catalina island elopement guide

California is filled to the brim with a wide variety of landscapes for elopements, from the deserts and warm coastal beaches of SoCal to the misty redwood forests and mountains of the north. And if you’re looking for a place to elope that feels like you’re no longer in the US without going too far, Catalina Island may be just the place you’re looking for. 

Located about 20 miles outside of Los Angeles, Catalina Island has a beautiful Mediterranean climate and sits right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It’s quickly become one of our favorite locations to elope in California, so we’ve put together a guide to help you learn everything you need to know about eloping to Catalina Island. 

how to elope on catalina island

Reasons to Elope on Catalina Island

If the image above isn’t enough to sell you on the idea, here are some of our favorite reasons to elope to Catalina Island: 

  • The entire ambiance of Avalon is a fun blend of European and Mexican vibes without having to leave the country. Most of the main strip in downtown Avalon is for foot-traffic only, and much of the architecture is decorated with art tiles made right here on the island. 
  • Its proximity to Los Angeles and San Diego makes it a great option to “get away” from the mainland without going “too far” from home – especially when one-way ferry tickets are so affordable, at less than $40 per person. 
  • The island’s many hiking trails give outdoorsy couples many opportunities to avoid crowds and find more secluded spots for portraits and vow readings. 
  • You can choose your own adventure: cycling, hiking, riding in an eco-tour truck, kayaking, relaxing on the beach, taking a ride in a submarine, eating/drinking around the town . . . there’s really no shortage of activities to do while you’re here. 
catalina island elopement photographer california

Best Places to Elope on Catalina Island

If you have yet to visit, finding the perfect spot to elope on Catalina Island can be a little trickier than you might think. Here are some of our top recommendations for elopement locations on the island, as well as a few we suggest avoiding. 

Note: please be sure to check with all local municipalities regarding potential special events permits and/or photography permits you might need to elope on Catalina Island, such as through the Catalina Island Conservancy and/or through the town of Avalon

lone tree view point catalina island

Lone Tree View Point

One of our personal favorite places to elope on Catalina Island requires a moderate hike of about 6.5 miles and around 1500 feet of elevation gain, but the views at the end are so worth it. 

The Hermit Gulch trail starts and ends at the gardens, and overlaps with a portion of the Garden to Sky Trail. About halfway around the loop, there’s a trail that extends west toward the coast of the island, and as a fellow hiker told us once, the Lone Tree view point “looks like heaven.” 

The trail is best for those who already are comfortable hiking longer distances, and would be perfect for a sunrise or sunset ceremony, and the view point even features a picnic table that’s great for your first meal as a married couple!

best places to elope on catalina island ca

Chimes Tower Road Overlook

Just north of the Catalina Chimes Tower along the side of the road, there’s a small pull-off for bikes and/or golf carts to park, and you get an amazing view overlooking the harbor near Avalon. A great easy-to-access location, but it is on the side of the road, so other tourists and vehicles may drive by while you’re there. 

descanso beach club elopement photographer catalina island

Descanso Beach Club + Catalina Island Company

Get married right on the beach just outside of town! Complete with comfortable beachside chairs and a waterfront bar for some tropical cocktails, Descanso Beach Club is another accessible location with water views and great amenities. They also host larger weddings here if you want to bring guests!

The Beach Club is owned by the Catalina Island Company, which also has several other ceremony and reception sites here. You can check out one of their most recent pricing guides online here.

little harbor shark harbor

Little Harbor + Shark Harbor

Another reason that makes Catalina Island such a fun place for adventure elopements is that you have a variety of great camping options with some amazing views. A popular spot we recommend is Little Harbor and Shark Harbor. 

This area is accessible in a couple of ways. You can choose to hike to it as part of the Trans-Catalina Trail (TCT) from either Two Harbors or from the Airport in the Sky, take a shuttle between Little Harbor and the Airport in the Sky (reservations required), or a do a mix of hiking and a shuttle reservation. If you go for a combination of the two, we’d recommend hiking from the Airport down into Little Harbor, camping overnight, and taking a shuttle back the next day. The views hiking downhill are some of the best on the island! 

cottonwood beach catalina island

Cottonwood Beach

Along the Middle Ranch Road south of Shark Harbor is another more private cove called Cottonwood Beach. It’s best to plan to visit this spot at low tide, as the waves can get pretty dangerous at high tide at this location. 

catalina island elopement guide

Ben Weston Beach

This beach is a little harder to access, so you’ll either need a local to drive you most of the way or ride a bike to the base of the trail and then hike in. But with a challenging route comes a nice payoff: plenty of space with fewer (if any) visitors around. You could have the whole thing to yourself!

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On the Water

Want to really get away from everyone else on the island? Rent a boat and say your vows on the water. Here are some great yacht and boat rental options in Catalina: 

Catalina Yacht Charter

Luxury Liners

Boatsetter

wrigley memorial catalina island

2023 Update: Wrigley Memorial + Catalina Conservancy Venues

We’re bummed to hear this, but as of 2023, we received updated information from the Catalina Island Conservancy that they no longer offer weddings/events at their previously designated locations. We’ll be sure to update this post should that change in the future.

The Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden was one of the most popular locations on their list. We’d recommend reaching out about potentially getting wedding portraits on site here instead, and hosting your wedding elsewhere, such as at one of the venues through the Catalina Island Company.

how to elope on catalina island

Where Not to Elope at Catalina Island

Two places we personally don’t recommend having your ceremony at are the Buena Vista Point Overlook and Lover’s Cove. While the views from these two locations can be beautiful for a couple quick portraits, the setting at both of them are simply not ideal for ceremonies. 

Buena Vista Point has a great view of Avalon, but is right next to a fenced off water treatment area, and the ground can often be covered with litter – which can easily ruin the “romance” of your special day. And Lover’s Cove has a fun name, but with a tiny beach even at low tide and right next to a very busy road (even on weekdays!), it doesn’t quite make the cut in our opinion. 

How to Elope on Catalina

  1. Select a date. One of the best parts about Catalina Island is that you can elope there any time of the year! That said, many amenities on the island do have seasonal hours, and some of the boat taxis only run during the summer. In the next section below, learn some of the tips to help you pick out the right season for your elopement. 
  2. Obtain any necessary permits or other reservations. Depending on where you plan to elope on the island, you may need permission and/or pay some fees to organizations like the Catalina Conservancy or the town of Avalon. You’ll want to do this pretty soon after securing your date, and most experienced elopement photographers or planners can help you with this step. 
  3. Find your vendors. Our elopement photo and video team already has experience traveling and hiking on Catalina Island, so we’d love to go back anytime! You can also find a handful of great vendors on the island, or bring in other vendors like officiants, hair and makeup artists, etc. from the mainland like Long Beach and San Pedro. 
  4. Book your lodging. There are so many great hotels and rentals available on the island in addition to some great campgrounds, but for peak seasons, you’ll want to be sure to make advanced reservations for the widest variety of options and to keep the costs low. 
  5. Get your marriage license. Although Catalina Island is considered a part of California, there aren’t any clerk’s offices on the island. You’ll want to obtain a marriage license from an office on the mainland, such as in Los Angeles or San Diego. Learn more about getting your marriage application, documents you might need, and fees you’ll need to pay through the Los Angeles County Clerk’s marriage license website.  
  6. Plan your activities! Because there’s so much to do on the island, we recommend starting out with at least 6 or 8 hours of photo and/or video coverage for your elopement so we can capture you and your partner exploring more than one location. Scroll down to the “What to Do on the Island” section to get more ideas on how to celebrate your elopement day or weekend!
catalina island wedding photographer

When to Visit Catalina Island

Our personal favorite times of the year to visit Catalina is in spring and fall. Many of the rolling hills on Catalina bloom with wildflowers between February and early April, creating a perfect backdrop for a hiking elopement. Fall is also a great time of year for slightly cooler weather, less expensive hotel costs, and less chances of fog or rainstorms. 

Summer is a popular time of year to visit the island, since the weather is warm and all the activities on the island are available for the season. But with warmer weather comes more tourists and crowds, making it less of a quiet and relaxing experience for your trip. 

Winter is the slowest time of year for visitors on Catalina. Like the rest of Southern California, the temperatures do stay pretty mild for winter, but can get a bit cold when the sun is down. It might be a decent option if you’re trying to get away from more snowy winter locations, but many of the places on the island do close for the season so it isn’t an ideal time for everyone to elope here. 

descanso beach club wedding photos

Wedding Venues on Catalina Island

Whether you want to elope with your family and friends, or you might want to turn your elopement into a bigger celebration, there are some fantastic wedding venue options perfectly suited to accommodating ceremonies and receptions for larger groups: 

Catalina Casino

Catalina Country Club

Catherine’s Terrace

Descanso Beach Club

Harbor Sands

Banning House Lodge

elopement photographer catalina island california

How to Get to Catalina Island

By far the easiest and most popular way to get to Catalina is by ferry, via the Catalina Express or the Catalina Flyer. 

The Catalina Express leaves from three locations (Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point) and costs less than $40 per person one-way (or about $75 per person roundtrip). The times for departures vary depending on the day of the week and the season, so be sure to check out their schedule online to see which works best for you. Please note that some of the trips to and from Avalon make stops in Two Harbors as well, making for a longer ride. 

The Catalina Flyer leaves from Newport once a day, and is relatively similar in cost for the roundtrip ticket to the island. However, this ferry only stops in Avalon, so it’s not a good fit for those heading to Two Harbors. 

Alternatively, you could charter a private boat to the island or take a helicopter ride to Catalina Island, which only takes 15 minutes. Two of the best services for helicopter rides are IEX Helicopters and Celebrity Helicopters

avalon elopement catalina island

Transportation Options on the Island

Once you’re on Catalina Island, you might find that the information about how to get around is a little tricky at first. Here are some of the key basics to help you get around: 

  • Normal full-sized vehicles are hard to come by on the island, since there are lots of restrictions about who can have a car there. This means that any kind of car rental and even cabs / taxi rides will be extremely expensive ($100-$300 per ride in many cases, even not to go terribly far!).
  • Most of downtown Avalon is walkable, so most people tend to walk to most (if not all) of their activities on the island, like shops, bars, and restaurants. There’s even an entire stretch of the main street along the water that doesn’t allow anything other than foot-traffic, so it’s very pedestrian-friendly here.
  • If you do want to go farther or get to more places faster in town, we recommend renting a bike, e-bike and/or renting a golf cart to get around Avalon.
  • There is also the Garibaldi, the only public bus system in Avalon. Bus fare is only $2 (or $5 for the day) per person, and runs from 8am – 6pm, coming by each stop about every 40 minutes. It’s a great way to access the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, or ride out to Descanso Beach (although you can walk the waterfront to/from there as well). We recommend downloading the Transit app in advance so you can easily buy tickets and see the schedule before you hop on a ride.
  • For those wanting to access other areas on the island, you also have an option to ride the Wildlands Express Shuttle. It’s a pretty convenient and affordable option to access other areas, like the Airport in the Sky and Little Harbor. 
  • If you want to travel by boat, you can take the Catalina Cyclone Speed Boat for a day trip to Two Harbors, or a private rental of your own.  
elopement photographer catalina island ca

What to Do on the Island

There is really no shortage of fun things to do on Catalina, and there’s something for everyone no matter your interests. Here are some of the best things to do in the area: 

catalina island elopement guide

Where to Stay on Catalina Island

This is by no means a complete list of where to stay in the area, but here are a few of our top recommendations (not including the campgrounds) of places to stay in Avalon and Two Harbors: 

Nearby Alternatives to Eloping on Catalina 

Not sure if eloping to Catalina is right for you? Here are some other nearby locations that are similar:

Looking for more elopement ideas in California? Check out the full list!

Contact a California Elopement Photographer + Videographer

Skyewater Photo + Film is an adventure elopement and destination wedding photo and video team based in Washington. We help couples plan elopements all over the US, and offer insight for more than just photography: from planning assistance, finding and booking locations, vendor references and more! Reach out to our elopement photography and videography team today to get more info!

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