Family Travel

Insider's Tips when Visiting Catalina

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The iconic Catalina Island casino.

Here are helpful insider’s tips you won’t find anywhere else. Things I didn’t know until I got to Catalina. They could make your visit to the island a little sweeter.

If you haven’t read the full Catalina Island article, be sure to do so here. These tips are an extension of great information in the original article.

When to Go
A cruise ship docks in Avalon every Monday and Tuesday, so if your dates are flexible and you want to avoid the cruise ship crowd, consider arriving on an alternate day. And if you want to take a kayak tour (or other island tour) on those days, be sure to reserve your spot in advance.

Visiting Descanso Beach Club
• Try a delicious virgin piña colada. The non-dairy delight is made with pineapple puree and is a real treat for kids and adults alike.

• Looking for an adult-only drink? The island’s signature drink is the Buffalo Milk. Trust me, it tastes way better than it sounds and actually has nothing to do with buffalo. You’ll find the drink on most Catalina Island menus.

• Forgot your sand toys? Just ask a staff member to use a complimentary sand bucket or beach ball.

• So, why do you have to pay $2/day to hang out on the sand of Descanso Beach Club? Catalina Island has the same laws as California (ie: no alcohol on the beach). Because Descanso Beach Club is private, alcohol is permitted.

Visiting the Casino
• Hate to burst your bubble, but there’s no gambling at this Casino. There never has been. It was named Casino (“gathering place” in Italian) long before people used the word for gambling establishments.

• The museum that is currently housed in the Casino is being expanded and moved to its own building, set to open in Spring 2015.

Getting Around the Island
• A free shuttle runs every half hour from town (near Olaf’s Ice Cream shop) to Descanso Beach. Depending on the season, it may only run on weekends.

• If you hear locals refer to “Front Street,” don't be confused—they are talking about Crescent Ave., the main street that runs along the harbor in Avalon.

Where to Eat
We learned from a tour guide that the Buffalo Nickel and The Sand Trap are favorite restaurants with the locals.

When Staying at the Pavilion Hotel
If you plan to walk around the island after checking out of the Pavilion, they’ll have your bags delivered to the boat landing so you can easily retrieve them before your departure.

Getting to Catalina
You can get a FREE round-trip boat ride on the Catalina Express when you depart on your actual birthday! In fact, find more birthday island specials at

Island Animals (cool stuff we learned on the Jeep Eco Tour)
• There are so many deer on the island that they’re having a negative impact on the island’s ecosystem. The Catalina Island Conservancy actually encourages deer hunting on the island in order to help manage the deer population.

• So how on earth did bison get on Catalina Island in the first place? 15 bison were taken over (and left there) in 1924 for the making of a film. Rumor has it the herd reached 600 bison at its peak, but is now maintained at about 150 by the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Remember, these are just insider’s tips! There’s much more info in the full article.

If you’re ready to plan your trip, is a great place to start.

Lisa Gipson is the managing editor at San Diego Family Magazine and is looking forward to her next exciting adventure to Catalina. Photo by author.

Published: August 2014