Hop a ferry for beaches and backcountry hiking in California’s Channel Islands.
An easy drive from Santa Barbara, Catalina is perfect for families looking for adventure and couples seeking a bit of romance for the day or a long weekend. Make sure to book golf carts, bikes, and excursions, such as dive boats and tours, in advance, even if you’re just day-tripping.
Catalina Island is easier for many to get to than some L.A. neighborhoods. Leave the city’s notoriously snarled freeways behind in favor of an hour-long ferry ride toward the horizon, and soon the honking horns “overtown” (island-speak for the mainland) give way to seagull squawks.
Yes, crowds swell during summers and on weekends, but plan to visit this Fall on a weekday and it’s hard to believe this beach town belongs to the nation’s most populous county. With fewer than 400 cars and trucks permitted on the entire island, Avalon is blissfully smog- and road-rage-free – there’s not even a stoplight. What you will find, however, is an inviting slice of old California shimmering as bright as the golden garibaldi fish that swim off its shoreline, plus hiking, biking, and four-wheel-drive fun just minutes outside the town limits.
Arriving visitors first spy Catalina Casino at the north end of palm-fringed Avalon Bay, but there’s nary a roulette wheel or neon light inside. Wrigley Jr. had the round, 12-story-tall building constructed in 1929 as a venue for big-band legends, who kept its 20,000-square-foot dance hall swinging. These days, guided tours take visitors into the casino’s nooks and the main level’s Avalon Theater, a 1,180-seat, acoustically perfect cinema that hosts the Catalina Film Festival each September.
Colorful tiles depicting birds and island life line the path from the casino to Crescent Avenue, Avalon’s waterfront walk – a nod to the now defunct Catalina Island Pottery. Its hand-glazed tiles are embedded in sidewalks and adorn public buildings, private homes, and fountains around town. About half are reproductions, says Robin Cassidy, a potter and the owner of Silver Canyon Tile, who works with the city to repair and replace damaged tiles. She also leads two-hour workshops for visitors to create their own.
Green Pleasure Pier, the hub for coastal adventures. -Photo by Luis García
Most residents get around on golf carts; visitors can rent them by the hour at Catalina Island Golf Carts for easier access to views from the steep hills above the harbor and attractions farther afield, such as the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden. But since Avalon is only four blocks long, it’s easiest to dip in and out of shops and restaurants on foot. Early arrivals can pop into Toyon Grill for a latte and avocado toast with a view. For lunch: shellfish and other seafood dishes at The Lobster Trap or the recently opened Naughty Fox, home to a patio ideal for people-watching over plates of ahi poke nachos and grilled fish tacos. The local happy hour call is a Buffalo Milk, the island’s boozy frozen cocktail of vodka, Kahlúa, crème de cacao, and banana liqueur.
But in order to discover the beaches and hidden spots that really make Catalina special, you have to get out of Avalon. Jutting from the main beach, the Green Pleasure Pier serves as the departure point for kayaking, diving and snorkeling trips in the surrounding kelp forests, and the Cyclone, an open-air speedboat that zips along Catalina’s impressive coastline to the small outpost of Two Harbors (population 300) for hiking, swimming, or chaise lounging at the beach club. Boaters can charter a yacht to sail the coast and anchor at deserted coves.
The island’s interior is where Catalina separates itself from your average California beach getaway, whether you’re in search of Catalina’s endemic gray fox and resident bison on a four-wheel-drive excursion, heli-hiking or heli-mountain-biking, or burning off a Buffalo Milk on moderate hikes on the island’s hundred-plus miles of trails. Trekkers can set out on a multiday tramp along the Trans-Catalina Trail, a 38-mile odyssey.
Zipping up to Two Harbors on the Cyclone. -Photo by Luis Garcia
Catalina’s biggest surprise by far: the existence, so close to L.A., of an island where the buffalo literally roam, and where, in the course of a day, you can hike a mountain, snorkel in the sea, and be dressed (in flip-flops) for a locally caught lobster dinner just in time for a SoCal sunset.
Beach Resorts in Orange & LA County
If an island stay isn’t your cup of tea- or if you’d like to visit beaches near Catalina to extend your vacation, check out our top beach resort picks. Fall is still warm in Orange and Los Angeles County, which makes for a lovely beach getaway. Our experienced agents are standing by ready to help secure the best room and amenities to ensure a fabulous experience.
Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club
An hour’s drive south of L.A., the 400-room Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club is a favorite with families, thanks to its dedicated family pool, splash pad, and cabanas, and a kids’ club that offers surf lessons, lawn games, and more. The resort’s blufftop perch provides statement-making sunset views, while the private beach club is a seven-minute tram ride away. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive an upgrade at time of booking, breakfast daily, and a $100 resort credit.
Montage Laguna Beach
The 260 oceanfront rooms and suites at Montage Laguna Beach are swathed in plush creams and whites, a palette that lets the sparkling Pacific pop. Guests can catch a ride in the resort’s chauffeured house Cadillac to go gallery-hopping in town or get out on the water during a private yacht excursion. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive an upgrade at time of booking, breakfast daily, and a $100 resort credit.
Oceana Santa Monica
A stay at the Oceana Santa Monica feels like spending the night in your coolest friend’s impeccably furnished beach house. The 70 guest rooms come with velvet sofas, four-poster beds, and Bottega Veneta toiletries, and many overlook the olive-tree-lined courtyard pool. There are Peloton bikes in the gym, hibiscus spritzes at the rooftop bar, and complimentary cruisers for the quick bike ride down to the Santa Monica Pier. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.
Nobu Ryokan Malibu
The tatami mats, shoji screens, and gorgeous teak soaking tubs at Nobu Ryokan Malibu are authentic nods to a traditional Japanese ryokan, but the Carbon Beach view and Pacific Coast Highway address are decidedly Southern California. The ultra-exclusive 16-room sanctuary is a beloved hideaway for A-listers, who come for the privacy, the Zen-inspired spaces, and the room service, courtesy of Nobu Malibu next door. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive breakfast daily and a $100 hotel credit.
The sprawling, 582-room Terranea Resort sits on a 102-acre coastal preserve at the tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a 30-minute drive south from LAX. Accommodations range from ocean-view guest rooms to three-bedroom villas with full kitchens, while a slate of sustainable experiences – including marine-biologist-led kayaking excursions, tide-pooling adventures, and sea-salt-harvesting workshops – celebrate the ocean. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit.
Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica
Shutters on the Beach is a luxury hotel located on the beach in Santa Monica, California. It features 2 oceanfront restaurants, an outdoor swimming pool and a spa. Each elegant room provides a spacious spa bath.
Boasting a panoramic ocean view and an oversized elegant white fireplace, One Pico offers seasonal cuisine on intimate tables with blue plush chairs. The beachfront café, Coast offers a casual atmosphere with a bar and lite bites. Featuring a heated terrace with an ocean view, the Living Room features afternoon tea, cocktails and a full menu of freshly prepared morsels. A poolside outdoor hot tub is offered. Valet parking is provided. Stay More, Save More! All guests receive up to 20% off a four-night stay and 25% off a five-night stay, plus a $100 hotel credit.
An easy drive from Santa Barbara, the Park and Play Special offers complimentary valet parking plus a $50 food & beverage credit daily.
*All offers are subject to availability and blackout dates may apply.
Lido House has all the makings of the perfect beach house vacation. Think classic Cape Cod architecture blended with modern California aesthetics, and all the fresh-from-the-ocean seafood you can handle. Grab a seat at The Mayor’s Table for oysters and pan-seared scallops, watch the sunset from Topside (Newport Beach’s only rooftop bar), take a dip in the saltwater pool, or just relax in your coastal chic guestroom or cottage featuring a soothing blue-and-white color palette and plenty of indoor/outdoor space.
Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability
Daily breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
$100USD equivalent Resort or Hotel credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
Complimentary curated cocktail/drink and art piece created by local interior designer featured in Balboa Cottage
Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
Europe requiring ETIAS form in 2024 –Americans who plan to travel to the 26 members of Europe’s Schengen Zone in 2024 will have to apply for a new travel authorization called ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System). This new travel authorization form will be required upon entry and is another layer that the European Union is using to protect and strengthen its borders. The U.S. currently requires an ESTA for people entering the U.S. and this is to mimic our system. The application form will take about 10 minutes to fill out and yes, there will be a 7 euro fee to get your ETIAS approval. For a list of all the countries you will need an ETIAS in 2024 please CLICK HERE
The State Department has a very helpful map you can use to see the number of travel advisories around the world. CLICK HERE to see the map.
Santa Barbara Travel Advisors are Belmond Bellini Club members!
In addition to being Virtuoso Advisors, we are happy to announce that all of our Advisors are also Belmond Bellini Club members.
Belmond has some of the most well-regarded luxury hotels, trains, and river cruises in the world. If you’re going to book a Belmond experience, you should absolutely go through a Belmond Bellini Club travel advisor. They can add perks like complimentary upgrades, free breakfast, hotel credits, and much more.
Client Events and Giveaways
As a locally owned and operated business, Santa Barbara Travel Bureau values customer service and the importance of relationships.
As we continue to celebrate over 75 years, keep your eye out for our next client give away!
In appreciation of our clients, we’ve given away a luxury ski trip at the Aspen Snowmass Viceroy, including lift tickets and three nights in an all-inclusive Singita luxury African safari lodge.
If you haven’t already been receiving our event evites, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added.
*Must have booked with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau within the past year to be eligible to win.