At 31 weeks pregnant, my husband suggested one last ‘hoorah’ before the baby’s arrival. With our friends and their adorable four-month old baby, we planned a short two-day, one-night trip to Catalina Island for a babymoon slash first family vacation. It was mid-January so the weather was about 70 degrees by day and a chilly, windy 50 degrees at night. For context, no one was laying out on the beach.
First things first, you may be familiar with “Santa Catalina Island,” but the City of Avalon is where you are going! It is the only incorporated city on the island and considered the southernmost city in Los Angeles County (with a population of less than 4,000). Here are some things we did and tips for new parents and pregnant women:
1) Take the Catalina Express to the Island
There are a few ferry options to get to Catalina Island. We chose to drive up from San Diego to the Downtown Long Beach port.
- A round-trip (RT) adult fare is $73.50 (or $36.75 one-way).
- Children ages 2-11 are $58 RT and there’s a cost even for infants (under age 2) of $5 RT.
- The ferries leave about every 4 hours beginning at 6AM and the last boat at 5:45PM. The ride is a little over one hour (60 minutes).
TIP: Don’t wait last minute to buy your ticket. Book online! Since there wasn’t a discount to purchase the RT ticket, we waited to buy our one-way tickets back from Avalon to Long Beach, but the ferry time we were hoping for SOLD OUT! We couldn’t get on the 3:50PM ferry and took the 7:30PM instead, arrived back at Long Beach around 8:45PM before driving two hours back to San Diego. The schedule was a bit rough for the baby!
2) Stay at the Pavillion Hotel – Complimentary Breakfast and Cheese/Wine Nights
The Pavillion Hotel was the perfect spot for our stay! After hopping off the ferry, we could walk to the hotel which was right along Avalon Harbor (on the bustling Crescent Avenue). The location was great to get around and the city shuttle bus has a drop-off and pick-up location right next to the hotel.
The hotel is known for its open garden and lounge area and firepit. The guest center offers complimentary hot breakfast in the mornings and a one-hour social of cheeses, wines and hot cider (for those who can’t drink) beginning at 4:30PM. It sounded like the hotel was on the more expensive side for the island, but we felt it was worth every penny. We also enjoyed the board games (Scrabble, Monopoly, Clue) and salt water taffy candy you can find in the guest center.
We reserved the Standard Room with two full-size beds. It was a bit of a squeeze for four adults and an infant, but all we needed (including a coffee/tea maker, flat screen TV and outside patio area).
3) Get Lloyd’s Ice Cream (twice) and Salt Water Taffy
On back-to-back days, we stopped by Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionary for ice cream! You will run into the shop while walking along Crescent Avenue. You can watch through the window how their famous salt water taffies are made. The movement of the machine leave visitors in a mesmerized trance! (Even those who don’t love the salt water taffy taste). The shop also offers coffee concoctions, caramel apples and other chocolate treats.
4) Enjoy Clam Chowder at The Lobster Trap
Ok, let’s be honest, the food we had on the island wasn’t the best, which is such a bummer because the restaurants are all very fun and have great drink specials! Most of them feature Cruise Specials for those stopping by on cruise lines. There was a huge Carnival Cruise ship on the island during our stay and we ran into a group of those passengers throughout the day. They were having a great ol’ time with their margaritas!
We looked to Yelp for advice and of the 15 restaurants on the island, the majority are rated at 3 stars. The Lobster Trap is an exception – with a high 4 star rating! So we stopped by the casual, hip eatery for dinner. My recommendation is to try the New England Clam Chowder! Very creamy and delicious with a good amount of clams. We ordered a bowl for the table to share (unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of it before scarfing it down). The rest of the dishes were subpar! As my husband would say, “Yes, it was a trap!” Got us all excited… before the letdown. The photos speak for themselves:
- Fish and Chips ($12) – Looked like three mozzerella sticks, no flavor, just bland and sad.
- Lobster Roll ($20) – I really tried to make this look more photogenic/appealing! But here it is, chilled claw meat on a big French roll bun. Worth $20?
- Three Tacos ($13) – My husband loves tacos so his expectations may have been too high, but he did not enjoy a single one of these. Bland, soggy and served at room temperature.
The next day, we ate lunch at El Galleon, also a fun venue with sandwiches and burgers. Luckily, it wasn’t too expensive and we read the Yelp reviews in advance, so our expectations were low. Keeping to low cost meals might have been the way to go! Which brings me to…
5) Get Late Night Pizza at the Original Antonio’s Pizzeria
After our dinner at The Lobster Trap, we walked around the area and veered off Crescent Avenue on to Sumner, where we came across the pizzeria. We were excited to see there was a to-go order window and pizza was available by the slice. Ordered two pepperoni slices we took back to the hotel! The grease and the cheese hit the spot!
6) Stop by the Catalina Island Conservancy to learn about the island’s hiking trails
Walking distance from our hotel was the Conservancy House. We had read we needed to stop here to get a permit for hiking (which is free). The staff was super helpful giving recommendations for an easy/moderate hike for a pregnant woman and a baby (in a carrier). They were very educational with information about biking trails, campgrounds and tours. We decided on the Garden to Sky Hike that starts at the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens (which is considered the island’s most popular trail). All we needed to do was create an account and register for a permit (so we didn’t need to actually stop in here).
But they sent us off with a map and said we could walk to the Botanical Gardens from the city (about 1 mile north of the City of Avalon). Other options would be to take the city shuttle bus ($2 per person per ride) or rent a golf cart ($45 per hour for a 4-person cart).
7) Walk to the Botanical Gardens – lots of stops along the way
One mile didn’t seem too difficult since there were a lot of scenic spots along the way. After passing some residential homes, we came across a children’s playground, workout/gym park, golf course (just beautiful and reminded us of Hawaii), fire station, picnic area, campgrounds and nature center. This may give you some sense of how far the walk truly was!
We arrived at the gate of the Botanical Garden at 10am. Cost of entry was $8 for adults, $4 for students with ID, free for children under 5 years old. It was a Sunday morning and there were very few visitors. We passed by mostly desert plants (lots of cacti and succulents) and read some of the signs to learn more. (You could also pay for a guided tour of the gardens). The ‘gardens’ aspect is very minimal and might be disappointing to avid flower garden fans. The signage and general upkeep of the space was poor, so they probably need support from those ticket sales!
We walked to the Wrigley Memorial, a 130-foot tower, which honors William Wrigley Jr. who has played a huge part in developing the island. And went up the steps for a nice view of the city and harbor.
Tip: From 12pm – 1pm, the office is closed but visitors are still welcome to go in. Ticket payments are suggested to be placed in a box by the gate on some sort of honor system. Of course, we didn’t see anyone do this. Hence, if you are looking to visit the gardens on a budget, lunch time would be the best time of day to stop by!
8) Hike the Garden to Sky Summit
Once you reach the Memorial, to the right hand side, is a gate that leads to the Garden to Sky trailhead. From this point, the hike is a 2.5 mile round trip trail classified as moderate, which was doable for a dad carrying a 15-lb baby and a pregnant woman carrying an extra 30 lbs. So if we could do it, you can do it!
It took us about an hour to get to the summit. The dirt trail was constantly at an uphill grade with a few flat sections (overall 623 foot elevation gain). The summit point ends this trail and begins a longer mountain-top trail called Divide Road. From the top, we could see views of both sides of the island (minus all of the fog coverage). Hard to get a great view through all the clouds, but we could imagine how beautiful it must have been!
9) Take the Shuttle Around Town
Since we walked to the Botanical Gardens, we decided to take the shuttle down. There wasn’t a set time for when the shuttle runs but another visitor said it was every 30 minutes. The bus eventually came and dozens of people hopped on and paid the $2 per person ticket. We drove by all of the spots from our walk up and were dropped off on Crescent Avenue (a few stores down from the Pavillion Hotel).
We didn’t get to do, but recommend…
1) Take a Casino Tour – Since our trip was planned on a whim, we didn’t look up tours or packages, so we missed out on the casino tour which would have included walking through the theatre, ballroom and museum. We did walk up along the riverfront to the casino from downtown Avalon but the doors were locked and was not open to the general public. Tours at 11:45AM and 2:30PM are available daily and movies are shown at 7:30PM (Star Wars: The Last Jedi was playing).
2) Rent Golf Carts – Boo! By the time we stopped by the golf cart rental shop(s), they were closed! While they listed closing times of 5:30PM, they do not rent cars out passed 3PM. These looked like a blast as most visitors were riding them around the island. And they are also kid-friendly with car seat rentals. Price for a 4-seat cart is $45 per hour. Will definitely do this earlier on our next visit.
3) Play Mini Golf at Golf Gardens – We again did not time our schedule right and missed the opportunity to play mini golf. Perfect for family fun!
Well, this will most likely be my only babymoon to Catalina Island. Here’s hoping that my next visit I will be physically able to participate in the water activities (kayaking, parasailing, diving) and cross-country tours! But for this trip, Catalina Island was the perfect overnight stop for a babymoon and first family trip for a baby.