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.
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.
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
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!
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
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!
Wrigley Memorial + Other Conservancy Venues
Host a wedding ceremony with all of your loved ones in one of Catalina Conservancy’s 10 designated spots! The Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden is one of the most popular locations on the list, since it has a max capacity of 100 people and is the closest to Avalon.
1-49 Guests: $900 for up to two hours or $1800 for up to 6 hours
50-100 Guests: $1200 for up to two hours or $2400 for up to 6 hours
Other fees for staffing, transportation, etc. may apply
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!
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.
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!
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
- Hike some of the trails on the island, like the Trans-Catalina Trail.
- Rent a bike, e-bike, or golf cart to ride around and see Avalon at your own pace.
- Explore the boutique shops downtown, filled with a variety of unique home decor, gifts, clothing, and the famous Catalina art tiles.
- Get out on the water with a kayak rental, on a parasail, or on a voyage to see the flying fish.
- Go underwater inside a semi-submersible vessel or by snorkeling in the shores outside of Avalon.
- Visit the Catalina Casino, the iconic building you see as you arrive into Avalon. A variety of events are held in this building each year, such as the Annual Catalina Conservancy Ball, the Art Deco Society Ball, and the Catalina Film Festival.
- Fly down the hill on the zipline or combine the zipline with other aerial adventures on a ropes course in the trees.
- Explore more of the island and see some of the wildlife, like bison, Catalina foxes, quail, and eagles. Check out the eco-tours through the Catalina Conservancy or Catalina Adventure Tours.
- Visit the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden to learn more about some of the island’s native plants and the history of the Wrigley family.
- Eat and drink at some of the top bars and restaurants on Catalina Island, complete with many fresh seafood options.
- Relax on the beach with a cocktail at the Descanso Beach Club, just a 15 minute walk from town (or a short trip on the Garibaldi bus). They even have cabanas available for rent while you enjoy the sunshine!
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:
- Glenmore Plaza Hotel
- Catalina Island Inn
- Hotel Metropole
- Hotel Atwater
- Avalon Hotel
- Vista Del Mar
- Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel
- Catalina Island Vacation Rentals
- Hamilton Cove
- Banning House Lodge, 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:
- Channel Islands National Park
- Big Sur
- Torrey Pines State Reserve
- Point San Luis Lighthouse
- Montaña de Oro State Park
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!