Santa Catalina Island On The Cheap

26 miles across the sea...

“Everybody likes something extra, for nothing,” is a little saying that William Wrigley often told his staff while building his chewing gum empire. The crown jewel of that empire is Santa Catalina Island. 26 miles off the California coast this tiny gem of an island has become a mecca for those wishing to find a little island paradise in the sun. Problem is over the years it has become so popular that the law of supply and demand has made it a bit expensive.  The cost however can be mitigated.




Getting There
A few months ago I got an email from Groupon for half off tickets for round trip tickets on the Catalina Flyer. The Catalina Flyer is one of two ferry services that make trips to Avalon, Catalina Island’s main city. The other ferry service is called the Catalina Express. Both services take about a hour to get to the island and normally cost about $70 round trip. A quick internet search however will quickly yield deeply discounted tickets. On the weekends (Thurs.-Sund.) the ferry’s book up quickly so make sure you make reservations at least a week in advance.

Where to Stay
Most people stay only for the day at Catalina Island, but there are many attractions that only happen at night on Catalina (the flying fish, and night time zip lining, etc. ) Island. For $21 per person ($12 for children) you can camp on the island at a place called Hermit Gulch. A little bit expensive for camping but but a lot better than the hotels on the island that start at $150 per night.

Where to Eat
Due to the fact that everything has to be shipped in to the island most things you buy on the island will be overpriced. Food is not an exception to this rule, but there are ways to lessen the damage. First thing you can do is bring a few snacks with you. This will help for the boat ride over and help you avoid the overpriced concessions at the docks. You don’t need to bring too many snacks however, because there is a Von’s Express Market  on the island (a bit higher priced than on land, but not too bad).  On the island the general rule is, the closer to the water you get the more expensive things will get. To give you an example, when we were there we had fish and chips for $11 dollars at a place called The Galleon. It was a nice place with a patio facing the water. Before we went there I checked and on the pier that meal would’ve cost us $13. To give yet a further example, one place that I like on the island is called The Sandtrap. It is about a mile inland, but from 2pm-5pm tacos only cost $1 dollar.

How to Get Around
Avalon is technically a city, but it is a very small city. There are taxi’s on the island, but they are expensive. For $50 you can rent a golf cart for a day, but that too is expensive. The farthest point within the city is the Wrigley Memorial. The Wrigley Memorial is almost exactly 2 miles from the landing docks up a 450 ft mountain. A long walk, but not necessarily a hike either. While on the island we easily got around the whole island walking. I brought my GPS watch with me while I was on the island and tracked 6.5 miles worth of walking for the day. That is a lot of walking, but it wasn’t that bad. For those that do not like the walking my alternative would be the Red Trolley. The Red Trolley makes stops at every major point in Avalon and costs $7.00 for an all day pass ($2 one way).

What To Do
As soon as you get on the ferry you will be given a map and brochure from the Santa Catalina Island Company. The Santa Catalina Island Company is the major tourism company on the island and have the best tours and attractions on the island. Their activities however are some of the most expensive on the island. You can pay $36 dollars and get a tour to the casino or you can walk to the casino and see it for $6. Hiking trails trails on the island are free, plentiful, and offer great views of the wildlife on the island. You do need a permit for the trails, but they are free if you register online. Walking along Avalon Canyon Rd. you will see the golf course, Joe Machado Field (former training field for the Cubs), the remains of Bird Park, the Nature Discovery Center (also free), and the Wrigley Memorial ($7 per person, under 5 free).

When Wrigley first bought a controlling interest in Santa Catalina Island he said he envisioned a resort community that everyone could enjoy, and it is a place that everyone can enjoy. Overall Santa Catalina Island is a bit overrated. It is mostly dominated by rich retired people and due to that fact the price tag to stay on the island is quite steep. I don’t fault them for that, it helps keep the population down and preserve the island which is still by majority undeveloped. Fortunately, much like it’s entrepreneurial founder ,  those that have a bit of ingenuity don’t have to pay an “arm and a leg” to enjoy a day out on the island. Even though the island is expensive it doesn’t have to bankrupt you to get there and enjoy it.

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