It’s no wonder that Southern California makes for a great beach vacation. Local coastlines are a stunning display of rolling blue waves and warm beige sand. The endless rays of sunshine are a big part of what makes Catalina Island fun, even in the winter months.
But while many don’t believe it, we do get a little bit of (really crappy) winter weather. Maybe it wouldn’t be cold to those suffering snow storms on the East Coast, but us California girls are genuinely freezing when temps of 50 degrees Fahrenheit roll around.
During a bout of “cold weather” in December, we decided to head out to Catalina Island. Having no idea what to expect, I filled my suitcase with plenty of pants, sweaters and jackets. After all, it is a small island. I figured, if we were having bad weather, the island would be too, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We traveled up to Long Beach in the early morning, ready to get board the Catalina Express by 9 a.m. The year-round boat service can be choppy even in the summertime so we were expecting turbulent waters. But, instead, the hour-long trip was smooth and soon we were pulling into Avalon’s harbor.
Let me be clear about something: all the joys of Catalina Island fun is a short 40 miles from my house. We were expecting at least some clouds in the sky, some choppy waves and a windy week. What we were greeted with, we could have never imagined: an 85-degree paradise without a cloud in the sky.
It wasn’t our first time on Catalina Island, but our previous adventures had always been during the scorching summertime. Instead of streets and beaches brimming with crowds, we were met with a ghost town.
During the day, throngs of visitors came from local cruise ships, but they were gone by 4 p.m. Although there are some year-round residents and tourism employees, even the downtown area was empty at night.
Between the perfect weather and the fact that we nearly had the island to ourselves, we knew instantly that we’d made a great decision.
Where to Eat on Catalina Island
One of the best things about traveling is finding local hotspots at which to enjoy a bite to eat. On the island, the ideal lunch spot to enjoy Catalina Island fun is at Descanso Beach Club. Located on a private beach away from the main stretch, enjoy views of the pristine ocean while dining in paradise.
The open-air eatery sits right over the sand, with an impressive drink menu. We grabbed frozen tropical drinks to pair with chips and salsa while waiting for our meal. The Original Buffalo Milk combines coffee and banana liqueur for a rich flavor while The Vice is a strawberry-infused take on a pina colada. I also opted to try the Champagne Lemonade. With vodka, Champagne, lemon sour and pomegranate juice, it offered a light and refreshing flavor that complemented the weather.
For lunch, we tried the street tacos trio—carne asada, al pastor and chicken tinga—and the grilled cheese combo, with tomato soup. Even in the heat, the warm food was the perfect way to fill our bellies before exploring the island.
When dinnertime rolls around, stick to the main street and you’re sure to find something of interest. Craving some margaritas (and margaritas we did get!), we stopped by Maggie’s Blue Rose Mexican Restaurant. With few tourists in town for the winter season, they were about to close up shop early. However, they still let us in and served us with smiles.
The menu has an array of traditional Mexican eats, but the enchiladas are especially mouthwatering, with unique options like lobster, avocado and even braised duck.
If you want a spot that even the locals love, definitely stop by the Lobster Trap. Full of fresh seafood, like the signature lobster roll as well as the seafood kabobs or penne pasta with garlic, olive oil and blackened shrimp, the menu is eclectic and offers plenty of options to choose from. On top of that, the lively atmosphere and wine selection can’t be beat.
Drinks and Diversions
If, instead of a full meal, you desire drinks and some added fun, there are two great places to visit. A combination coffee bar and gift shop, CC Gallagher also offers customizable beer flights at a great price.
After a long day of adventuring (parasailing and hiking galore!), we each got our own instead of sharing. Opting for a sour cranberry orange Berliner, a dry hard cider, a banana-flavored wheat beer and a unique golden ale brewed with techniques used in the Middle Ages, I loved everything I tried…and kind of wish it was on the mainland so I could frequent the eclectic restaurant.
We paired our flights with the Santa Barbara Trio, a cheese plate featuring herbed goat cheese, bruschetta and an olive and mushroom tapenade.
Those looking for a night on the town should wander the side streets off of Crescent Avenue. One spot, the Marlin Club, offers the most bang for your buck with large drinks, and nautical decor. The bar also has both a pool table and a jukebox for some good old-fashioned fun.
Rest and Relaxation
With so many adventure activities, Catalina Island fun can leave a girl exhausted. Rest and relaxation in is pivotal after a day of hiking. After enjoying some drinks or dining at local restaurants, head to the beach at Descanso Beach Club. With few others roaming the sand, you’re free to soak up the sun, catch the views and enjoy the afternoon. Another option is to head to the Catalina Island Casino for a movie in the historic building.
If you stay at the island’s Aurora Hotel, another relaxing spot is the rooftop deck. Sweeping views of the bay, ships on the water and colorful sunsets make this a wonderful place to unwind.
Sit underneath a covering to stay shaded or enjoy the sun’s rays on the round daybed. There is also a small bartop for guests who want to sip cocktails on the roof, or enjoy a daytime snack. By night, the sparkling lights are dull in comparison to the array of stars you’ll see in the dark night sky. Lay back, look up and enjoy the quiet calm of Catalina Island in the winter.