counter said he didn't need one. It was a Monday afternoon and the ship was pretty empty except for a few other people. We followed the arrows on the self-guided tour, which took us up the battleship, then back down. The stairs are steep, really more like ladders, so DD going down made me very nervous. DH held her hand though and it was fine. She did trip and fall on a door threshold though. All the door thresholds are 2-3 inches tall since the doors need to seal. It took us about a hour and a half to go through the tour, it was very interesting to see the various parts of the ship and to think of all the history (especially President FDR's room).


The next day, before we drove home to Northern California, we went to Din Tai Fung - my favorite restaurant in the LA area. They're famous for their Chinese dumplings (xiao long bao), always perfectly steamed, with thin skin and juicy interior. I like their appetizer salads too, the hot sour soup, and the red bean paste dessert dumplings. It was Tuesday afternoon about 1:30 - no wait! We went to their original LA location in Arcadia, but they now also have locations in Costa Mesa and Glendale. They'll be opening a location in Northern California soon, but it's going to be in a popular mall, so I shudder to think how bad the wait will be.

Anyways, a little off topic. All in all, we had a great 2 day trip to Catalina. I found it charming and relaxing. I loved how there are very few cars, only golf carts. Feel free to ask any questions.
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Toadi Acceleratio Semper Absurda
Aug 28, 2008
Thanks for the report. I have been debating whether to give Catalina a try on a future trip.


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