Catalina Getaway with Toddler

The distance and nature of my travels may have changed since becoming a parent in 2015, but the wanderlust that consumes me is as present as ever. Our daughter turned 2 earlier this year, so the days of free flying have come to an end. This has me not only using my Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa card at every opportunity to earn more points, but also giving further consideration to the fun to be had that is within a few hours of our home.  Keeping the budget in mind for our family of 3 as well as other factors in the world of toddlerdum (short attention span, potential to kick the backs of seats on airplanes, tantrums, etc), a nearby escape that could be reached within a few hours by car (or boat, as in this case!) sounded like a good plan for a much needed 60 hour getaway.

I had been to Catalina once before, in 2009, when the 4-day Carnival cruise ship made an afternoon stop there before heading to Ensenada. I spent less than a handful of hours in the town, riding a rented bicycle around with my friend before we tired of it and returned to our ship. But times were different then! No kids, we were single, and I was more into social scenes and less staying in one spot being mellow.

I began to pour over articles, Trip Advisor reviews, and drew on the input of friends who had recently visited the island. The idea of taking the fam there quickly grew on me. The sealing of the deal was learning that Catalina Express offered a free round trip fare from any of their ports (Dana Point, San Pedro, or Long Beach) to either Avalon or Two Harbors in Catalina, as long as the departure occurred on your actual birthday (visit for details on that!). This made for a Monday-Wednesday trip for us, but that was alright by me — a reason to spend a little more time away from work.

I spent loads of time searching for the “best” place to stay that would meet our needs. And revised more than once the list of what those actual “needs” were. I wanted easy, relaxing, and proximate, I decided. I had very much considered going with a deal I found on Living Social for an apartment type rental that was a further distance from the port and a good deal with kitchen etc, but ended up talking myself out of it after reading enough reviews (thin walls, up a big hill, dated, etc etc). I think if I were minding the budget a bit more vs. the “It’s my birthday, F-it” attitude I had instead adopted, I may very well have went that route and just packed our collapsible wagon to transport items to the location with less strain. So, on the relaxing front, I knew I wanted a place that had a tranquil space, yet was proximate to the town and water, and had some “perks.” There is literally only one hotel in Avalon with a pool to the best of my knowledge, and that is the Holiday Inn, which turned out to be a great distance from the center of town. I threw financial caution to the wind and ended up booking our stay at Pavilion (details about this fantastic place can be found here: after reading nothing but accolades from those who had stayed and envy from those who had chosen elsewhere and later saw the glory that it is in person.

We opted to leave from Dana Point due to its proximity to San Diego compared to the other ports. Parking was around $13 a day in a secured lot at Dana Point Port. We arrived about 1 hour and 15 minutes before the ferry’s departure with an advance reservation, which was enough time to wait in line to get our tickets, then have one of us drive the car to the overnight lot, and then walk to the terminal with our luggage. Pretty easy overall. My understanding is that the ferry that leaves from Dana Point is a little smaller than the ones that leave from the other ports, so if you experience seasickness or think you might, keep this in mind and get some dramamine. I did not, and I spent the 1 hour and 15 minute ride staring at the horizon out the window while sipping my mimosa (yes, there are alcoholic beverages and snacks like chips on board). My toddler didn’t show any signs of nausea, thankfully, and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Having not been to the island as a staying guest, we were a little confused on where we were headed and exactly who to give our luggage to when we arrived (we had read that the transport of it to the hotel would be covered). This was resolved pretty quickly by asking a port staff. We were directed to a luggage drop window where we told the gentleman our hotel and he tagged our luggage for delivery. Unfortunately, coolers cannot be transported to the hotel. Or at least that’s what we were told, and then later told could be done for a fee. So we walked to our hotel with the stroller and pulling the cooler just before 11AM, which was 4 hours in advance of check in. As it turns out, Pavilion is only about a 4 minute walk from the port just following the sidewalk as it curves around the cove. We arrived so that we could request to check our cooler. We were more than pleased to be told that our room was already available. We were on the second floor in a Premiere Double room. There are no lifts at this hotel, which is also a common trend on this island. I am not a fan of elevators, so this wasn’t an issue, aside from carrying up the stroller and cooler. Our luggage arrived as we checked in and was carried to our room.

The room was adequate in size, it was well cleaned, and the beds were comfy. The sink vanity area offered space for us to prepare our food and drinks. Yep, that’s right. There is a mini fridge in the room but no microwave, so for convenience and cost effectiveness, we prepared a few meals in our room on a single burner that my fiance purchased for about $10.

The hotel has a lovely garden at its center with lounge chairs and tables. It’s a perfect setting to enjoy a book, conversation, coffee, or wine and cheese. 

Pavilion also has a library, which is a relaxing place lounge and socialize. We loved the daily wine social hour that took place here,  which offered alternating selections of red and white wines, lemonade, cheeses, and crustini. Breakfast is also served daily here. I was more than satisfied with the array of cereals, fruits, breads, mini frittata, and breakfast meats. There is an espresso machine on site and drinks are made to order. Fruit infused water is available at all times of day, which I loved.

The location was a huge win with my daughter. She was so content to take her  sand toys from Dollar Tree right onto the sand in front of the hotel and spend the afternoon. The weather was mid 60s when we were there, so no play in the water for us but the proximity to the hotel made it easy to run back to the room to change, get snacks, etc as needed. 

We spent a good deal of our time close to our hotel, but we did rent a golf cart for an hour on our second day. Toddler seats are available at no extra charge. Completely worth it! It was a great way to see more of what that side of the island had to offer and make note of the distance to different places. It would have been a pretty hefty hike to the island’s higher scenic points without one. We also did some pier fishing, which worked out better for us on the pier at the ferry terminal. Our daughter loved fishing with her Frozen pole and caught more than one girabaldi on it, thanks to an online tip about using frozen peas for bait.

There is no doubt that we will be making future family trips to Catalina to take in more of its breathtaking beauty and simplicity. I look forward to returning to embrace all that the island has to offer, whether it be camping and hiking, cruising in a submarine, or cascading through the trees while ziplining!