Catalina Island: Cali’s Magical Isle


February 10, 2015
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Catalina Island is only about an hour ferry ride from both Long Beach and Dana Point, California, but you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to an island far, far away. In fact, Catalina Island’s long-standing relationship with Hollywood has seen its shores transformed into the beaches of Tahiti, the Amalfi Coast and many more locations around the World.

Hop aboard the Catalina Express and upgrade to the Commodore Lounge for a bottle of bubbly en route to your own personal getaway. Dock into Avalon Bay like many Hollywood starlets before you and check into the Pavilion Hotel. An easy walk from the dock, this boutique hotel boasts recently renovated rooms and a complimentary wine and cheese hour every day.

The city of Avalon resembles a miniature Amalfi Coast and is entirely pedestrian friendly – making it easy for your destination wedding guests to explore at their leisure. The reasons are evident why the island was so enormously popular with the rich and famous in the 1930s: the views are breathtaking, the ambience relaxed, and the air smells like homemade candy and waffle cones. What more could you want when trying to get away from the everyday hustle and bustle?

For a quick lunch, swing by The Lobster Trap for classic clam chowder and phenomenal lobster rolls. Looking for a nice dinner out? The Avalon Grille has a hit on their hands with Executive Chef, Paul Hancock. Catalina is famous for their lobsters and Chef Hancock contracts directly with local fisherman for the best lobsters.

Looking to say “I do” on-island? There are options for every couple, whether you want a beachfront ceremony or a reception high in the hills with a view of the bay. Descanso Beach Club can not only be the setting of your beachfront ceremony, but is ideal for catching some sun with your guests. It’s one of the only beaches in California which serves alcohol and also boasts fire pits and luxurious cabanas. Descanso can accommodate a wedding for up to 200 guests and the nearby lawn is perfect for a tented reception.

If you’re looking for a more historical setting, the Catalina Country Club is gorgeous with Spanish vineyard-inspired architecture and an outdoor courtyard which can comfortably seat 150 guests.  March through October is considered Catalina’s wedding season, but the local experts recommend September and October as the water is warmer and you’ll miss the summer crowds.

For a little adventure, take a drive through the interior to see the island’s bison population.They were left behind by a film crew and have since become famous residents. Stop by the Catalina airport for lunch and enjoy a bison Bonanza Burger at the “Airport in the Sky.”

If you’re looking to see more of the island, keep driving all the way to Two Harbors for a much quieter, quainter ceremony or reception. The Banning House is a beautiful and historic option for couples and the 1910 Craftsman-style home offers unparalleled views. The wrap-around porch can accommodate 100 guests, but research accommodations as options are limited on this side of the island. While you can drive to Two Harbors from Avalon, we would recommend taking the ferry from San Pedro, California if you’re going to host your event here as the drive, while beautiful, is long and quite bumpy! As another optional activity, consider taking a historic tour of the island’s iconic casino.

This charming island’s history as “Hollywood’s exotic backlot” will weave itself into your event and will offer you and your guests a dreamy getaway – just like the 1930s stars looking for a trendy respite from the glitz and glam of fame.

Photos courtesy of (in order of appearance): Santa Catalina Island Resort Services (1st) and Courtney Cox (2nd-4th).

This article first appeared in Destination I Do’s Spring/Summer 2014 issue. You can order a copy here.

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