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Heading to Catalina and looking for a discount on Catalina Express tickets? The best discount deal on the Catalina Express Ferry is at Costco! The ferry runs multiple times daily from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point to Avalon and Two Harbors on Catalina Island – and Costco sells discounted gift cards – you can buy a $100 gift card for $80. That’s a 20% discount on your Catalina Express Ferry costs!

We tried it out this weekend, and it was incredibly easy to use the discount Catalina Express cards from Costco. The gift cards are available in-store in SoCal locations – you bring the cardboard to checkout, pay $80 for each card, then head over to the merchandise pick up window where they will check our receipt and give you the $100 face value gift card.

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The Catalina Express Ferry is 70 minutes from Long Beach to Avalon, aim for a window seat if you can. There’s a tiny snack bar, but I suggest bringing snacks for the kids on board. Read on for hotel suggestions, where to eat, what to do with kids, and more!

Using Costco Gift Cards for a Discount on Catalina Express Tickets

We booked our reservations in advance and paid for them upon arrival/check-in. When we arrived we paid for the tickets using the discounted gift cards. For a family of 4, plus a bike reservation (which is only $3.50) it was $310 – so we needed 3 gift cards, and paid the remaining $10. So we paid $250 instead of $310 – that’s a $60 discount on Catalina Express tickets – now that’s a good savings!

Where to stay in Avalon, Catalina 

We stayed in a 2-bedroom rental property. It was nicely updated for being a very old cottage – but it didn’t have air conditioning – we visited at the end of October and that was okay but I wouldn’t visit Catalina again without AC. The old cottages have old windows, so even on a reasonably cool day, the sun cooked our little cottage. I scouted out the hotels, and here’s my list of options for our next trip:

Seating on the Catalina Express

Seating is unassigned on the Catalina Express Ferry. First come, first serve. There are window seats and table seats. Table seats face each other with a table in the middle – there are several but they are the first seats taken so arrive early you want one. The seats in the standard seating were fine, but there is a premium seating optioned called the Commodore Lounge, which is nicer and has a much shorter and faster line (it has a separate line, and boards first).

We were almost late getting on the boat but it wasn’t a problem. It actually did depart a few minutes late, and accommodated someone running down the dock who was late. I certainly wouldn’t plan to arrive right at departure again, but on the whole, it’s pretty relaxed and not as strict as an airline.

We traveled in October, which is notably quieter than summer – in the summer I’d recommend arriving a good 30 minutes (or more if you want a table or window seat) before departure. I suggest you bring an umbrella or sun hat to shield sun while waiting in the line or pay the extra ~$20 to book the Commodore Lounge seating and skip the long line.

Bag & Luggage 

Standard passage includes up to 2 bags per person, with a max size and weight (details available on the Catalina Express website) – but no one counted or weighed the bags – if you have one extra or one is a few lbs over the max of 50, I think it’s unlikely you’ll have an issue. You should be sure to make a reservation for bikes or other oversized items (which seem to be much more fairly priced in comparison to airlines).

Dogs on the Catalina Ferry

Dogs are allowed on the Catalina Express Ferry. The policy is that they must be muzzled or contained in a crate. Placing them into a tote bag isn’t allowed, but we saw several who boarded in a soft dog crate or roller dog bag – though most wore muzzles. Pets ride in cabin with owners. We didn’t see any come onboard in an airport/hard sided crate. Definitely a laid back pet policy.

Fun Things to Do with Kids in Avalon, Catalina Island

I’m not an expert on Catalina, but I’m pretty familiar with kids lol – and man are the lists I found for things to do with kids in Catalina were really bad!

I couldn’t believe how many lists recommended taking kids to the Catalina museum – I have to think the writer doesn’t likely have a child or has never really been to Catalina. A museum featuring thousands of historical photos with kids on vacation? Respectfully, that’s literally a punishment for both parent and child, lol. Look, I’m sure the photos are amazing and have loads of historical value and I would probably enjoy them without my kids….but kids on vacation do not want to look at thousands of historical photos! At least mine don’t. I digress.

As such, I’m putting my own Fun Things to Do with Kids in Catalina list below – if I missed anything, let me know so I can add it!

Where to Eat and Treat

We only spent a weekend in Catalina (but we’ll be back!) – so here’s where we visited and/or ate. We had heard the food in Catalina is overall not great, so we did some research and had luck at the following:

Bluewater Avalon: seafood and grille, we really enjoyed our food! Bonus: they have a good kids menu with burgers, baby back ribs and grilled fish!

Maggie’s Blue Rose: Mexican food

Sailer’s Ice Cream Shop: this was the kids favorite ice cream shop. tip: you can ask for a kids’ size ice cream.

Scoops Ice Cream and & Coffee: Good Ice Cream and Starbucks Coffee.

Island Donuts

Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionery: House made fudge and salt water taffy, plus ice cream, candy galore, and other treats like candy covered dipped apples.

Original Antonio’s note: There are 2 Antonio’s Pizza shops – one is Antonio’s and the other is Original Antonio’s – we recommend ORIGINAL.

Von’s: grab bottled water, and some basics – I was surprised this was really a standard Von’s with a huge selection and fair prices. I expected a mini mart with inflated prices, and was happy to find I was wrong!

ProTip for those on a budget: The restaurants on Catalina Island all serve bottled water – no tap water – so plan on that additional expense when dining out or economize and split bottles.

What to Pack

We use the Delsey Luggage set from Costco, and here are some of our favorite vacation packing essentials for Catalina Island!

Have you been to Catalina? If you found a better discount on Catalina Express Ferry tickets please share with us, we’d love to know! We’d also love to hear your hotel and restaurant and activity reviews in the comments!

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All opinions expressed on CostContessa are our own. Content and information provided on our site is provided for free and is only for informational purposes. Our content is not intended as a substitute for medical counseling or reading packaging yourself. Please always see actual package information yourself (it can and does change!) and consult your doctor.