36 Hours in LA + Cantalina Island

36 Hours in LA + Cantalina Island

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On a whim, I decided to take an overnight trip to LA & Cantalina Island to spend my friend’s 30th birthday with her. I haven’t taken a whirlwind trip to that extent before and was concerned it might be too exhausting. It wasn’t. I had a blast and would do it again in a second.

This was my first trip to LA so I really had no idea what to expect. As we spent most of the time on Catalina Island, I didn’t get a real feel for what LA is like. Some of my initial impressions were that it has all the advantages of city (good food, culture) and also has a lot of space. Of course the beaches, mountains, and weather are perfect. The traffic was as I was warned but after spending 6 years in NJ, it wasn’t a bother. In fact, LA reminded me a lot of New Jersey. Plant some palm trees on the Garden State Parkway and you’ve got the 405. Seriously, you have beaches in New Jersey. Also “the” Parkway and “the” Turnpike. It’s not a far stretch.

I flew out of JFK at 6:30a Thursday morning, arriving in LA around 9:30a – it was a 6-hour flight. I slept about 4 hours of that. My return flight was the next evening, Friday at 10:55p – a 4-hour redeye flight. I slept all 4 hours.


Wading in the Ocean at Santa Monica beach California
Wading in the Ocean at Santa Monica beach

Santa Monica Beach

My friend, Lauryn, picked me up from LAX and we immediately went off to find breakfast tacos. I mean, if I’m spending 36-hours in LA I am definitely going to be eating some tacos. From there, we visited Santa Monica, solely because I loved the Everclear song as a teenager. Yep. This part was great because I looove the ocean. It was a bit cooler, I wore jeans but rolled them up to put my feet in the chilly Pacific water. We wandered around the beach, then walked across the highway up this giant hill for better views. We could see the Pier from where we were but we did not go to it. Instead we just stayed on the beach then did the long walk. Remember, this was February and also a Thursday morning. So the place was fairly sparse for us. It was pretty relaxing.

From Santa Monica, we drove along Mulholland Drive then ate lunch at Pink’s – a hotdog joint. It was great. I love hotdog places. We both had chili dogs and onion rings. I’d show you the picture but just imagine a plate of brown. Delicious, though. Then we headed for Long Beach.

Pacific Ocean & Beach at Santa Monica California
Pacific Ocean & Beach at Santa Monica
Santa Monica California
Santa Monica Beach, walk up for a view
On our walk, a view of Santa Monica Beach California
On our walk, a view of Santa Monica Beach
A Sprawling Tree in Santa Monica Beach California
A Sprawling Tree

Avalon on Cantalina Island California
Avalon on Cantalina Island

Cantalina Island – Avalon, CA

After lots of driving on the 405 and all those other “the” highways, we made our way to Long Beach. This was our port of departure for our ferry to Catalina Island. The ferry left at 5:45p so we were able to see a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately, we weren’t informed that by the time we got to the island around 7p, almost every dining place would be closed. Thankfully two places were still open because we were starving.

The ferry itself was nice. I was warned it could be rough so I took some dramamine ahead of time and didn’t have any problems on the boat. It was fairly chilly though. The Catalina Express costs $75 roundtrip. Or, if it’s your birthday, it’s free.

Our hotel was up a steep hill about 10-minutes from town, which was great exercise. The whole island is really beautiful. I really enjoyed our stay even though it was just overnight and would definitely consider going back. The next morning we enjoyed a lovely outdoor breakfast while staring at the ocean and palm trees. Then Lauryn made the best decision to rent a golf cart for three hours.

See, there are a limited amount of cars allowed on the island and right now there is a waiting list. So golf carts are used as an alternative and valid mode of transportation around the island. I found this hilarious. When visiting Catalina Island, I definitely recommend renting a golf cart and taking yourself on a diy tour. You get to see some amazingly beautiful views of the ocean and Avalon. It was my favorite part of the whole trip.

We made a pit-stop on our golf cart adventure and had a drink at the Descanso Beach Club. In the 1920’s, a herd of buffalo were brought to the island for a silent film and left there. They are now part of the island’s ecosystem and are protected by the conservancy. In honor of the roaming buffalo, there is an island-only alcoholic drink named Buffalo Milk. And it is delicious (despite the name). So we enjoyed our Buffalo Milk drinks while staring out at the Pacific at the beach club. Relaxing and perfect.

Me and Lauryn on our golf cart adventure cantalina islandn avalon california
Me and Lauryn on our golf cart adventure
Ferry from Long Beach to Cantalina Island - Avalon, CA Catalina Express
Ferry from Long Beach to Cantalina Island – Avalon, CA
Relaxing at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island Avalon CA
Relaxing at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island
Drinking Buffalo Milk on Catalina Island Descanso Beach Club
Drinking Buffalo Milk on Catalina Island (creme de banana, creme de cocoa, kahlua, vodka, milk; whipped cream + nutmeg)
View from eating breakfast outside in Avalon on Catalina Island
View from eating breakfast outside in Avalon
Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island
Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island
A friendly pelican on catalina island
A friendly pelican

Redando & Manhattan Beaches + Chinese Theater/etc

Our ferry ride back was also uneventful. I took more dramamine and promptly fell asleep the entire hour of the boat ride. We arrived back on the mainland around 3p and had several hours to spend in LA before my red-eye flight that evening. We cruised around looking at high end boutiques in, I think, West Hollywood. This reminded me of SoHo except every store was huge and no one was really walking on the sidewalk. At this point we’re essentially just driving around. So we stopped at an In-N-Out, obligatory, then headed to Redando Beach. Except it was kind of freezing. Then we kept driving North along the beach and stopped at Manhattan Beach.

Watching the sunset at Manhattan Beach was beautiful. This felt very “California” to me. Lots of people walking on the pier, lots of restaurants and things around, even surfers in the ocean. It was straight out of a movie. We stopped and had a drink at a place near-by to watch sunset from there. Perfect. Although we didn’t go to too many stores/restaurants in LA, I was still able to notice the size difference. In NYC, everything is tiny, there is no space, and people are crammed in everywhere. But in LA, places were large like the suburbs but still had lots of good food & drink options like a city. Not a bad combination.

From here, we drove to the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theater. I didn’t have any desire to do either but it was fun to do while we were already in the area. The names in cement outside the Theater was actually really neat to look at. The sidewalk stars was alright. There was a little memorial to Leonard Nimroy set-up on his star – he had passed away that morning. This area was super touristy, definitely like Times Square. But, we were both used to it, and weaved through the crowds and ignored the buskers with ease.

Afterward, we hopped back on a “the” highway and headed to the airport. I caught my red-eye and preceded to sleep the entire time. It actually was the perfect amount of time! I felt like I saw a lot of things and never felt too exhausted. I would like to stay longer, next time, but no regrets. The trip was definitely worth it. And Lauryn had a fantastic 30th birthday!

Watching the sunset on Manhattan Beach Los Angeles California
Watching the sunset on Manhattan Beach
Manhattan Beach Pier los angeles california
Manhattan Beach Pier

Cost Breakdown

Just to finish this up, here are the costs:

  • Food: $95
  • Booze: $36
  • Flight: $297
  • Hotel (share): $50
  • Ferry to Catalina Island: $75
  • Car Service to/from JFK: $100

Total: $650

Half of that was the direct flight from JFK to LAX so not too bad. It helped that LA costs are identical to NYC costs so nothing came unexpected.

I hope to visit LA again soon to get a better feel for the city and explore some of the near-by canyons.


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4 Replies to “36 Hours in LA + Cantalina Island”

  1. OMG you can fly to LA and back for $300. I’ve just bought a ticket to Cairns for work, a 45 minute flight, and it is $250 round trip. That was the discount flight! If flying was that cheap here I would travel so much more often. Pretty jelly of your overnight visit to LA!

    1. It comes down to size of airport not distance. It’s $300 to fly direct from JFK to LAX but almost $500 if I wanted to fly into a smaller airport like in Tennessee, even though that’s closer (and it wouldn’t be direct). I think flying to LAX and Las Vegas are some of the cheapest from here just because so many people fly to those destinations.

  2. That looks like so much fun! And I’m super interested in giving Buffalo Milk a try sometime. What a great 30th birthday plan for your friend.

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