Yes, this channel island is beautiful with scenic views around every turn. It’s founders hoped to make it reminiscent of a sojourn off the coast of Italy. But it’s also expensive to visit, leading to its nickname: “Cashalina Island.”
Here are some tips to make it more affordable:
1 Ride the Catalina Express. Sadly, the Catalina Express no longer offers its “sail free on your birthday” deal, but see if you’re entitled to a discount at least. Catalina Express has the most sailings, and departs from Dana Point, Long Beach and San Pedro numerous times daily. You can go to the main town — Avalon — or to the smaller Two Harbors. The regular adult fare at this writing was $76 roundtrip, but seniors 55 and over paid $69 ($2 more from Dana Point). Got a AAA Auto Club card? You can buy your tickets from AAA and go for $67 (plus $2 for Dana Point). In the past, Costco has sold gift cards for the Catalina Express — I haven’t seen any lately but maybe they’re out there.
2. Hit the Flyer. Look for a deal on the Catalina Flyer catamaran, which sails only once each day from Newport Harbor. Now, at this writing, the roundtrip fare was $70 roundtrip fare, but there’s an online discount that brought the price down to $54. I’m not sure how long it’ll be available. If not, check its website for other discount coupons. Also, sites such as Groupon occasionally offer half-price deals, though read all the fine print and make a reservation right away. Now, this is important: Note that there’s only one sailing each day, and you really only have a few hours in Avalon before it’s time to come back unless you’re spending the night. Still good for taking a special someone to lunch! Call 800-830-7744 or visit catalinainfo.com.
3. Bum a ride. Get a ride to the ferry terminal, so you don’t have to pay for parking. For example, the parking garage near the Catalina Flyer currently charges $28 a day.
4. Bring your own beach chairs and towel: If you bring your own towel or chairs and a cooler, you can set up for the day on one of Avalon’s tiny beaches, or the more spacious beach at Two Harbors, without having to pay for a pricey lounger.
5. Bring your bike: It costs $7 to bring your bike on the ferry, but then you have all-day transportation. Most of Avalon is very bikeable. To ride the mountain bike trails in the hills, though you’ll need to get a $35 “Freewheeler Bike Pass” which includes an annual membership in the Catalina Island Conservancy. Learn more: catalinaconservancy.org
6. Go hiking: Lovely grasslands with spectacular water views can be found in the backcountry of the island, 88 percent of which is undeveloped and managed by the conservancy, from which you’ll have to get a free hiking permit. Check out the Trans-Catalina trail for fun times.
7. Go on weekdays or, better yet, in the spring or fall: They’re cheaper than weekends, especially in the off season. You can save 30 percent and Avalon will be less crowded, too.
8. Plan a picnic: There’s a Vons store at 240 Sumner Ave. in Avalon, just off the main drag, with the same weekly specials as elsewhere. Stop by and pick yourself up some deli fare and have a lovely picnic by the water, without the hassle of bringing a cooler. There’s also a cute little park with a small lawn and grills you’ll see as you get off the ferry; buy charcoal at the store. Note that you can’t bring propane on the ferry. There’s a basketball court and playground there, too. All free.
9. Book a package: If you buy a hotel-and-ferry package, you can save money on both. Sometimes other attractions like the zipline are included. The Hotel Atwater is usually the most affordable hotel on the island and it’s in a great location. You can also find houses to rent on your favorite sites. Learn more: catalinaisland.com/
10. Check the chamber: The Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce lists an ever-changing variety of deals and discounts, and also will tell you about events and even when the cruise ships will be in town. Learn more here: Catalinachamber.com
11. Go camping: The Hermit Gulch campsite near Avalon offer tent sites and tent cabins, while the campground at Two Harbors is an easy walk from the ferry, and you can even get your gear hauled for you. There are also boat-and-hike in campsites, including one that was named by Sunset Magazine as one of the best in America. Learn more here: lovecatalina.com/places-to-stay/camping/
12. Ride the bus. Instead of renting an expensive golf cart, just catch the Garibaldi Shuttle bus for $2, which makes its way on a 4-mile loop around Avalon including the botanical garden. It runs during the day daily. Seniors age 65 and older or people with a disability can call Dial-a-Ride for the same price. Learn more here: cityofavalon.com/transit
And have a great day! Allow me to add that the nature center run by the Catalina Island Conservancy is free and interesting to visit, however at this writing it remained closed due to COVID-19. If it has reopened when you’re next on the island, stop by and take a look.